My Friends and I Like to Play With Glowing Balls

Young Nick, first tee, 9:45 p.m., July 5, 2013.

Young Nick, first tee, 9:45 p.m., July 5, 2013.

All golfers brood obsessively about the weather; my friends and I also track the phases of the moon. The reason is that we like to play at night, with glowing balls, and glowing balls look best against a truly black sky. The ideal time to play is an hour or two after sunset during a new moon, but other times of the month work, too, as long as the moon either hasn’t risen yet or has already gone down. I now monitor all that with a free program called Moonphase 3.3.

Moonphase

On Friday night, we met on the clubhouse porch at 7:00, for pizza from The Upper Crust, the official provisioner of the Sunday Morning Group.

Austin, John.

Austin, John, pizza, clubhouse porch.

Then we played Putting for Dollars on the practice green while we waited for the sun to go away.

In all our putting contests, we use the stymie rule, which the rest of the golf world abandoned in the 1950s.  Closest to the pin wins, double points if the ball goes in. Luke (second from left) was the only competitor to actually sink a putt.

In all our putting contests, we use the stymie rule, which the rest of the golf world abandoned in the 1950s. Closest to the pin wins, double points if the ball goes in. Luke (second from left) was the only competitor to actually sink a putt.

When the sky finally began to seem sort of promising, we turned on our flashing light sabers, to let them warm up.

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Then Hacker (real name) and Tim went out in a golf cart to place light sabers in the cups on the first second, seventh, eighth, and ninth greens, so that we’d be able to tell where the holes were. They also put glowing green rings in the bottoms of the cups.

Paul, Middle Nick, Tim, Hacker.

Paul, Middle Nick, Tim, Hacker.

Night golf has been a feature at my club for more than twenty years. For most of those years, we used translucent balls with glow-stick inserts. They were fun to play with, but they didn’t behave like real balls, and they didn’t fly anywhere near as far, and the glow sticks were sometimes hard to cram all the way in. Last year, we switched to Night Flyer balls ($70 a dozen, in six colors, at nightflyer.com). They’re self-illuminating—each one contains its own LED and battery, which isn’t replaceable but lasts for many rounds—and when they’re not lit up they’re visually indistinguishable from regular balls. You switch on the LED by hitting the ball or rapping it against anything hard, and it stays lit as long as you hit it again within eight or ten minutes, which is plenty of time to find it, even in the woods.

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We had eleven guys. We played a scramble—each team with its own color—and we all played together. Hacker drove the beer cart. We teed up every shot, including chips, because divots are just about impossible to find at night. Here’s what the second green looked like when everyone was ready to putt:

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The red balls look the coolest, both in the air and on the ground.

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Austin made a brief video of someone missing a putt on the eighth green. Paul’s team had already clinched the title by then, so the miss didn’t matter.

Last year, I spoke with Pat Chapman, who is Night Flyer’s sales and marketing manager. She lives in New Hampshire but she grew up in New York, and when people give her a hard time she asks them, “Do you really want to mess with a girl from Brooklyn?” Largely as a result of her steady evangelism, night golf has rapidly grown in popularity all over the world. (“Not so much in France,” she said, “but France is France. What can I say?”) Scandinavians have been particularly enthusiastic, she added—perhaps because they spend so much of the year in the dark. She has organized full-scale night-golf events in many countries—for corporate outings, bachelor parties, wedding receptions, and other golf-appropriate occasions—and Night Flyer sells an almost comically extensive line of glowing accessories, including hole inserts, hazard stakes, tee-box markers, and black-stemmed margarita glasses. (That’s where we got the light sabers.)