ENID, Okla. — Whack! A beam of yellow-green light streaks into the night sky, descends like a falling star and comes to a sudden halt.
This is no illusion. It's as real as a seven-iron approach shot to an elevated green at midnight.
"It's a beautiful sight," said David Dick, who along with Pat Donehue and Roy Wedel chartered the Night Golfers Assn.
Members of the NGA are not insomniacs or lunatics. But they do enjoy the spectacle of sending streams of light into the night sky.
These nocturnal linksters use clear, hard rubber golf balls into which fluorescent glow sticks are inserted. The optical effect is impressive.
By definition, it must be dark in order to play night golf.
"That's the only way you can see the ball," Dick said. "Sometimes without a moon, it can get really dark, and that's when you can see the balls the best."
Incitement to Fear
Dark nights can also incite fear --Stephen King kind of fear, the kind that exists mostly in the imagination.
"It's scary, don't let anybody kid you," Dick said. "It sounds kind of silly, but you really do get kind of jumpy out there.
"We were playing . . . one night, and I hit my drive left into the trees. Now, that's a pretty dense stand of trees anyway, but at midnight, it looks like a forest.
"There's no light on that end of the course, not from street lights, or house lights, nothing. It's totally pitch dark. You can't see your hand in front of your face. But you can see that ball glowing.
"Anyway, I went in and found my ball, but all the time I was there, I had one eye on the ground and the other looking around. You know nothing is there, but it's so completely dark you have to wonder."
Night golf has an eerie, other-worldly element. You can clearly see your ball, but you cannot see the blade of your club behind it. In fact, you can see nothing but the ball.
Depth perception, so unwavering in daylight, becomes a great challenge of muscular dexterity in the night shadows. Swing balance, to be sure, is a skill not easily mastered either.
Actually, playing at night can help your game. Night golf is like playing in the day with a blindfold. If you can learn to control your swing in the dark, how much easier it will be for you to control it during the day.
But it is not as easy as it sounds. Oakwood Country Club head pro Tim Mendenhall whiffed on his first try under the moonbeams.
Hitting the ball squarely is tough enough, but another test of night golf is reading distance and direction.
"You might have a 50-foot pitch to the green and end up 50 feet on the other side of the hole," said Donehue. "You can't see the contours of the green, and you have to guess where the flag is and what club you're going to need to get there."
Pars are rare. Only three of them have been made since play began a couple of months ago. The balls, which are a little smaller in diameter than a regular golf ball, don't hit well. The common strategy is to use two clubs more than normal. The average score on each hole is double-bogey.
Flashlights are used on the greens, otherwise the golfers would be on their hands and knees searching for the hole. The flashlight holder, who is normally the player closest to the hole, holds the light on the cup.
"You couldn't play night golf unless you knew the course," Donehue said. "All you see is silhouettes of the trees lining the fairway, and you hit between them."