It’s 8:15 on a Thursday night in early September. The sun set 40 minutes ago, and golfers around the state are heading home.
Not Dustin Lane. His round is just beginning.
Lane, 23, is a manager/club-fitting specialist at Perche Creek Golf Club. Like many golfers across the country, he finds it tough to squeeze in a game during the day, even while working at a golf course.
“A lot of days after work, I’ll pop out here when there’s nobody out here on the range on a nice cool night and hit a bucket of balls,” he said.
Perche Creek, just west of Columbia and visible from Interstate 70, offers a variety of options for golfers: go-karts, mini golf, a driving range, a fully stocked pro shop and an 18-hole par-3 golf course, all of which are lighted. Right now, the course closes at 10 p.m. on weekends and 9 p.m. on weekdays, though it stays open an hour later in the summer and closes an hour or two earlier in the winter, Lane said.
“It’s one of the things that we’re most proud of," manager and part-owner Jake Poe said. "We’ve created an environment out here where I think just about everybody feels comfortable.”
Lane plays golf at night as easily as he does when he has daylight. Of course, it helps when you know the course as well as he does, with intimate knowledge about yardages, the shape and slope of the green, and hills that might give the ball a good bounce.
He picked up golf in middle school in Kansas City, where he grew up, and played the game all four years in high school.
Lane got his first job when he was 16, working behind the desk in the clubhouse. When the club started serving alcohol, he was too young to serve drinks, so he became a marshal on the golf course.
Most days, he drove around in a cart making sure the golfers were having a good time and keeping up with the group in front of them.
“I got out of the golf business for a while and started doing some other things, but all my best memories are on a golf course, playing at night like this, so I wanted to get back into it,” he said.
Lane, who was a student at MU, has been working at Perche Creek full-time for a year and a half and will be enrolling with the PGA next spring to become a certified professional.
As an employee, he has the benefit of being able to jump on the course any night after work.
The course is almost empty when Lane tees off, except for a group of about 10 Thai players, who are being given on-the-course lessons.
“For the time being when it’s not super-packed, you kind of have the course to yourself for the most part," Lane said. "You can go out and play at your own pace and just enjoy the night.”
On the third hole, Lane lips out his third straight putt.
“My night putting is terrible,” he said, explaining that dew on the greens at night makes balls move slower.
He finally figures out the speed of the greens as he drops in a 10-footer for birdie on the sixth green, which is dimly lit. The wind has caused one of the football-sized bulbs to shift so it is no longer positioned correctly to light the green.
He easily pars the last three holes to shoot an even-par 27, missing only one green (barely) the entire round.
Currently, there are eight light poles with 24 bulbs each bordering I-70. The goal is to add more lights on the opposite side of the course so the lights shine both ways. That would make it easier for golfers to find their balls if they happen to miss the green badly.
The initial thought was that the lights would reflect off the water, creating an ambient light, but it didn’t work out as hoped. At the moment, the plan is to play around with different wattages on the bulbs to see which ones spread the light more. Right now, the club is using 1,500-watt bulbs, Lane said.
Perche Creek is hoping to install new lights this fall or, at the latest, early next spring. Holes one, seven and nine in particular can be difficult late at night.
“You just hit it and listen for the thump of the ball on the green,” Lane said.
He hopes better lighting will help bring more golfers out at night.
“It definitely has its own atmosphere,” Lane said. “It’s kind of got that Bagger Vance feel. I’m waiting for Will Smith to walk out of the dark over there and start talking to me.”
The lights on the course are fairly expensive to operate. The $12 ($14 on a weekend) greens fees, good for unlimited golf, don’t cover the entire cost of running the lights. But Lane said as long as there are a few people playing at night, it’s worth it.
“We’re trying to get the word out that ‘Hey, it is out there, and you don’t have to only play during the day,'” he said. “'Come check it out at night when it’s cooler and you don’t have to worry about bugs and mosquitoes.’ I think it will catch on.”
The facility is more peaceful at night, he added. There's no sun beating down and very few bugs.
“That’s something a lot of people don’t expect, how much more serene it is out here when there’s not as much going on," Lane said. "You don’t have golf cart tires screeching and guys yelling back and forth. It makes it a lot more enjoyable evening, even if you’re not a great golfer, just because you’re not out there during the heat, sweating.”