Late-night links

Two nine-hole courses provide golfers illuminating experience.
Thursday, July 1, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:06 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

Darkness is no longer a deterrent that can keep mid-Missouri golfers from squeezing in nine holes.

Although waning daylight can frustrate golfers who are trying to make the most of twilight specials at area courses, 8:30 p.m. tee times are common at Turkey Creek Golf Center in Jefferson City, where night golf thrives.

Most people associate night golf with glowing golf balls and glowing flag sticks that make for an entertaining but clumsy trip around a course.

At Turkey Creek, two stadium lights hover behind each of the course’s nine greens and act as a sunlight substitute, providing enough light for a round of golf.

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the day the lights came on at Turkey Creek, illuminating a new course made up of par 3s and providing a haven for golfers who can’t play during the day.

Perche Creek Golf Course, a par-3 course in Columbia, joined the night golf ranks Monday. Nine of Perche Creek’s 18 holes are lit.

Night golf obviously assures golfers won’t get an unattractive sock tan and gives them an easy way to turn a midsummer date into a night on the course. Dave Brown, a professional at Perche Creek, and Jim Epple, the head pro at Turkey Creek, said night golf is also attractive for many practical reasons.

“A lot of people work during the day and still want to play golf,” Brown said. “Others don’t want to play when it is really hot out, and so for everyone the lights will provide a great alternative for playing during the day.”

For the past few summers, Tiger Woods has been a mainstay in an annual midsummer, made-for-TV, night-golf showdown with other premier golfers from the PGA and LPGA Tours. The popularity of these events helped spawn the popularity of golf under the lights around the country.

Although Woods and his opponents play on full-length championship courses, only a few holes need to be lit because the start time of the event is timed so several holes can be played during daylight hours.

Night golf at full-length courses in Missouri and elsewhere is all but nonexistent because of the high costs of keeping a course lit. For the shorter par-3 courses such as Perche Creek and Turkey Creek, though, night golf is an enticing way of expanding business after dark.

Perche Creek and Turkey Creek offered lit driving ranges and miniature golf courses well before introducing night golf. Epple said the decision to build a nine-hole course with lights was an obvious step in the evolution of his business.

“You couldn’t hardly have a driving range without lights because I do so much business after dark,” Epple said. “That is the same for the golf course.”

Epple and Brown say their courses provide an enjoyable experience for golfers of all skill levels during the day and at night. For experienced golfers, the shorter holes offer important practice on approach shots, and for beginners the course is not intimidating and can be played in about an hour.

“The main reason the par-3 course is so good is most people don’t practice the part of the game they need to practice most, which is their short game,” Brown said. “When they work out here, it teaches them to hit the same club different distances and that is what is important in my opinion.

“Being able to play at night only makes that experience more available.”

Despite all the positives night golf provides, there are also several drawbacks. First, it is tougher to play at night because depth perception becomes more difficult when the sun goes down. No matter how many lights illuminate a course, it is always going to be tougher to judge distances at night.

Another problem is during the summer the air is heavier at night, which means the ball won’t carry as well. Epple said it is also easy to lose balls in the long and dense shadows that aren’t touched by light. He said he hopes to double the amount of lights on the course at Turkey Creek, but visibility will always be a problem.

Lastly, the bright lights attract plenty of bugs, so golfers need to be prepared for plenty of buzzing around their ears.

Despite the drawbacks, night golf provides golfers with a perfect opportunity to work on their games late into the evening. Turkey Creek is open until midnight Fridays and Saturdays and until 11 on weeknights. Perche Creek is open until 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and until 10 on weeknights.

The lights are on at the courses every night during spring, summer and fall, and Brown said being able to play at night is perfect during late spring and early fall when the weather is nice but daylight is short.

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