Glowing review: Winter Park night golf a surprising treat

Jason Lusk/Golfweek

Glowing review: Winter Park night golf a surprising treat

Digital Edition

Glowing review: Winter Park night golf a surprising treat

By

Winter Park, Fla. – It’s a little difficult to line up a pitch shot with a 60-degree wedge when you can’t see the clubface, even with your Glow V1 golf ball casting a nice little circle of light. Night Golf Tip No. 1: Just use the putter.

Such were the lessons in simplicity learned in a nighttime romp around Winter Park Golf Course near Orlando.

During the recent PGA Merchandise Show in town, plenty of industry attendees escaped the Orange County Convention Center to sample the much-heralded renovation work of architects Riley Johns and Keith Rhebb, who in 2016 gave a dead-flat site some of the best greens in Central Florida. Everybody wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

But what happens when you can hardly see the place and still have to make a putt? Night Golf Tip No. 2: Use your feet to read the breaks.

Starting in November and running through March, the course commonly known as the Winter Park 9 has hosted WP9 After Dark, in which players pay $25 for nine holes and use glowing golf balls. The fairway yardage markers are equipped with short light stakes that look like an airport runway on approach, and the flags sport big, conical green lights that jump out of the darkness and provide a tight ring of neon light around the hole.

My threesome started on No. 1 on a chilly night last week, teeing off on the 230-yard par-4 opener shortly after sunset. No weather complaints here – we got by with windbreakers as most of the U.S. dealt with whatever is a polar vortex.

The course was set up to play even shorter than its listed 2,480 yards, which seemed appropriate considering we couldn’t see the bunkers. Three-time major champion Tommy Armour has been credited with saying there is no such thing as a blind shot to a man with a memory, and we knew what was out there. Fair game.

Golfweek’s Kevin Casey sinks a putt in the dark. (Jason Lusk/Golfweek)

“Golf is already humbling enough during the day, and it’s even more so at night,” said Hank Ashby, a retired Central Florida native who moved back to Winter Park from Mount Pleasant, S.C., last year to be closer to his grandchildren. “But it’s just so cool to do this at night.”

Ashby was trying night golf for the second time when he caught up to our threesome after four holes, happily making it a foursome. Night Golf Tip No. 3: Much better to wave up a waiting player than risk being hit into because that player can’t see you on the green.

The Glow V1 golf balls – no relation to the Titleist balls of a similar name – are a huge improvement on glow balls of the past, many of which required a player to crack open a short chemical glow stick and insert it into a hole in the ball. The Glow V1s respond to UV light from a special flashlight, requiring just a very brief recharge after each hole. These balls behave much more like a normal golf ball, with shots flying expected distances.

And it’s just so cool to watch the ball take off. Low tee shots seemed to be the best; we could see the backspin grab hold as the ball gently rose. From an observation point anywhere more than a few yards away from the player, the ball seems to take off on its own because it’s impossible to see the golfer. Ambient light from houses, car headlights and street lamps made it possible to keep track of other players in our group, but the best-looking shots on the darkest holes had nothing to do with where they landed but rather how they flew.

And when the goal is to simply keep track of the ball – which is pretty easy so long as it remains on the course; after all, it glows – even good players might find themselves more relaxed and simply enjoying the walk instead of fighting for birdies on the WP9’s short par 4s. Night Golf Tip No. 4: Use a cell phone to take slow-motion video of a shot from as close to the point of impact as safely possible, as the ensuing flight is fun to watch later.

The hardest part is trying to read a green – “You just can’t see the curves,” Ashby said – especially because the WP9’s raised, undulating greens are a testament to big breaks in tight spaces. But anyone who has played the course in daylight should know what to expect. Night Golf Tip No. 5: Even bad putters have a built-in excuse in the dark, so just enjoy a new experience.

Pro shop manager Gregg Pascale said WP9 has hosted night golf for private events for years, and public players kept stopping in the shop to see if they could give it a go. So in 2018 the course started hosting after-hours golf one night a week, which generated more than $9,000 in revenue that first winter season.

The Winter Park Golf Course clubhouse (Jason Lusk/Golfweek)

Pascale said the WP9 is perfectly suited for night golf. It’s short, there’s no water, players walk instead of risk driving a golf cart into a lake or bunker, it takes less than two hours so players aren’t out there all night, and the urban setting makes it unlikely to wander into any nocturnal animals common in many Florida locales.

“It’s great extra revenue, and people really enjoy it,” he said. “We kind of have it dialed in now. It’s switched from being a gimmick to people saying, ‘This is pretty cool.’ ”

Night Golf Tip No. 6: Just try it. Gwk

Latest

More Digital Edition
Home