Shedding light on Skellig night golf

In the gathering dusk, the players arrived at Skellig Bay Golf Clubin twos and threes to pay their entry fees and collect their scorecards.

And their nightlights.

And their lightstick necklace.

And their special balls.

Each team captain was also presented with a spectacularly-lit head-dress and plastic bugle.

Minutes later, the club’s second annual night golf Open Championship was underway as we drove off into the darkness.

Night golf sounds crazy doesn’t it? I would have agreed until I tried it. It was a scramble format, four in a team, and I was with the brothers Huggard, Stephen and Abey, in a team led by Michael St Leger.

Stephen and Abey were locals, from Waterville, Michael and myself from Cork, and from first tee to final green, the two counties gelled perfectly.

That first blind swing is a strange experience. The other three players had their lights trained on your ball, the fairway was defined in the darkness by a light-sticks placed on either edge. But what else was out there, what danger lurked hidden in the dark? And what was happening with your club when it left your vision in the backswing?

It didn’t bother Abey, who hammered his first drive straight and long, down the middle, his ball glowing green in a beautifully defined arc out in front of us. “Last year we had lines of cars driving by wondering at the spectacle,” said 2012 club captain Dan Brosnan. “They’re like falling stars, in technicolour.”

The balls light up when struck and we each had our own specific colour; mine was red (for the Corkman, you understand). I swung, it took off, but a beautiful arc? No, instead it resembled a scalded cat, barely rising above ground level and not travelling very far. Stephen and Michael both also bombed two big ones down the middle and we were underway.

You know all the stuff you’re told in golf lessons about keeping your eye on the back of the ball and trusting your swing?

That’s what we did from there on and what started as a novelty soon became a most enjoyable game of golf.

“Sure, what else would you be doing on a night like this only poaching?” said Stephen, “Or lamping!”, added Abey. And God it was fun! Even though we were playing off the forward tees and even with the long drives, Skellig Bay is a long course so we were still hitting mid-irons for many of our approach shots. It mattered little. In hole after hole, we were either on the green or just off, all four of us very quickly finding our rhythm.

“In a way it’s almost easier,” reckoned Abey, “It’s not as daunting in the dark, you can’t see the trouble in front of you so you’re more confident with your swing.”

There were no lost balls either as Brosnan had predicted. “It’s actually more difficult to lose your balls at night, believe it or not. The balls stay lit for several minutes after you strike them so this might be the one game where you don’t lose your ball.”

The greens were easy to see, light sticks again put to good use to define their outline while a special flashing light was attached to the flag stick.

Even the chipping and putting proved less difficult than anticipated. The three lads — all members — knew every undulation in every green which certainly helped our cause. We played nine holes and finished level par — two bogeys, two birdies, five solid pars.

Good enough, it transpired, to be crowned winners.

Club pro Mark Heinemann is the man behind the event, which is growing in appeal. He explained “I’d seen it in England but I’d never heard of it in Ireland and I thought it would work. It’s fun, different, interesting, challenging — I think we can all take golf a bit too seriously at times but this is completely different. It’s purely for fun, there’s nothing you can take too seriously about it. I thought we’d run it on a trial basis and see how it went.”

And the cost? “To cover nine holes — which is all we play — costs probably about €1000 for everything, which isn’t cheap, so you need a good few teams to break even. You have the light sticks, the headlights, the balls and all that. A couple of man-hours just before dark are enough to set up the course. obviously you can’t do it too early because the light sticks have a limited life.”

This is an investment, an attempt to shine a light on a new club trying to make an impression in a very competitive environment. “This is a beautiful part of Kerry — come down here for a golf break and you’re spoiled for choice with half a dozen courses you could play without having to travel very far. We’re hoping to show people that Skellig Bay should be one of those courses.”

I played it in the dark but I saw the light and I’ll be back. Anyway, given that this is the only tournament of its kind in Ireland, don’t we have an All-Ireland title to defend?


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