This article is courtesy of www.makeitmissoula.com

By ANDY COMMONS

Last year, I heard about the Annual Glow Ball Golf tournament  held at the Ranch Club after it was already over, and was bummed. (Perhaps you will soon know how I felt.) So this year, when I got news that the Glow Ball Tournament was happening in late August, I had to get signed up.

So what is Glowball? Take your typical two-person scramble golf tournament, and then add about a dozen little twists. The first one is obvious. You play at night. I heard that the previous year the moon was out and actually lit up the course pretty well. So this year, the organizers checked their lunar calendar, and picked an evening where there was no moon. The only lights we saw were from the nearby Missoula Airport, and the fire in Bonner still burning away in the distance.

The setup began many hours before, as the Ranch Club Golf Shop crew outfitted the back 9 of the course with hundreds of glow-sticks. There were glowsticks marking the fairways, red ones by traps and water, and white ones around the green. Then the flags themselves were decked out in glowing or flashing LED lights as well.

We showed up en masse about 8:30pm, signed in, picked up our team supplies, and were told the rules. Each player was given TWO glowballs. If you lost them, you had to take a 6 on every hole thereafter. For each ball that was returned at the end, you got a stroke taken off your team score. The two-person team would play best ball, all the way into the hole… meaning each person hit, and then you decided which of the two shots you’d select to both play from. If your team got a birdie, you moved back a tee box, and if you got a Bogey, you moved up one. Par meant using the same tee box as the last hole. Flashlights and headlamps were allowed while traveling the course, but had to be turned off when hitting.

The balls themselves are the best part. You tap them with your club face, and they light up for about 15 minutes. This gives you enough time to hit the ball, and hopefully find it before it stops glowing. It made the ball easier to find than usual in the deep fescue that lines many of the holes on this course. We even saw one ball from the other team glowing away in the water, but it ended up going out just as they tried to retrieve it.

My partner Dave was cracking us up. Seemed each time he tee’d up his ball, it would hit the 15 minute mark and go out just as he began his backswing. This happened repeatedly.

Each team was paired with another team to create a four-some, but in the end, your score would be combined with a mystery team… so odds were, the two folks you were playing with were probably your competition.

As the sun set, it was finally time for the 60 players to head to their starting hole for the shot gun start. Luck was with me in a lot of ways that evening. First, Dave had played the same nine holes earlier that day, so he already knew if the pins were up or back. (If I had played that course 4 hours before, I’m not sure I could tell you much of anything about pin locations). Also, like me, Dave is a geek, and he had his GPS enabled phone with him, and an app that let him know our exact distance to the pin for each hole. So while many others were literally in the dark when it came to club selection, we at least had a starting point.

But knowing the distance was only the first problem. You see, these glow balls are made of plastic, and fly only about 80% as far as a normal golf ball. So it took a few holes to figure out how to adjust my club selection. (This assumes I can normally hit a ball a certain distance with a particular club consistently).  Also, without the ability to see the ground, it was a bit nerve racking to swing at this glowing orb. We all thought we’d be hitting it fat or thin, but in fact, taking away the distractions of, well, seeing anything other than the ball, actually improved my ball striking. Others seemed to think the same was true for them.

Now, you’d think with all this talk of club selection, and hitting the ball cleanly, I must have cared about how well I did, and yes, I did care about doing well. But, if I’m honest, I was more concerned about not kicking over my beer in the dark or getting hit by a glowing knock to the head. The one thing about golfing in the dark is that, despite all the glow sticks and reflective clothing, it’s REALLY hard to tell if the people in front of you have moved ahead a safe distance. So we quickly developed an effective system to communicate with the other teams. This consisted of yelling, “ARE YOU STILL ON THE GREEN?!!”, or in another case, “HEY! WE’RE STILL IN THE FAIRWAY!”, just after a ball came rolling past where I was about to hit my second shot.

Something about walking around in the dark helped me lose some of our inhibitions, and our four-some chatted easily about lots of topics as we pushed our handcarts under a blanket of stars in the Montana night sky. But one player lost more than his inhibitions. After hitting his ball into the pond on 18, he stripped down and dove in to get his ball back. Boy, what some folks will do to shave a stroke off their score.

When it was all done, we met up at the club house and turned in our score cards and remaining glow balls, then waited for the big score board to be updated. (Do golf pros get special training on writing numbers with a big fat sharpie like that?) It was past 12:30 am at this point, and a few teams that were still out there ended up getting quite wet as the irrigation system kicked in.

Dave and I got paired with a pretty good mystery team, and ended up in 2nd place overall. We missed the grand prize by just a few strokes. But that’s OK. I don’t need my name embroidered on a flag to be handed down to future winners anyway. (If I keep saying that, I might actually believe that someday).

My overall rating of this event is a very enthusiastic Thumbs Up. The entire event was a blast, and my hat goes off to the Ranch Club staff for making it a great time.

So, while it’s getting cooler, we have some more golf left in this season and some courses are about to drop their rates for the fall. Get out there and enjoy some golf during the last remaining days before it’s dark by 5 pm!