Night golfers entertain foxes at Kodiak course

Posted: Sunday, October 31, 2004

KODIAK Voices in the dark: ''Can you see the break?'' ''No.''

The words ''bonkers,'' ''nuts'' and ''crazy'' pop up with unusual frequency when talking to people about Kodiak's golf scene.

If you needed proof of the sanity (or lack thereof) of the local duffers, a good place to be was the Bear Valley Golf Course on a recent Friday night.

Thirty-six golfers hit the links for the Shot in the Dark Tournament, a bizarre, end-of-the-season fix for the hopelessly addicted. It was mid-October night-golf, Kodiak style.

''These guys are nuts,'' Bear Valley's Art Bors said. ''This group is particularly wacko.'' Indeed.

''Is this a divot? It must be a divot. I can stick my foot in it.''

The night-golfers began congregating in the Bear Valley clubhouse shortly after sunset. They sat at tables scattered throughout the barroom, their hands wrapped around either steaming cups of coffee or cold cans of domestic beer.

The night-golfers listened as Bors went over the rules:

1All night-golfers competing in the best-ball, shotgun-start tournament must use the ladies' tees.

2No artificial light sources other than the glow-in-the dark balls and the two six-inch glow sticks taped to each of the nine pins are allowed.

3The foursome finishing closest to its predicted score wins.

Needless to say, this was not a U.S. Open qualifier.

''If your ball comes near my head, it's mine!''

The first thing most night-golfers realized once they hit the links was how much they took depth perception for granted the last time they played. Staring down at a small, florescent-green glowing ball, surrounded by a sea of black, eyes tended to focus in and out, in and out, in and out, struggling to get a fix on an object that looked strangely like a UFO.

It was tricky and, like day-golf, it was frustrating.

Someone in the clubhouse prior to tee-off commented that his arms remained sore two weeks after his first round of night-golf because his shoulders and elbows had excavated one too many Rhode Island-sized divots.

And night-putting, never an easy task for the amateur day-golfer, became nearly impossible. The subtleties of the green completely disappeared. The only way to judge the break was to study how badly your partners missed.

Of course, the difficulties were compounded with a belly full of beer and peppermint schnapps.

''It gets scary up here.''

The glow-in-the-dark balls Bear Valley provided for the night-golfers came from Nitelite Golf, a company based in Wolfeboro Falls, N.H.

The balls cost about $6 a piece, and despite the price, they don't travel as far as regular balls. But the challenge was part of the fun, and Nitelite has supplied balls for tournaments in 67 countries.

Small specks of firefly green streaked overhead on all sides. It was 2002's Leonid meteor shower revisited.

The surreal atmosphere of the tournament led to a liberal interpretation of golf's traditional code of conduct. Loud banter between night-golfers on adjacent holes was the norm, but nobody knew for sure who they were yelling at when they couldn't even make out the members of their own foursome.

Golf bags doubled as coolers, and a mohawked caddy from Eagle River produced a plastic bottle of liquor more frequently than a 4-iron.

''Is that a fox?''

The 467-yard, par-5 fifth hole, difficult even on a sunny afternoon in July, offered up an unexpected hazard not mentioned in the USGA's Rules of Golf: foxes.

After watching their tee shots skip up the fairway or through rough and roll to a stop, several night-golfers were surprised to see their balls start to levitate.

A foot or two above the ground, the glowing balls eerily floated away. But the foxes were no accident.

Larry Van Daele, a wildlife biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said foxes are naturally curious creatures.

''Foxes love anything that's strange,'' Van Daele said, noting that bears share the same characteristic. ''And you can't get much more strange than a bunch of golfers going out and playing at night.''

Van Daele said the foxes did not mistake the balls for food, and probably deposited them in their dens for safe keeping. Van Daele also wanted to thanks to Kodiak's night-golfers for entertaining the local fox community.

It was after 10 p.m. when the two-legged wildlife returned to the clubhouse to exchange stories and hear results.

Bors presented the top three foursomes awards back-scratchers for the winning ''scratch'' golfers; duct tape and garbage bags, a.k.a ''Samsonite golf travel bags,'' for the second-place foursome; and frozen 24-ounce Tyson rock Cornish game hens for each member of the third-place group. It was a fittingly bizarre conclusion to a wild, crazy night.

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