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A shot in the dark: Night golfing at Goat Hill

ELEANOR P. LABROZZI The clubhouse of the Shelter Island Country club on the night of Moonlight Madness.
ELEANOR P. LABROZZI The clubhouse of the Shelter Island Country Club on the night of Moonlight Madness.

It took a solid hour of practice and two holes on the Shelter Island Country Club (SICC) course before my golf genes kicked in.

Though I’ve been playing for more than half my life, golf is a sport that requires consistent preparation, focus and reminders to keep your head down. But there was one more challenge Sunday night. You read correctly — night, as in the Moonlight Madness tournament at the Goat Hill course.

The tournament, open to both members and non-members, teed off at 8 p.m., just as the last rays of sun disappeared and the near-full moon broke through ragged clouds.

Night golf necessitated new supplies. Many players opted to bring flashlights, and all mad golfers received a glow-in-the-dark ball. The ball was translucent with a hole through the center, into which a small glow stick was placed.

Don’t hit the glow stick directly, club professional Scott Lechmanski warned, or it might burst.

The tournament was a “scramble,” a match in which each member of a team hits and the team selects the best ball to continue play. The teammates then play from that shot, and so on, until they score collectively.

With rules in mind, focused, head down, I set up my stance for my first drive off the tee and into the darkness.

“Straight!” called out one of my teammates, Jerry Laraeu, correctly identifying my drive, although the slope of the hole rolled it to the right into the bushes. Really. It was the slope.

Despite the glow stick, we had some difficulty locating the ball. This was not a singular experience. Every player had to hunt down a ball or two. As Islander Greg Toner put it, the tournament is nine holes of “find the ball.”

ELEANOR P. LABROZZI PHOTO Two intrepid night golfers.
ELEANOR P. LABROZZI PHOTO Two intrepid night golfers.

Each hole brought new conditions and challenges. The second and third holes were the most well-lit, with the bright moonlight uninterrupted by trees and glowing on the fairways. The fourth hole, my teammate and trustee of the SICC Belle Laraeu warned me, gives the club its nickname, “Goat Hill.” Fortunately, a good bounce got my drive up the notorious slope.

With each shot I felt my confidence — and night vision — strengthen. Though putting remained a bit of a guessing game since darkness made reading the green a shot in the dark, so to speak. Ms. Laraeu and I were proud when we made par on our fourth hole.

The game also left plenty of time for conversation, since we spent so much time searching for our shots, and got to know our teams. Raised on Shelter Island, Ms. Laraeu began learning the sport six years ago, became a member at the SICC and now leads the Friday scrambles of the ladies group.

She previously served as secretary at the SICC and is now a trustee on the board. Mr. Toner, invaluable helping me locate balls with his flashlight, moved to Shelter Island four years ago and now serves on the Water Advisory Committee.

Moonlight Madness originated three years ago and was revived this year with the goal of attracting more locals, according to Mr. Lechmanski. The first tournament had great success, drawing about 40 participants. Though this year’s attendance was roughly half of its predecessor’s, that fact may be due to the change in date.

The tournament was originally scheduled for the night of a new moon, which would have meant playing in total darkness.

“It needs to be a full moon to see anything,” Mr. Lechmanski said.

The tournament, not surprisingly, provided plenty of opportunities for humor of the, well, mad variety, Mr. Lechmanski said. In the first Moonlight Madness tournament, he drove his golf cart into a bench on the fifth hole.

That experience nearly replicated itself this past Sunday, when my cart went off the path into some bushes and hit an overhead tree branch.

“The most important thing is that participants enjoy themselves,” Mr. Lechmanski added. “This isn’t the U.S. Open.”

Night mission accomplished, with plenty of laughs along the way.