Night clubbing: When darkness falls it's tee time for golfers whose biggest problem is keeping an eye on the ball. Emma Cook gets in the swing

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The Independent Culture
Shot,' shouts golfer Mark Jones, as his fluorescent green ball shoots off into the darkness. A group of fellow players survey the gloom ahead. 'God knows where that's gone,' one mutters.

Night golf, invented in America, was adopted by Springfield Park Golf Club in Wandsworth, south west London, last November as a novelty for players with a sense of humour. Golf can be a long and lonely business. Often players are out for hours, covering miles of green without seeing another human being. Night golf, however, is a much shorter game (nine holes as opposed to 18), played in teams to provide plenty of camaraderie.

Teams of four take it in turns to tee off. 'They pick the best shot and play from wherever it lands,' explains Brian Davies, the game organiser. 'That means they can all keep together.' Nocturnal participants use plastic golf balls filled with green fluorescent bulbs that last up to six hours. Luminous sticks next to each hole help to shed some light on the game.

Springfield Park coach Grattan Smallman believes that daylight can hinder rather than help the golfer when he aims for a perfect hit. He believes that if you look at a stationary ball for long enough it can short-circuit your hand-to-eye co-ordination. 'For the same reason, a footballer can miss an open net when he takes a penalty shot,' he explains. Night golf may well be the perfect way to improve skills. 'If you can't see the ball you don't try so hard,' Smallman says. 'Trying too hard can destroy your ability.'

Consequently he often asks pupils to close their eyes before they strike. Natural co-ordination, he says, works subconsciously. 'They don't believe it's psychological, but it is. Once you know where the ball is, the swing is relatively easy.'

This is, perhaps, why the sport is becoming increasingly popular with the visually impaired. Out of the nine teams playing tonight two are from the Linden Lodge School for the blind and partially sighted. 'It's very satisfying for them to achieve something that normal-sighted people find so hard to do,' Smallwood says.

Out on the green, darkness seems to have a strange effect on sighted players. Denied light, these normally tranquil, civilised golfers are reduced to a state of hysteria. 'I can't believe I've lost it already,' one player shrieks, disappointed that at the point of teeing off he can't find the ball.

Two hours into the game, the course is beginning to resemble a battlefield. Beleaguered players tramp across the fairways, dodging the bright green balls whistling overhead. It's an eccentric sight and one that, despite its American origins, seems intrinsically British. 'It's a case of mad dogs and Englishmen,' Davies says, back in the warmth of the bar and still, three hours later, waiting for the teams to return. 'You'd have to be crazy to play out there.'

For details of the next night golf competition contact Brian Davies, Springfield Park Golf Club, Wandsworth, London SW17 (081- 871 2468)

(Photograph omitted)

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