Prime Time: Why Night Golf Could Explode in Popularity
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Prime Time: Why Night Golf Could Explode in Popularity

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Prime Time: Why Night Golf Could Explode in Popularity

There are about 16,000 golf courses in the United States, but less than one percent of them have lights. 

That could change in the coming years as many in the golf industry feel we are at the beginning of a night golf trend. 

Why? For starters, interest in par 3 courses—which are usually the only types of layouts to include lights—has increased dramatically the past few years. 

The Google search history for “par 3 golf near me” is up more than 60 percent since the pandemic started, which easily outpaces the growth in general “golf course near me” searches. And according to the National Golf Foundation, 50 percent of new course openings in the United States over the last decade have been nine-hole layouts or short courses. 

They are quicker to play, easier for beginners and generally less expensive—successfully combating three of golf’s biggest participation obstacles (time, difficulty and cost). 

So why night golf? It has a few added advantages that pour kerosene on to the par 3 surge. 

  • A longer tee sheet that can include up to 15 hours worth of tee times. 
  • The ability to play more golf during shorter days or in cooler temperatures. 
  • Allowing golfers to play after normal work hours on weekdays. 
  • Night golf can be aligned with the Topgolf concept of golfers going to a facility for hospitality/entertainment, which has proven to have more demand at night compared to earlier in the day. 

With those pieces as ingredients, we are starting to see serious investment in night golf. Other forms of alternate play have been commercialized in the past decade, but night golf has not received the same treatment to this point. 

We’re seeing that slowly change. 

8AM Golf—which consists of brands like Golf Magazine, Miura, True Spec, GolfLogix and others—recently partnered with Justin Timberlake to acquire 3s, a 12-hole lighted course in South Carolina. 

Grass Clippings, which got exposure from hosting the Good Good Desert Open two weeks ago at their Rolling Hills course in Tempe, Arizona, has plans to build at least four more lighted courses in the U.S. and beyond. 

The new PGA of America campus in Frisco, Texas, has a 10-hole, 770-yard night golf course called The Swing that was unveiled last year. 

Boyne Golf is opening a lighted 9-hole short course in Harbor Springs, Michigan, this spring. Boyne said it plans to build additional short courses at their other resorts in the coming years. 

Translation? These facilities could be early adopters in a space that is begging to be filled. 

Origins of a Night Golf Course

Grass Clippings is built around the concept of high stakes par 3 golf.

To better understand how a night golf course comes together, I reached out to Grass Clippings. 

Their origin story is fascinating and indicative of what night golf can do for a community. It revolves around a tournament golf concept that, for our money, could really grow the game in a legitimate way (more on that in a moment). 

The story starts with five guys. And, no, this does not revolve around burgers. 

Jake Hoselton, Jimmy Hoselton, Pete Wilson, Connor Riley and T.J. Forrester—five good friends from Arizona, each in their 30s, each with a handicap at scratch or better—wanted to start a clothing brand. 

The genesis was their belief that golfers should wear hats with deeper meaning. Why wear a hat with a manufacturer’s logo? Why not something more authentic that represents you as a golfer? 

They came up with the idea for a line of apparel called Grass Clippings, an ode to superintendents who do the dirty work of maintaining a course with such little recognition. The motto? Stay grassy. 

“If you think about a golf operation, everyone knows the bag boy’s name, the bartender, the head pro—everyone except the greenskeeper,” said Wilson, one of the Grass Clippings co-founders and now the chief of marketing. “If they don’t show up to work, this whole thing doesn’t go.” 

As that apparel line began, Wilson and his comrades were interested in launching a golf tournament to grow the brand. But not just any tournament—they wanted a competition where everyone had a shot at success but players didn’t have to give strokes. Something where better players didn’t feel like they had to shoot a ridiculously low score against a higher handicap golfer getting 10 shots. Something that could galvanize the local golf community. 

They came to a consensus that a two-man scramble par 3 tournament would be best. If you’re a nine handicap? Go find a partner who is a stick. If you are a great college golfer? Come out with a teammate and prove it. 

The first two tournaments were at Mountain Shadows in Scottsdale. It went better than they could have imagined. 

“We had guys in their 60s in the final group going up against guys just out of college who played for top programs,” Wilson said. 

The vision was for grandstands, some kind of TV coverage and golf under the lights, but that wasn’t going to happen at Mountain Shadows where space was limited. After the second tournament, the five friends agreed that they wanted to find a new course—one where they wouldn’t get chased off as the sun was going down. 

They decided to search for a par 3 course they could own and operate. A community effort to raise funds came together, and they found the perfect location in Tempe, a stone’s throw from the airport and Arizona State University. 

Rolling Hills Golf Course was a city-owned diamond in the rough executive course that sat in a brilliant location. It had been bleeding money for years due to poor conditions and lack of demand. The land was restricted to recreational use only, so it hadn’t been developed. 

“It was like a ghost town,” Wilson said. “It was like literally no one knew it existed.” 

The five friends went to the city with their vision: a remodel of the course, installation of lights, a bar at the top of the clubhouse, a massive putting green and more. The mayor loved it. They had to go through a lengthy RFP process and won against some of the giants in the golf course operator world. Grass Clippings was awarded a 30-year lease with two, 10-year renewals. 

For $15 million, the course was redone, lighting was installed, an improved driving range with Toptracer technology was put in, and a new clubhouse and event lawn was developed. They didn’t take on any debt. 

“We raised all the money for the most part here locally, some out-of-state investors, but we have a lot of great partners that are super excited about the project,” Wilson said. 

Grass Clippings got the head superintendent at TPC Scottsdale, Scott Hebert, to be the greenkeeper at the newly improved Rolling Hills. The greens hadn’t been aerated in more than four years. Hebert called it “the ultimate makeup job.” 

The new ownership started July 1 of last year and the course opened in November. During the day, certain holes extend into par 4s. At night, there are adjustments so that every hole is a par 3. 

The response has been overwhelming. Wilson said 94 percent of tee times—and there are 15 hours worth of them—are being utilized. The day-to-day operations company they teamed up with has never seen anything like it. 

Golfers are stopping Wilson after their rounds to thank him and his friends for creating a golf community that is so singular and accessible. The Good Good Desert Open event saw 3,500 people come out to watch, adding to the buzz around the course. 

In the winter, the course is a much cheaper option compared to other facilities in the area. And in the summer when day-time temperatures regularly exceed 100 degrees, night golf in cooler temperatures could be even more popular. 

Now there are plans to add more courses, likely in the southern U.S. and potentially other warm climates outside the country. Wilson sees the Grass Clippings story as a model for what night golf could look like in other places. 

“I truly believe we’re about to hit a golf boom in the lighted golf sector,” he said. “It just makes way too much sense. There’s something about this feeling of playing under the lights. Golf is made for it.”

A Revolutionary New Par 3 League?

More than 3,500 spectators came out to watch the Good Good Desert Open.

A big reason to believe in night golf is that it could unlock prime time TV for golf. 

Grass Clippings wants to be the first to make that happen. They are partnering with Bleacher Report to televise their high-stakes par 3 tournaments—the Grass League—with the first event taking place in April. 

The concept is built around ownership and a calcutta system. There are amateur golfers competing with a purse—but the purse goes to the owners who buy the team. While the amateurs can’t earn a paycheck, it could be a creative pathway to play golf on TV and make money through sponsorships. 

A certain number of tee times in the event are being sold to owners in different parts of the country. So there will be a Los Angeles team, a Minnesota team, a Dallas team and so on—the owners can identify two players to compete on their behalf. There will also be pro events with this same concept. 

There are two ways to get in the event: prove to an owner that you are worthy or go through open qualifying. After getting into the tournament, there is a calcutta where people can buy teams that aren’t owned yet. 

Grass Clippings worked with a law firm out of New York to draw up a constitution for the league with player/owner contracts. They also plan on having pro-only tournaments with a similar mindset. 

Take that concept for one tournament—a two-man scramble under the lights—and extend it to a whole league with different venues. The next event after April will be a pro tournament in December, but there is a hope to ramp up the league from that point. Grass Clippings is currently in talks to purchase another golf course. 

“So imagine we have four locations throughout the Southwest, Southeast in warm weather climates,” Wilson said. “And we have one amateur event at each location, one pro event at each location. And these owners have tee times in all of those tournaments. And then at the end of the year, like a FedEx Cup, it all funnels to the top 10 from each tournament going into the final tournament.” 

Wilson believes this could be a key piece in the future of competitive golf: prime time, under the lights, with players representing something bigger than themselves and meaningful competition that gets competitors nervous. 

At a time when the PGA Tour and LIV are making pro golf worse, it’s an interesting concept that has legs. 

Could this type of league make night golf explode in popularity? 

“The ground beneath us is shifting in golf,” Wilson said. “You can feel it. No one knows where this is headed.” 

Night Golf Has Significant Challenges

There are 78 lights at Grass Clippings Rolling Hills. It cost about $2 million to install the lights.

So where has night golf been for all of these years? Well, it’s very hard to do. 

Golf in the United States has traditionally not been set up to encourage night golf. 

During the boom of the 90s, golf courses were mainly built by developers trying to sell houses. That didn’t cater to night golf. Light and noise ordinances—plus the pushback you would get from residents—make it virtually impossible to put lights on a course lined with homes. 

Even on courses without houses, those same ordinances and other zoning issues make it a hassle for operators. 

“When we were looking for locations, there was always a red flag,” Wilson said. 

And then there is, of course, the cost and operating expense of the lights, as well as added labor of workers staying late. 

Wilson said installing the course’s 78 lights was in the area of $2 million. About three foursomes worth of tee times each night offset the cost of the electricity bill. Grass Clippings uses dynamic pricing—the cost of a night golf tee time is usually about $81-$99 (during the day, it typically dips to the $45-65 range). 

Another major barrier is that night golf has, for some people, not been fully accepted as legitimate golf. 

A lot of purists consider night golf gimmicky or not serious. Despite the lights, vision is imperfect. There is no history of meaningful golf being played at night—when most think of night golf, you think of Topgolf or fooling around with friends on a lighted driving range. 

Despite other sports often taking on a grander feel under the lights, golf is not known for being that way. It does matter to some people, especially in a competitive setting. 

Wilson also notes that golf industry inertia can be hard to move, and owning a night golf course isn’t for the faint of heart. 

“Golf obviously trends much older, older people in power that make big decisions,” Wilson said. “If it ain’t broke, why fix it? A lot of (course operators) aren’t motivated to do (night golf). It takes a lot of work. We’re young and we have a vision, we have the energy. Like, it’s not easy by any means. We’ve had every little problem happen to us, and we’re there to address it, nip it in the bud and move on.” 

On top of everything else, Wilson believes the facility must be close to a major population center. 

Night golf in the middle of nowhere would be hard to execute. If someone has a 9:50 p.m. tee time—the last time Grass Clippings offers at Rolling Hills—they probably aren’t going to want to drive much after their round ends at midnight, which is when the lights go off at the course. 

And few, if any, people will come to a night golf course as a destination on vacation, so it’s not like they are purposefully staying in hotels near property like they would on other golf trips. 

You need a lot of locals close to the course while also being far enough away from residential areas so light and noise aren’t an issue. 

It’s a delicate balance, to be sure. 

Parting Thoughts

There are only about 60 night golf courses in the United States, but that could be changing.

Night golf is successful in other parts of the world. South Korea, for example, has night golf at 20 percent of the country’s courses. 

In the United States, however, night golf has never been fully embraced. There are not even 100 lighted courses in the entire country. 

Finding great locations for night golf is a difficult task, especially when most current course properties are close to houses. 

But for those brave enough to take it on, the upside is high. 

Night golf opens the window for several hours of additional tee times, which is often more convenient for a large portion of working-class golfers. It naturally allows for more food/beverage sales and overall community involvement to make the facility a meaningful place. And unlike other golf-related activities that take place at night, it’s real golf that appeals to both hard-core and casual golfers. 

Topgolf and upscale driving ranges have paved the path for night golf to be embraced. And given what we know about the explosion of par 3 golf in general, it makes sense that night golf could gain traction.

There is real movement to add more night golf—but it still feels like we are at the very beginning of a potential trend. 

What do you think? Will night golf remain a small niche in the U.S. or can you see it growing rapidly over the next decade? Would you try it if you haven’t already? 

Let me know below in the comments.

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Sean Fairholm

Sean Fairholm

Sean Fairholm

Sean is a longtime golf journalist and underachieving 8 handicap who enjoys the game in all forms. If he didn't have an official career writing about golf, Sean would spend most of his free time writing about it anyway. When he isn't playing golf, you can find Sean watching his beloved Florida Panthers hockey team, traveling to a national park or listening to music on his record player. He lives in Nashville with his wife and dog (of course the dog's name is Hogan).

Sean Fairholm

Sean Fairholm

Sean Fairholm

Sean Fairholm

Sean Fairholm

Sean Fairholm

Sean Fairholm

Sean Fairholm





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      Dr Tee

      5 months ago

      How about publishing a list of existing USA night golf courses for the readership ???

      Reply

      PHDrunkards

      5 months ago

      Lots of examples around the world.
      Thailand, Singapore, Dubai, UAE, Vietnam, Japan, Korea.
      Mostly in climates that get hot, so people can play at night when it’s cooler.
      Maintenance must be difficult, but it’s not like those courses are cheap Munis, so they can afford it. People do play them.
      In the States obvious places would be Florida and Vegas, places like that, to do it full on at full length championship courses.

      Reply

      Frazzman80

      5 months ago

      San Pedro Par 3 in San Antonio (a public city-affiliated course) is fully lit and I played a night round recently back in November. It was definitely different from a visual lightning perspective as there are shadows (especially multiple ones on the green), dark spots (don’t stray away from the intended shot line or slice one away from the green) and I was sooooo glad I had waterproof shoes as it got super dewy and wet (the greens were leaving roll tracer marks by the 5th hole).

      That said, it was epic to play a round from 7-9 PM when I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to play at all and I’m positive it would be a benefit in the summer when heat indices are typically well over 100 (as compared to likely low 90s after the sun sets). I’d totally play after dark again.

      Reply

      Mike

      5 months ago

      I could see this on a part 3 course but honestly can’t imagine any courses in my area doing this. A full size golf course is a huge track of land; to provide sufficient light, the course would be enormous. Plus I think that there would be zoning & also insurance liability issues. Plus, you would eat more staff & rangers working because you can’t easily see what’s going on out there.

      For me, I couldn’t imagine playing at my course at night. Why would anyone want to ? Even though golf courses are crowded, you can still get tee times at most golf courses I frequent.

      It sounds like another Gen z “disruptor” idea. Good luck with that.

      Reply

      Kevin

      5 months ago

      The Good Good Desert Open was awesome to watch on Peacock, and it definitely has a market. Most of the YT golfers are extremely popular and entertaining. Night golf as a concept is something I’d love to play, but living in NY my hopes are slim to none. My local par 3 does “night golf”, but it is the cheesy version with glow balls and flood lights on the green only. It’ll be tough to transform more courses into night courses, but I would 1000% play if one opened near me, even with dynamic pricing.

      Reply

      Will

      5 months ago

      The first time I ever heard of night golf, I assumed there was a glow in the dark ball and LED-lined bunkers involved. Sounded like the coolest thing in the world. Then I found out it was just a bunch of floodlights ham-fistedly turning night into day. Very disappointing.

      That said, it would certainly let me play more golf. My work schedule means I could only ever get 9 holes in at most on a weekday, and only for one or two months when the light lasts that long.

      Reply

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