The city lights shimmer in the distance.
Shadows spread in all directions on bright green grass.
It’s just before midnight, the moon is high in the dark night sky, and South Koreans are still out golfing.
This is “White Night” golf, a nocturnal sports phenomenon in South Korea that reflects the sport’s still rising popularity, the ongoing challenges many face when teeing off in the country’s densely populated cities, and the efforts some nonetheless take on will get one.
South Korea is the third largest golf market in the world after the USA and Japan.
For golf fans around the world, the game’s impact on the country is most easily seen in its surplus of elite professional players, especially in women’s sports. 32 of the top 100 female players in the world rankings, including 4 of the top 10 female players, came from South Korea last week.
But on-site golf is definitely a participatory pastime, even if the popularity of the sport and the undersupply of golf courses in metropolitan areas make playing opportunities rare and expensive. Seoul, a city of nearly 10 million people, has only one course, and it is only open to military personnel.
Some settle for Screen Golf, an indoor virtual simulation game that has become a booming pastime in South Korea, with some facilities offering 24-hour service.
But golfers understandably want the real thing. So what to do if the demand for tee times exceeds sunlight on a given day?
According to Seo Chun-beom, President of the Korea Leisure Industry Institute, South Korea, now has a whopping 117 golf courses of 18 holes or more (83 public courses, 34 private clubs) that offer late night games for willing golfers teeing off until late 20 Uhr Seo said there are countless other 9-hole courses that are also floodlit and don’t close until midnight or later.
For example, many people from Seoul hike to Sky 72 Golf & Resort in Incheon, near the area’s main international airport, where 2,700 lights have been installed to illuminate 36 of the 72 holes on the course.
A similar scene plays out every night at the TGV Country Club, which is an hour and a half outside of Seoul and can play on its own 36 holes after dark – most of which have double greens side by side to compensate for the wear and tear from heavy use .
The concept of golfing under light naturally also exists outside of South Korea.
A writer for the GolfPass website counted 65 golf courses in the United States last year that had at least some night lighting – although all but one were short courses. And courses in states that offer late tee times still close much earlier than those in South Korea, which often stay open until 1 a.m.
Golfing in the moonlight can have other practical purposes. At the Emirates Golf Club in Dubai, for example, the night tee times offer golfers a break from the region’s agonizing summer sun.
But no other country has embraced this practice with as much enthusiasm as South Korea, where playing at night has its own quirks and charms.
Warm nights make bug spray all the more important.
Floodlights can even give ordinary games a cinematic quality.
The sun may have been out of sight for a long time, but visors still rest on the heads of many golfers. (A recent study found that South Koreans spend more per capita on golf apparel and equipment than residents of any other country.)
And with all the little annoyances, there is one big advantage of being a night owl: at least golf tan is out of the question.