Yep, with giant glow-in-the-dark balls
By B.C. Manion
Mike Beach had never heard of Softgolf until his mom took him and his girlfriend out to play a round at Plantation Palms Golf Club in Land O’ Lakes.
The game – sort of like miniature golf on steroids — involves hitting a lightweight, softball-sized golf ball around a nine-hole course.
Oh, and it’s played at night using fluorescent balls, with lighted flags at each oversized hole.
“The concept of glow-in-the-dark is neat,” said Beach, 25, of Wesley Chapel. “It’s so much fun.”
Kathleen Dumas, Beach’s girlfriend, had never played golf before she tried Softgolf. She had a blast. Terri Beach said she had such a good time on her first round with her husband and son that she decided to return with her son and his girlfriend. The Lutz woman plans to encourage others to try it.
“I’m going to be talking it up,” she said.
Mark Clare, who lives near the fairway, plays traditional golf but enjoys Softgolf, too.
“It’s easy, yet it is not as easy as it appears to be,” Clare said. “It’s a different kind of challenge.
“It doesn’t take talent, just the desire to get out and have a good time and try something new,” Clare said. “My wife was able to enjoy herself a great deal. The couple that we had with us can’t wait to have their children out here.”
The Softgolf course is open 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the club, 23253 Plantation Palms Blvd., weather permitting. The course closes in the event of rain or temperatures below 55 degrees.
The game is priced inexpensively to provide affordable family fun, said Ray Baldorossi Jr., CEO of Softgolf. It costs $8.50 for children 12 and under; $10.75 for adults; and $31.50 for a family of four.
The origin of the game dates back decades.
Baldorossi said he was fooling around in his backyard in the mid-1970s when he thwacked a 4-inch inflatable basketball with a golf club. His dad – Ray Baldorossi Sr. — happened to be watching when his son sent the inflatable ball soaring.
It turns out, that in addition to his day job as an aeronautical engineer, the senior Baldorossi enjoyed tinkering. The day after he saw the inflatable ball go soaring, the inventor went to work to develop a new brand of golf.
He started experimenting with different kinds of balls and clubs, Baldorossi said. Five years later, his dad and his mother, Blanche, had five patents.
The game his dad invented used a giant golf ball and was played under the lights on a course in Delran, N.J. That business closed in the late 1980s, and Baldorossi’s father passed away four years later.
But Baldorossi didn’t want his father’s invention to die as well.
It turns out the younger Baldorossi likes to tinker, too, and he’s been refining the game.
He came up with the idea of glow-in-the-dark balls. He makes them by hand, using a machine to shape the balls out of foam. Then he drills dimples into them and gives them several coats of paint. He bathes the balls in a sunning booth to give them a special glow.
Baldorossi has found a new, more durable, lightweight material he plans to begin using soon. Then he will be able to make a ball in 5 minutes versus more than an hour.
The Softgolf enthusiast, who has wanted to revive the game for years, got his chance when he met Steve McDonald, one of the owners of Plantation Palms golf course.
“When Ray brought this to me, it was a natural fit for me. I just fell in love with it,” said McDonald, a member of the PGA. “He came out and showed me what his game was all about, and I was very intrigued by the passion, his idea, and really wanted to see a man live out his dream.
“We provided the facility for Ray to test it out,” McDonald said.
The game is good for the golf course, too, McDonald said.
“We can generate revenue while our golf course is sleeping,” McDonald said.
The game is geared for nearly anybody, Baldorossi said.
There are right- and left-handed clubs, of different colors and sizes. Players who have tried the game have been as young as 3 and as old as their 80s. He recommends children be at least 5 years old before hitting the course. It takes 45 minutes to an hour to complete nine holes.
Right now, Plantation Palms is the only place in the world to play Softgolf.
Of course, Baldorossi hopes that will change. He’s in talks with seven locations now, and he envisions franchises popping up all over the place. And, there’s already a greater Tampa championship tournament scheduled for March 11.
In Baldorossi’s eyes, Softgolf has the potential to be really, really big.
No matter what, Baldorossi said his greatest reward is to see family and friends out on the course, having a good time.
For more information, visit www.softgolf.net.
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.