From sunrise to dusk, the Bob-O-Link Golf Club is an 18-hole, par-3 golf course on Transit Road in Orchard Park.
But when darkness falls, it becomes something else.
Bob-O-Link is a true rarity in the golf industry, a course that can be played under the lights. It has been this way since it opened in 1964, and on summer nights, it still draws a steady stream of everyone from low-handicappers honing their chipping and putting to first-timers who have yet to experience the sublime agony of a three-putt from 6 feet.
Pick any evening and you will see fathers and sons on the driving range, retired couples on the putting green, teenagers working on their trash talk, even the occasional etiquette-breaking fivesome, as long as it's not too busy and no one minds. And usually, even if it's busy, no one minds.
The holes are not long, ranging from 110 to 160 yards, and with the notable exception of the ball-gobbling pond that guards the ninth and 18th greens, the course is short on hazards.
"You won't endure the embarrassment of spending an afternoon in a sand trap or in extensive rough," according to the club website. "The areas between fairways are mown so balls are playable even on the fringes."
But hardly anyone is coming to Bob-O-Link for a challenge; they're here for a good time.
That's what Dan Piccola and Joshua Gonzales were having on the patio adjacent to the clubhouse, along with a bite to eat, as they waited to tackle the back nine. The two Coast Guard members who live in Orchard Park and Hamburg, respectively, are a good example of the range of talent on display here.
Gonzales said he was working on his short game. Piccola, on the other hand, was concerned about playing under the lights, figuring that his difficulty hitting it straight would make it tough for him to find his ball.
"Anything more than par 3, I'm pretty much done," he said. "This is a perfect course for me. It keeps me interested for 18 holes."
While that twosome was teeing off, a foursome was winding up its front nine. From the clubhouse, it appeared to be three younger guys and a young woman. Nothing odd there. But Jaimee Matteson's attire was causing some double-takes; you don't often see women in full-length dresses playing golf.
Matteson, a Silver Creek resident, said this was her first time at Bob-O-Link, but she already understood the appeal.
"I love it so far," she said.
There's a lot to love. It's only a 15-minute drive from downtown and most points south. The views are great. If you look east from the parking lot, you see a barn and silos tucked into the hills. If you look west, on a clear day, you can see One HSBC Center.
The price is right. If you tee off before 6 p.m., it's $13 to play 18 holes and $18 after that. If you happen to show up a few minutes after 6 because traffic on the 219 was brutal, don't be surprised when the guy behind the counter says, "Close enough."
Then there's that memorable name. It's commonly and mistakenly called Bob-O-Links because "links" is a term for a type of golf course, but it's not "links," and there was no one named Bob. The course is named for the bobolink, a bird that used to be plentiful in Orchard Park but isn't seen much anymore. Regardless, it should be good karma for golfers to play on a course named for a birdie.
And thanks to the lights that adorn poles throughout the property, it might be the only course in Western New York where you can go after work, after eating dinner, after putting the kids to bed, and still get in a full round of golf. The last tee time for 18 holes at Bob-O-Link is 9:30. (If you're playing 9, you can go as late as 10:30 at some times during the year.)
Joe Ference, the club manager who has been at Bob-O-Link for seven years, said that keeping the course lit up after dark is expensive, but that there has never been a serious discussion about making this a daylight-only facility. In fact, in the last few years, night golfing has been expanded to include weekends in April and May and then again in the fall. He said that most of the course's revenue is connected to the later hours.
"I just have to presume it was a good business decision," he said of the initial decision to install lights. "Based on my experience, it has been."
Golf has enjoyed a surge in popularity in the last 15 years with the emergence of Tiger Woods. In Western New York and Southern Ontario, that has spawned a number of new courses. But a golfer just starting out would not be wise to start on a course that is challenging to a more experienced player. That partly explains why Bob-O-Link continues to be successful. Where the big courses might barely tolerate a younger player, Bob-O-Link welcomes them with open arms.
"We feel that's one of our niches, to promote junior golf," Ference said, noting the club offers a camp for golfers ages 8 to 14 and weekly tournaments for kids as young as 9.
It also has senior leagues, making it a welcoming place for people who have been playing the game for decades.
So it's not surprising for Ference to hear from players who took their first swing under the lights when they were much younger.
"I hear that all the time. ‘This is where I first played golf, 20-25 years ago,'"he said.
Bob-O-Link will never be mentioned in a list of the best or toughest courses in the region, but that doesn't mean it hasn't been the scene of some memorable moments. Alex Wiedemer of Buffalo said he had the experience every golfer dreams of a couple of years ago when he made a hole-in-one at 11:30 p.m. He only knew he had the ace when he walked on the green and saw the ball in the cup.
"It was just something special," he said. "I'll never forget it."
He was talking about his hole-in-one. He could have been talking about Bob-O-Link itself.