Indio golf course The Lights comes to life under summer moonlight
At 4 p.m. on a typically hot and sunny August weekday, just one car sits in the parking lot of The Lights at Indio Golf Course.
The car belongs to head professional Dave Ruvolo, and in the next 45 minutes, a few other cars from a handful of employees at the 18-hole par-3 municipal golf course will be parked in the lot as well. But just after 5 p.m., even with the temperature hovering around 110 degrees, The Lights comes alive.
At a time of day when other desert golf courses have been closed for hours because of the summer heat, the Coachella Valley’s only lighted golf course blooms like a desert flower in the glow of moonlight and light standards.
“It starts around 5 p.m., with people getting off work,” said Ruvolo, in his 19th year as head pro at The Lights, the city-owned course known for years as Indio Muni. “By 7 p.m., we are always pretty busy in the summer.”
From first-time golfers to dedicated regulars at the course, The Lights continues to grow as a popular summer attraction in north Indio at the corner of Jackson Street and Avenue 42. Empty for hours in the middle of the day, The Lights in the evening is popular even with those who tempt the hottest temperatures of the day.
“I like this course, but I can’t (play) it later because I have plans,” said James Simmons of Costa Mesa, who learned about The Lights while living in Cathedral City starting in 2015. “So I can get it in now, just a couple of hours.”
On this day, Simmons teed off just after 5 p.m., playing as a single with a golf cart for $45 and playing the course in under two hours. By the time he finished his round at 7 p.m., there was a backup of golfers waiting to tee off on the first hole, while more than a dozen golfers from youngsters to serious players to seniors were hitting balls on the lighted driving range.
Two other golfers, Conrad Cossi and Wayne Block, both of Indio, also finished their round just as the tee sheet was showing a booked night starting from 7 to 8 p.m. at The Lights.
“We just got off of work, so we were like let’s go and get it over with,” Cossi said of their 5 p.m. tee time. When he realized he and Blocked had finished as a twosome in under two hours, he smiled.
“That was our goal, actually, try to get through quick,” Cossi said.
“That’s one of the things about playing early, you miss the delays later,” Block said.
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Like most desert golf courses in the summer, The Lights has some play in the morning, but Ruvolo says most golfers want to be off the course by 10 a.m. A few hard-core golfers will show up after 9 a.m. to hit balls on the range or maybe play 18 holes as fast as they can, he said. The course can play relatively fast, with holes ranging from 110 to 230 yards, meaning the course can be walked on cooler days but played with a golf cart on warmer days.
“This year has been extreme weather,” Ruvolo said. “Every day so far we have seen extreme heat warnings. I haven’t seen that in how many years I have been here, since 1985. This is the most I have ever seen. Normally, people will bear the heat.”
A few other activities take place in the heat of the day, from an eight-week course Ruvolo has taught for members of the Indio Boys and Girls Club to plenty of people stopping for a moment to drop off letters or buy stamps at the U.S. Postal Service shop in the 57-year-old clubhouse.
As Cossi and Block end their round, a foursome from Reno, Nev., whose swings prove they haven’t played much golf stop after nine holes for water and beer. Golfers can use a free ice-filled cooler if they buy three items from the snack bar from employees like Dante Rios, who has worked at the course since February.
“I started at 5 today, but it typically fluctuates,” said Rios, who added that he is proud of his customer service at the club. “I work for a school district during the year, and I work with special needs kids. This is the coolest second job ever. I am so grateful for the summer hours.”
The Nevada foursome is not something unusual at The Lights in the summer, Ruvolo said.
“Don’t forget this is a resort town, so we still have a lot of hotels that are filled up with families coming from the east coast, everywhere,” Ruvolo said. “So every once in a while I will get those people.”
A summer night of more than 60 players or more people hitting range balls ($15 for an hour on the range) might have been unusual four or five years ago, Ruvolo said. But then came 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic and a surge in golf, which had seen declines in participation for more than a decade before the pandemic. Golf was one of the few activities not completely shut down by COVID restrictions in Riverside County.
“A lot of people didn’t know about us, but when COVID hit, yes, we were like the best place to be,” Ruvolo said. “And it was nighttime, too. That’s put us on the map right there.”
By 7:30 p.m., with the lights on the course in full effect, 40 cars are in the parking lot and both the driving range and golf course are full. While the lighted course is an appeal, so is the lack of formalities and rules that are found at most private clubs in the desert.
Chris Geraud of La Quinta arrived with his son to hit range balls in the lengthening shadows of the setting sun and the shadows from the light standards. Williams was dressed in a white t-shirt and tennis shoes, a common outfit at The Lights.
“This place is comfortable. You can just be comfortable,” Geraud said. “That’s what make it cool.
“I think it breeds more golfers,” he added. “Sometimes having to wear a collared shirt, having to be all buttoned up to play golf, you don’t have to do it here.”
By 9 p.m., fewer than 20 cars remain in the parking lot, with golfers still on the course, on the driving range or using the practice putting green or practice chipping green. The stragglers will fight to finish before the lights turn off at 10 p.m.
“I get bored at home sometimes and it’s just easy for me to come over here at night to hit some balls or hit some putts,” said Sandra Garcia of Indio between practice putts. “It doesn’t take long to get a little work in on your game here.”
For Ruvolo, the summer fall and rise of activities at The Lights in the summer shows the interest in the game doesn’t necessarily require country club memberships or expensive golf courses. That interest keeps growing, he added.
“Every year I see more and more people that I have never seen before,” Ruvolo said. “I know the word is getting out.”More: