NEW BEDFORD — On a blazing hot summer weekday, the Constantino family, of Westport, decided to flee the burning sands of the beach for a cool, dark place.
They found it in the back of a tired strip mall just off Route 140 in New Bedford: a fluorescent world of shipwrecks and mermaids, whales and dolphins, glowing starfish, and the gaping jaws of a great white shark.
It’s called Oceans 18 Glow-in-the-Dark Mini Golf, a climate-
controlled, indoor, 18-hole course with an undersea theme and an eerie atmosphere where everything white — shirts, caps, sneakers, teeth — glows in the dark.
“It was hot out, and we’re on vacation,” Kris Constantino said as her son, Nik, 13, slickly banked his luminescent ball off a fluorescent clam shell into the hole for a birdie and as her daughter Alyssa, 15, looked on with a Cheshire cat smile. “It’s hard to get teenagers on the same page, and this was a chance to get them together.”
This is music to the ears of Jim Nichols, who opened Oceans 18 in 2005. An avid golfer who carries a 9 handicap, Nichols had originally considered an outdoor site.
‘It’s hard to get teenagers on the same page, and this was a chance to get them together.’
“It occurred to me that in New England, with our weather the way it is, indoor would be the smarter way to go,” he said.
Nichols says the approach has paid off. Oceans 18 does a lot of business in the cold months, but on a rainy summer day, he said, “we can get so many people you can hardly see the course.” Last Thursday, when temperatures tickled 90 degrees, a steady stream of golfers escaped the outdoor steam.
Visitors, Nichols said, come from all over, including Boston, which requires a bit of planning. Route 24, the main artery south, can be tough to negotiate during rush hour, but at off-peak hours the trip from New Bedford to Boston took only about an hour. Route 140, the highway that leads to Oceans 18 from Route 24, is a two-lane breeze through lush forests.
The golf course is the main attraction, but Oceans 18 has other lures for exasperated parents who would rather spend money than hear the words “I’m bored.” Two doors down, Flagship Cinemas shows matinees of popular flicks. Nichols offers discounts for anyone who brings in a movie ticket.
An 18-hole game of golf costs $7.50 for ages 11 and up, and $5.50 for 10-and-unders. The course is tricky enough to be challenging for older players like Joshua Sevigny, 18, and Kayla Dowd, 17, both of Dartmouth, who had chosen this locale for a summer date.
“It’s really hot outside,” said Sevigny, as Dowd jumped through the shark.
Oceans 18 has a liquor license, a rarity at outdoor miniature golf courses. Adults are allowed to sip on a glass of Chardonnay or a bottle of Bud as they golf. Fans of the real sport can play 18 holes on a full-swing simulator. Kids who tire of the concentration required for accurate putting can retire to the arcade at the entrance and its battery of coin-operated games.
Oceans 18 offers a party room for events such as birthdays, but that comes with a caveat emptor. Nichols, a fan of the New York Yankees, recently had a mural of the iconic left field wall at Fenway Park painted by a New Bedford artist. The scoreboard shows the Red Sox leading the Yankees, and reflects a real game that Boston eventually won, 13-1. This is supposed to cheer young Sox fans, but the context is sinister. The game was the only Boston victory in the 1999 playoff series against the Yankees, a year when New York won the World Series. Nichols and his son, also named Jim, laugh malevolently as they discuss it.
Nathan Vieira, 12, of Dartmouth, did not seem to mind this heresy as he leaned against the wall and reflected on his eight visits.
“It’s glow-in-the-dark golf,” he said. “It’s awesome.”