Summer is now official.
The calendar might not say so, but the weather's definitely warm enough, and that's what matters. To celebrate, my girlfriend, Amie, and I escaped the city Monday night for a round of mini-golf - the official sport of summer.
We drove to Night Hawk Golf Center in Gambrills, which has batting cages, a driving range, arcade games, and, of course, mini-golf.
Between the mini-golf and arcade games, an hour at Night Hawk was a fun, semi-lazy way to fill a weeknight.
We arrived about 9 p.m. - thankfully too late for the preteen crowd. Most of the people there looked to be high school students and older.
Two mini-golf passes cost $10. We paid, grabbed a couple balls and clubs and got to work.
A couple holes in, we started gaining on a group of about half-dozen young adults in front of us. At the fourth or fifth hole, they let us play ahead, and we tore up the rest of the course.
The first dozen or so holes weren't that memorable. They were simply laid out with the occasional bump, twist or stone obstacle. We had to tap the golf balls harder than normal because the fake grass was wet from a recent rainfall. A few of the holes were filled with water, which meant we had to fish our balls out after we'd sunk them. Amie cheerfully left the messy part up to me.
A few holes did stand out. I liked the yellow metal loop-de-loop on Hole 13, and the stone waterfall in the middle of the course.
A large swath of the fake grass on Hole 16 was covered by a large puddle. Amie was all for moving on, but I wanted to play through using my power swing. Unfortunately, I gave the ball too much oomph, and it bounced over the small wooden barrier into the next hole ahead of us. Curses! Amie giggled, and I, shoulders slouched in defeat, trudged over and scooped up my ball.
We both hit well on the next couple holes, until we arrived at No. 19, aka the Ball Eater. Hole 19 starts off with a steep slope, which narrows into a rectangular peninsula. The hole is at the end of the peninsula. If you hit the ball too soft, it rolls back to you. Hit it too hard or too far to the right or left and it falls down into the crevice, never to return (at least until the ball kid cleans the machine out at the end of the night). If you sink it, you get the grand prize: a glorious free round of mini-golf. But you must have the magic touch.
Amie did not have the magic touch. Her pretty pink ball rolled off the end of the peninsula, down into the abyss. I was up next.
I took my sweet time positioning the ball on the middle circle of the little black rubber mat. Amie, meanwhile, teased me with you'll-never-make-its.
You know that feeling you get when you're playing backyard football and as soon as you toss the ball you know it's going to be a touchdown? As soon as I tapped that ball on Hole 19, I knew I'd sunk it. I watched my green ball roll up the peninsula and drop down into the hole. Shazam! A red light came on, a buzzer sounded, and I raised my golf club in sweet, sweet victory. The look on Amie's face was priceless.
My feeling of ultimate domination deflated slightly when we told the ball guy at the counter I'd won and he said he did it all the time. But still, that shot takes skill, and I made it.
I received my coupon for a free round of Night Hawk mini-golf, and we headed into the nearby video-game barn. I had some change made and put 50 cents in a game Amie wanted to play called Skittle Ball. It was a cross between skeeball and pinball, where you get prizes for the number of pinballs you shoot into skeeball holes. She won a gumball and a piece of round candy, neither of which looked too appealing.
We tossed the prizes into a trashcan and dropped a couple of quarters into the air hockey machine. I won at that, too, but my air hockey triumph was seriously overshadowed by my awesome shot on Hole 19.
The final score: Par 45.
Sam, the mini-golf master: 45.
You'll-never-make-it Amie: 50.
Victory has never tasted so sweet.
Night Hawk Golf Center is at 814 S. Route 301 in Gambrills. Hours are 9 a.m.-10 p.m. daily. Mini-golf is $5 for adults, $3.75 for children 10 and younger and $7.50 for all-day play. Call 410-721-9349 or go to nighthawkgolfcenter.com.