Each day at sundown, the bottom nine holes of the Stone Hedge Golf Course is transformed into a mystical wonderland of Santa Clauses, dinosaurs, soldiers, zoo animals, musical instruments, and several other holiday related themes.
But these themes only come out at night because they are all created via strings and strings of LED bulbs, all assembled in various colors to the wonderment of the eyes of the people traveling along the two-mile route. More than two millions LED bulbs on 16,000 sets of strings were required to construct the various eye-popping scenes.
The Festival of Lights is the brainchild of Karen Force, who along with William Ruark, operate the Stone Hedge Golf Course.
“It was my idea, my plan,” Force explained. “Bill worked out all the logistics of all the paths.”
Force said she wanted to do something that would allow the golf course to be put to use during the winter months. Inspired by a beautiful light display she saw in Charleston, S.C., Force began planning construction of the Festival of Lights back in March.
She contacted Lin and Cindy Honeycutt who operate the Holiday Light Store in Raleigh, N.C., and made arrangements to purchase the lights and patterns necessary to create the displays.
“We had custom-made about two-thirds of what you see,” Force explained.
Force and Cindy Honeycutt would go over clip art samples, looking for the right designs.
“I was told the simpler they are, the better they can be made,” Force said.
Among the custom made designs include the Statue of Liberty, the Liberty Bell, all of the sea creatures, all of the zoo animals, all of the dinosaurs, about half the candy displays, most of the toys, and all of the musical scenes.
To prepare the area, trees along the pathways had to be removed to allow vehicles larger than golf carts to pass through. This actually served a dual purpose of allowing the grass in the area more resources to grow properly, Force said.
Work began in earnest on Oct. 16, after the last golf tournament. Everything was completed on Nov. 22, right before the opening on Friday. Grounds keepers who normally would have be laid off were kept busy wrapping trees in lights - creating a spectral forest in the process.
“It’s great that we can give our employees jobs at this time,” Force said.
One interesting piece that greets people as they start the tour is a canopy display of multi-colored strings of lights.
“It’s Ed Harding’s old green house, and it’s made up of 800 strands of lights,” Force explained.
The show is entirely made of LEDs, which are much more energy efficient than incandescent bulbs. Force explains that an arch made of hundreds of LEDs, welcoming people to the light show at the entrance, uses less electricity than a single incandescent bulb. Three electric generators are employed to power the Festival of Lights. Also required was 30,000 feet of extension cords which Stone Hedge had custom-built for the festival.
Another impressive display are Christmas trees surrounded by 150 light balls. Force explained that she and her friends created the balls in about five weeks, using about 7,000 zip ties to hold everything in place.
The show includes both still and animated scenes. One can see a gingerbread man tumbling down a hill in the dark. A boy sleds down another hill. In one section, Santa fishes by casting his line in the water, while in another a tyrannosaurus rex bares his teeth at anyone foolish enough to come to close. One of the most spectacular displays are the fireworks which continuously explode around the Statue of Liberty in a never-ending cycle.
Cost of the show is $25 per carload, with no limit to the number of people in each vehicle. However, according to instructions, the paths cannot accommodate anything larger than an SUV or passenger van. Vehicles that are too large will be required to park, and participants will be provided with a smaller vehicle at an additional fee.
Included in the price is a coupon, worth $2.50 to allow a person to make s’mores at the newly created pavilion, following the show. Santa Claus will be at the pavilion each day, and people can also purchase hot dogs, hamburgers, chili, and other food. Vendors with various goods will be available on weekends.
The pavilion was completed about three weeks ago, and will also be available for various golf events, as well as weddings and other activities, Force explained.
The Festival of Lights will be held each night through Dec. 29, except Christmas Eve.
“We want to give our employees time off, so they don’t have to work Christmas night,” she explained.
About 350 people have seen the show so far, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive, according to Force. She pointed out that everyone who has ‘liked’ the event on Facebook has given it a five-star rating.
Force also said that the Festival of Lights will be offered at Stone Hedge next year, and they are already planning new scenes to add to the existing ones.