Describing the panorama from the 2nd tee, the 7th green the 14th tee or the 18th fairway of Lofoten Links – and frankly about 90 other points in between – seems largely pointless. I’ll have a go a little later, but the images that accompany this article paint not only a better picture than I ever could but more importantly an extremely accurate one. Lofoten really is as epic as it looks. Its location is as breathtakingly beautiful as you will ever experience on a golf course.
There is a chance I might one day have to revise that last statement, but I very much doubt it – because I doubt better can exist. What, actually, could be better than this?
I’ve had some decent experience on my courses CV to compare it against too. From Turnberry’s dramatic Ailsa to Old Head of Kinsale hanging off the south of Ireland. From Loch Lomond, which needs no introduction, to the fingers of New Zealand coastline that comprise Cape Kidknappers. And the clifftop high jinks of Nefyn to the lakeside charm of Bro Hof in Sweden.
Lofoten beats them all. And it’s not even close.
It genuinely is as spectacular as it looks. If anything, it’s better than the pictures suggest, because these are stand-alone images where you can only see one or perhaps two holes at a time.
When you are there, the glory of the setting is magnified by the fact your eyes drink in uncommon beauty no matter which direction you are facing.
That’s because Lofoten is more than just a seaside course. Arguably the most visually dramatic holes are along the coastline, but turn inland and you are hardly disappointed.
It sits on Gimsøysand – an island in Norway’s Lofoten archipelago – and offers the classic seaside beauty of Turnberry but then for good value adds in a rugged mountainous aspect, as if Glen Coe has been cut and pasted a few miles from the Ayrshire coast.
The course fits so seamlessly into this beguiling landscape it feels as if it has been here for 100 years.
Gaze inland beyond the course and the snow-capped mountains echo the Scottish Highlands, while the course itself is threaded along gently undulating linksland among smaller peaks close to the shore.
Beyond the black rocks and white sand of the shoreline, the Norwegian Sea stretches as far as the eye can see – which is towards the North Pole.
For all the elements that make Lofoten so outstandingly scenic, it is arguably actually these rocks and boulders – hundreds of them in a myriad shapes and sizes – which line the fairways and decorate the beach that define the scene.
The course fits so seamlessly into this beguiling landscape that it feels as if it has been here for 100 years, but the first holes were created in 1998 and only in 2015 was it really finished. Even then, you imagine it will always be something of a work in progress.
It took the imagination of the father of current owner Frode Hov for golf to exist here. He and a friend dreamt up the idea for a course and although he died before work began, Frode’s grandfather agreed it could continue.
“‘As long as it makes money’, was his only stipulation,” says Frode, whose family have owned the land for four centuries.
“He was a fisherman – he knew what was important,” adds Frode, whose passion for golf was enhanced when he studied in St Andrews.
From those initial six holes, Lofoten was extended to nine in 2010 before the development to 18 began two years later. It was completed in 2015 but has been constantly tweaked since then.
If you aren’t turned on by overly manicured parklands, buggies fitted with GPS and score trackers, OTT course furniture, pointless fuss and needless emphasis on ‘service’, Lofoten is the perfect antidote.
Sweden-based Englishman Jeremy Turner has been the architect throughout what has been a unique build and refinement process. Very little golf course construction equipment was involved initially and since then it has been developed by Turner, Hov and greenkeeper Jerry Mulvihill, who hails from Ballybunion.
Mulvihill’s resources are limited, both in terms of manpower and machinery but he is devoted to his task and there is a pleasing feel of ‘golf as it used to be’ about it.
If you aren’t turned on by overly manicured parklands, buggies fitted with GPS and score trackers, OTT course furniture, pointless fuss, needless emphasis on ‘service’ and superfluous general aspects of the game, Lofoten is the perfect antidote.
There is a Strokesaver but you never look at it after your first round. Playing Lofoten is all about feel, judgement and experience. Experience is arguably the most important of the three, because the first round here is highly likely to bewilder you.
The second may too, even if you are getting the idea. By the third, you know where to miss and, more fatalistically, also when to not even bother tracking the ball flight because by now you know it is a hopeless cause. If it’s heading for the sometimes-thick rough or the gnarly heather in the peaty phase, you’ve got a chance.
It might sound like crazy golf to some. A spectacular curiosity but ultimately a gimmick. Our ranking in Continental Europe indicates that we don’t think so.
When it’s hovering over the rocks that cuddle the tiny seaside greens or the boulders that line the fairways, you know to smile as you walk towards the last known sighting of your ball, reach into your bag (there is, hilariously as well as usefully, a huge bin of used balls in the basic pro shop – load up with them for this is no time for brand-new ProV1s) and have another go.
This might sound like crazy golf to some. A spectacular curiosity but ultimately a gimmick. Our ranking in Continental Europe indicates that we don’t think so. I played there with Adam Lawrence of Golf Course Architecture magazine, so something of a connoisseur of design.
We decided, after I think our fifth round, that at least half the course offers indubitably good holes, with another four or five that are excellent and a few that design snobs could find fault in but the rest of us just lap up how good it looks and how fun it plays.
Fun, indeed, is a word you will say a lot when you are at Lofoten. You might be wondering why I am talking about playing so many rounds here. Well, there are two reasons for that – both related to its location.
Its officially in the Arctic Circle – although happily the area is warmed by the Gulf Stream – and that means while there is no sunrise for a month from early December, from a month across May and June the sun doesn’t set at all and it is light all night until the start of August.
So this is 24-hour golf and the course is at its captivating best at the three-quarters light in the early hours of a summer’s day. From that information you will have realised it isn’t the easiest place to get to. So once you’re here, you make it worth the trip.
To get to Lofoten, you can fly to Harstad/Narvik airport on the mainland then make an Insta-worthy three-hour drive south. Or you can fly in to the tiny airport of Svolvaer in a propeller plane from Bodo, which you reach from Oslo.
From the pretty harbour town of Svolvaer, you make an impossibly scenic 45-minute drive to Hov along twisting roads at the foot of mountains that hug the fjords.
Frode has helpfully built super on-site chalets so, once you’re here, you won’t want to move. After two holes in fact, you’ll already be very smug that you’re booked in for three days. What a start it is.
The 1st dog-legs around a rocky cove towards a small green between rocks and the water, perfectly encapsulating the fun, unique challenge, and breathtaking aesthetics of Lofoten.
The 2nd is even more breathtaking, playing from an elevated tee to a small green in a huddle of rocks and sand. I doubt a definitively more picturesque hole exists than this.
The next par 3, at the 6th, lacks the coastal view and has no bunkers but has a gorgeous setting in an amphitheatre of boulders and might be quietly even more outstanding.
On the back nine, the run from the strong par-3 12th is one of Lofoten’s best. The next takes you back to the water’s edge, and then comes what might well be the best of the lot.
Standing on the 14th tee, the meandering fairway is framed on both sides by rocks with snow-capped mountains reaching into the sky in the distance while the sea crashes in from your right. The second plays across the water to an eccentric green.
Anyway, that’s my attempt at describing Lofoten. I strongly suspect, though, that the images will do a much better job of relaying its glory.