The day I took winter golf to the extremeNovember 9, 2017 Courses and Travel
Mark Townsend tackles temperatures of -30 in Lapland but that still doesn’t stop him from squeezing in 18 holes
It is now a little after 10pm, visibility is down to less than five yards, the surrounding roads are all shut and our gallery is down to one – Nicke, a club singer who, four hours previously, had been entertaining us with his version of Black Velvet.
I ask him what he’s doing halfway up a ski slope in -30˚C watching four maniacs hitting golf balls. “When you spend as much time in hotel rooms as I do why wouldn’t you be out here?”
I want to give him a hug, as much for his loyalty as to just keeping warm.
I am in the resort of Bjorkliden, 100 kilometres north of Kiruna, Sweden’s northernmost city. I am also in Lapland. Though, rather than a trip to see Santa, I am here for the golf, obviously.
Thirteen hours previously this round had begun in clear skies, bright sunshine and a jaunty -9˚.
Hopes were high, hands were cold and layers of clothing were billowing from my already bulging frame.
I had never seen a snow golf course before but none could be so immaculate as this. I rarely use the word ‘breathtaking’, but this, with a 70-kilometre lake as the backdrop and the distant huskies the only sound, this deserves a grand adjective.
Better still, a small red flag 180 yards away signified the start of a golf course. Work had begun at 7am by the ‘whitekeepers’ to get the course ready.
Ordinarily this would mean making the course presentable and a gentle trim, here it involves a huge operation of digging out fairways and pinpointing and preparing the ‘whites’.
The sharper tools in the box will no doubt be wondering how golf and snow can be mixed with balls forever being lost in the ‘rough’.
The answer is fairly simple – anything off the fairway would mean a drop under penalty of one and, courtesy of a giveaway small hole in the surface, balls were rarely lost.
If I’m honest I’m not the most helpful searcher of playing partners’ balls, I want to be liked and accepted but there is no real sense of urgency in my efforts.
Here the rummagings through the two-foot snow were almost to be savoured, even when the lower half of your leg suddenly disappeared from view.
A couple of errant opening tee shots also disappear very quickly from sight – in case you’re wondering it is still possible to shank one off powdery snow – but are followed each time by the soothing words of our host Peder.
‘Pilsner boll’ may not technically translate as Mulligan but we soon got the idea.
As for the balls they are orange and, come the night golf, luminous. And, given the beautiful clear blue sky, when we did manage to get one away the sight of it, if not the result, was a thing of rare beauty.
Which is more than could be said for our short games. In fairness this was an old school US Open-type set-up with six-inch surrounds to greens that could stretch to around 20 on the Stimpmeter.
Peder explains that the slopes will be less severe come the Swedish Snow Golf Championships in a few weeks and we content ourselves with some much-needed work on our putting strokes.
But the slopes become more familiar and the course becomes even more stunning as we make a short climb to the 3rd tee, a blind dogleg right played to what looks like the world’s end.
We are now into our stride and, although perched 200 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle, things have quickly become quite normal.
Good ball striking is rewarded, an appreciation of the gradients is a must and a steady hand on the greens will serve you well. I go into lunch two down.
Fast forward six hours and we are now 15 holes and two-and-a-half laps of the course in. We are also now enjoying Nicke’s version of Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’ and the merits of Apres Golf which involves several pints, a few Jagermeisters and one or two (four) bottles of vino tinto.
We are also all square and well aware that the golf isn’t done for the day. Peder delivers four ordinary looking golf balls on the table and then bounces one on the floor. It immediately lights up.
Shortly after, a spotlight in the distance reminds us where the 1st green sits and, with part of the blizzard now residing in our whiskers and eye-brows, we commence a three-hole play-off.
Four luminous balls disappear into the distance in our own version of the Northern Lights and one short hour later Peder knocks in a three-footer to bring the curtain down on 14 hours of a very different day.