Golf in the Extreme
By Peter Hellman
I have been fortunate as owner of a golf tour company to travel to many parts of the world looking for golf courses I think my clients would want to play. These travels have taken me to Europe, South American, and Asia to delightful courses, charming towns, interesting people and experiences I will surely include in my book of life.
Sometimes, however, the nuttiest urge comes over me. It's an urge to explore golf courses and places not commonly included in itineraries. If you have played golf for a while, you may understand my urge. It is not that I am dissatisfied with the courses I am blessed to be able to play. I still want to play the top 100 in the world and I will continue to pursue that goal. Perhaps it is more my desire for adventure or an attempt to connect with those early golfers who figured out a way to play their beloved game wherever opportunity, governments, war or God may have put them on our fascinating planet.
Golfers have hacked courses out of dense jungles, farm pastures, frozen tundra and desert dunes. They made the best out of what they had to work with and often what they had was not much. This kind of enthusiasm for the game is shared, at least vicariously, by some of us. And, I am certain that there are a few of you who would find joy in being a visiting player on courses created out of some of God's most difficult terrain or environments. So, here is my list of adventurous, different and unusual places to play golf. Perhaps one or two will motivate you to experience golf in the Extreme.
Being of Scandinavian stock, golf under the midnight sun has always interested me. Think about teeing off while much of the world is in bed. Akureyri Golf Club in Iceland is the northern most golf club in the world and during the summer, one can play 24 hours per day. This course rated at 71.7 and with a slope of 137 from the tips, it proudly hosts an annual Arctic Open every June that attracts amateur golfers from all over the world. By the way, with Iceland's economy in shambles, bargains are to be had. If midnight play closer to home is your thing, try North Star Golf Club in Fairbanks, Alaska. Tee times are limited to only 20 hours per day during summer, but if you are up for it and the sun shines, play on.
As Americans, we treasure our verdant fairways and lush greens. To shake the notion, however, that such conditions are solely the definition of a golf experience, think about this. In Chile there is a golf course that has never seen a drop of rain and on which even cacti don't grow. Golf Club de Playa Blanca hugs the coast line of northern Chile and is part of the driest desert in the world. It is likened to the surface of the moon. Fairways, tee boxes and greens are constructed of sand. To keep greens from blowing away, used motor oil is spread over the sand greens. (We recommend that you don't lick your ball to clean it.) Play is off a green plastic matt much like outdoor-indoor carpet, which you carry with you. The sea views are spectacular and some rocks are painted green to simulate trees and patches of blue painted sand stand for water hazards.
The most unusual course opened in 2009. It is in Australia and designed to be the longest course in the world. Nullarbor Links (definition: NO Trees Links) stretches an unbelievable 800 miles, but is still a par 72. The slope and index have yet to be determined. Constructed along the Eyre Highway, a desolate stretch of road in Australia's remote southwest, each hole is located in a small hamlet or roadhouse station separated by about 50 miles. Driving your car between holes, certainly gives one plenty of time to think about how to play the next one.
Communist countries viewed golf as a bourgeois pursuit and an indicator of what was wrong with capitalism. For whatever reason, that view has changed and countries that once turned golf courses into wheat fields have gotten on the golf course bandwagon. Take Bulgaria, for example. There are currently four courses in the country and several more under construction. Don't look for top notch courses just yet. It may take a while, but if combined with some touring or wine tastings, a trip to Bulgaria will provide an excellent experience. It is also cheap. A five night package in 4 & 5 Star hotels, four rounds of golf, daily breakfast, a wine tasting and dinner is less than $1,000 per person. That's the cost of three playing one round at Ireland's Old Head or two at Pebble Beach.
China had similar views about our bourgeois game and now embraces it with a passion. Not far outside of Hong Kong lies Mission Hills where you will find the World' No. 1 golfing community with 12 word-class golf courses - 216 holes - beautifully designed and impeccably groomed. There is nowhere else in the world where you can stay in one hotel and play a different course designed by a different world-class designer each day for 12 days. If St. Andrews Old Course is Mecca, Mission Hills must be heaven.
These are but some of the golf in the extreme on my list. What's on yours!