The World Ice Golf Championship – Uummannaq,Greenland
One of the niceties we enjoy about the game of golf is to watch the tour following the seasons, seeking comfortable environments for players and fans alike. Events dates are finely tuned, so that the azaleas will pop at the right time, the worst of a rainy season will be avoided and the south sea breezes are at their best.
The weekender, however, doesn’t have that luxury, and is bound to wherever he or she lives. No matter where that is, golf maniacs live there, and they’re going to play golf, no matter what, even when they live in Uummannaq, Greenland, even when they’re Inuit, not Scottish, and even when there isn’t a dot of green to be seen in a thousand miles.
Uummannaq boasts the northernmost golf course on the global ice shelf, 600 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle. They play golf, ice golf, but they’re not just being eccentric or spoofing the real game. For the residents of this snow zone, it is the real game, and they have a championship tournament to prove it. Of course, there’s no Q school, and the rules for participation are a bit loose (up to 36 handicap), but the commitment is dead serious.
The World Ice Golf Championship has a counterpart to any challenge experienced down south. The greens, called whites, are carefully tailored ice circles, and don’t even talk about the rough. Fairways run the length of glaciers, and elevated tees mean driving from the tip of an iceberg. Now, we’ve all seen those things fall into the ocean, and I think it takes a particular amount of guts to stand on a melting mass with a driver in hand.
Weather conditions do not cause cancellation, and lightning is not a serious problem. However, 50 degree below Celsius is, and the wind chill beyond that is just gravy, lethal to anyone with a wardrobe malfunction. The ball is orange, and if a player ever wants to see again, first rate sunglasses are a must.
While Africa boasts courses where wild and dangerous animals are a concern, Polar Bears seem to have an attraction to the colored balls, but I suppose it’s better to have one take your ball than to take you. Golf carts are verboten, but a preferred manner of navigating the course is by husky dog sled. As another perk, winter rules are in effect at all times. Wouldn’t we love that down closer to the equator?
Serious ice and snow golf go back a long ways. The British author and poet Rudyard Kipling played as he was penning “Jungle Book,” and evidence exists of the Scots and English playing the game two centuries before that. Tina Blomme created the modern Canadian game in Quebec, designing a 9 hole course for starters. Where preferred, snow shoes and even skis can be employed as acceptable gear.
The tradition is catching on in northern Europe and wherever life is oriented toward the alpine. The first Amateur Ice Golf Championship was held in Austria during the 90s, and the first European Champion was played in Switzerland, in 2011. Even I played it as a one-year resident of Lethbridge, Alberta, and noticed no drop in seriousness toward the effort at all. Greenland, of course, is a protectorate of Denmark, and they know a little something or two about the cold.
In the end, there is one more challenge that southern courses face to a much lesser degree. In Unnammanaq, however, it is central and requires total alertness on the part of players, fans and tournament hosts. For example, the Championship of 2008 was cancelled…due to thin ice. Whoa – been there!