Golf in Iceland Makes Its Way

COURSES, CLUBS, AND PROS FROM ICELAND GAINING RECOGNITION

We are all familiar with the adage that Greenland and Iceland should have had their names reversed. Amid the volcanic rock strewn throughout the volcano-laden island, green is abundant – and so is links golf. The country hasn’t been on the world’s golf stage for very long, but this beautiful and tough patch of ground in the middle of the North Atlantic is going to make a little history this week when the Open is played at Carnoustie. The tournament will include a male professional golfer from Iceland in the field for the first time.

Haraldur Magnus is a very good mid-20s golfer from the largest city in his country, Reykjavik. Icelandic, all the other Scandinavian languages and English are all part of the Germanic language system, so we shouldn’t be surprised, but Haraldur Magnus conjures up something between Beowulf and a Roman general to a westerner. It’s a heroic name, someone with a sword and army you wouldn’t want to turn your back around. However, the real Haraldur Magnus isby all accounts a friendly sort who is thoroughly accustomed to playing Carnoustie style golf at home. The hard part about the Scottish course, to him, is the wind, and everyone on tour would likely concur.

There are two women from Iceland on tour at present. Olafia Kristinsdottir made her professional debut in 2014, and has won somewhere around a quarter million in the last two years. No wins yet, but she has put herself in contention several times. It seems like only a matter of time. Valdis Thora Jonsdottir hails from Akranes, and despite having a lower profile for the moment, is beginning to get her tour legs as well.

Magnus in particular loves links golf, and as we peruse photos of Icelandic courses, we can see why. They share the fairway features of the British Isles, and in the case of some, there is scarcely a flat stance anywhere on the course. The ocean presence is ubiquitous in many of the country’s courses, which seem to be clustered together down on the southwest coast. Greens just out into the sea, sometimes on three sides, with some holes making Pebble Beach look like an inland course. The difference between Iceland’s courses and Carnoustie should please Magnus. There is a good deal less rough grass. Instead, leave the fairway and you might find yourself sitting on a slab of jagged volcanic rock. From the photos, at least, another problem is evident. When we hit a ball into the rough, it usually stays in the rough. But, bounce a driver or long iron onto a volcanic flow, and it’s possible to carom miles further off the fairway, into the ocean on either side, or if extremely lucky, into the middle. How one plays a shot from volcanic rock is a mystery to me, and club damage seems like an ever present danger.

The names of the major courses in Iceland sound as wonderful as the names of the players. Book a tour, stay a while, and play venues such as Mosfellsbaer, Selfoss, Brantarholt, Korpa, Hveragerdi, Hella, Geysir Sudurnes, Grafarholt (sounds like the name of a house at Hogwarts, doesn’t it?) or Keilir. One that interested me in particular was the course on Vestmannaeyar, an island off the southwest coast. On the island, a highly active volcano can be included among the hazards, depending on the direction of the wind. I’ve seen roller coasters that are flatter than some of the holes at Keilir, where the fairway is more dangerous than the rough on most courses.

The courses of Iceland represent the splendor and ruggedness of the country. The rich green would make an Irishman proud, and membership numbers are growing. Now it is time to welcome the country’s players to all the premier events, and wish Haraldur Magnus the best in his, and his country’s first Open.

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