Much to the dismay of many golfers up and down the country in recent months, the lightest dusting of snow in Britain and the ‘course closed’ signs get their annual airing on the front gates of clubs up and down the land.
So what do you do when you live somewhere that spends nine months of the year under an icy white blanket?
You create snow golf, of course.
Primarily a ski resort, Björkliden is also home to one of the most stunning 18-hole golf courses in the world, boasting views across Swedish Lapland’s breathtaking mountain landscapes which frame Lake Torneträske.
Golf World magazine listed the course in its rundown of the world’s 100 most spectacular golf experiences. And with midnight golf on offer courtesy of the 24-hour daylight during the summertime and the possibility of playing under the Aurora Borealis – Northern Lights to you and me – it’s easy to see why.
I really didn’t know what to expect in the weeks running up to it. Everyone I spoke to about it asked the same things. “Won’t the ball just bury itself when it lands?” was a popular one, as was “How do you putt on snow?”
‘I have no idea!’ I would scream on the inside, getting more and more desperate to get there and find out for myself.
(I was also asked: “Can you get penguin caddies?” “Don’t be ridiculous,” I replied. “Penguins are from the South Pole.”)
The day finally comes and I’m joined on the first tee by my fellow golf scribblers, Sky Sports’ Dave Tindall and NCG magazine’s Mark Townsend, and our host, Peder Gidlund. It’s minus-12 but with no wind it doesn’t feel anything near that. I may even take one of my seven layers off…
It takes an incredible amount of effort to get the course ready for snow golf. Peder and his crew have been preparing since 3am. Almost comically oversized machinery compacts the snow to create the fairways, while the greens – known as ‘whites’, of course – are smoothed out and checked to make sure they’re running about 25 on the stimp.
We draw teams and I’m picked to play with Peder – who I soon discover was the winner of the Swedish Snow Golf Championship in 2011. Our round suddenly has a Pro-Am feel to it.
With just the top half of the flag visible from the tee, Peder and Mark fire their orange balls off into the horizon, while Dave and I push ours into the rough. But when you’re in the Arctic Circle, the rough is thick snow.
Dave heads off to retrieve his ball and we all watch in amusement as he steps off the fairway and disappears up to his waist.
“Pilsner boll!” I declare, having previously learnt the Swedish term for ‘mulligan’. (Though why they call it ‘beer ball’ still escapes me.)
The rough is not somewhere you want to be in golf. It’s certainly not somewhere you want to be in snow golf. Snow golf rules demand a penalty drop on the fairway at the point of entry. (Peder’s offer of a pilsner boll for the three snow golf debutants was more than welcome.)
Like grass, hitting off snow rewards good ball striking and it took a bit of time to get used to how the ball moves in the snow – particularly around the whites. And even when you find the icy dance floor, the speed and slope will test even the best putters.
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