Cold in One

Strange Sport of Ice Golf Has Been Around for Centuries

  • Photo by Mortin Lin

Let me answer your first question: they use coloured balls to avoid losing them in the snow.

Your second question? The “green” is referred to as the “white.”

Ice golf has been around for centuries. It was first played, as far as we know, back in the 17th century in Holland. Originally called “kolven,” the game was played on frozen canals and players used clubs to get a ball into a hole in the ice—much like regular golf.

The World Ice Golf Championship is played every year in Greenland, weather permitting. What is so unique about the modern version of the sport is that it is played on icebergs in the fjord ice.

The World Ice Golf Championship’s website explains the process of how the course is made: “The real architect of the course every year is the ocean, which interacts with the weather and the formations of icebergs in January and February to create an external framework for the course.”

The course is played on during the winter months and “melts away in May.” As a result, each year the course is completely unique.
An obvious difficulty is the weather. Players are recommended to use golf clubs with steel shafts, as they handle the cold weather well. The length of the course is reduced by about 25 per cent, as golf balls are “less elastic in the cold,” the website states.

Probably the biggest challenge that the weather presents is to the athletes, as temperatures can drop as low as -25 C, but, the World Ice Golf Championship website states, “the cold feels less bitter than one might expect, due to the dry climate and the strong sunshine.”
A likely story.

Floridian Ramon Bernhard, who had “never seen snow before,” commented on his experience golfing in Greenland, on the World Ice Golf Championship website: “I was fascinated by the icebergs and the snow.” Indeed, the snow and icebergs would surely be fascinating. But, one has to wonder why anyone would be so inclined to play golf on an iceberg in 25-below-zero weather.

American Tom Ferrell gives some insight. “Ice golf is all about survival. It’s about handling the elements.” Again, one has to wonder why. Why not just take a hike? But hey, whatever floats your boat—er, iceberg.

The official tournament is played in Uummannaq, Greenland, a mere 600 km north of the Arctic Circle. The tournament is a 36-hole competition, and is usually decided by who can figure out how to not lose their balls the fastest. The last tournament, held in 2006, was won by an Australian, Jason Cunningham—an unusual victor, considering the lack of ice in Australia.

The most unfortunate part of this story is the fact that ice golf’s days could be numbered. Yes, global warming is having a negative affect on the sport. The last tournament was played in 2006, as global warming and changes in the climate have caused the ice to be too thin to play on.

So, if dying polar bears and the thought of the extinction of the human race were not enough to motivate you to carpool, let this be your warning; if you don’t do your part and stop ruining the environment, ice golf may be no more. Consider yourself warned.

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