Golfing in Iceland's midnight sun: lava beds, angry birds, winds

Tue Jun 18, 2013 10:34am EDT
 
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By Paul Ingrassia

REYKJAVIK (Reuters) - The names of the world's greatest golf venues roll off the tongue like a putt rolling toward the cup. Pebble Beach. St. Andrews. Valderrama.

Then there are Vestmannaeyja and Porlakshafnar. Those names don't trip off the tongues of anyone except the hardy residents of Iceland. Surprisingly, this island in the frigid North Atlantic is one of the most golf-obsessed places on earth.

With 65 courses for a population of 322,000, Iceland has more courses per person - one for every 5,000 people -- than any other country.

Though many are just nine holes, that's nearly twice as many courses per capita as Scotland, according to a 2007 survey by Golf Digest. The magazine said Scotland had the most courses per capita but it didn't count countries with fewer than 500,000 people.

About 10 percent of Iceland's population plays golf - a higher rate than the United States or Britain - making it the country's second most popular sport, after soccer.

In contrast to America and Britain, golf club membership in Iceland is still growing, albeit more slowly than before the country's banking bubble burst five years ago.

"We joke that if just three or four people are living near one another, they'll probably start a golf club," said Haukur Orn Birgisson, a young attorney who serves as vice chairman of the Icelandic Golf Union.

Indeed, some clubs have as few as 20 members, dedicated souls who will upkeep the course themselves.   Continued...

 
A golfer plays a shot on the Golfklubberinn Oddur golf course in Rekyavik June 5, 2013. REUTERS/Paul Ingrassia