With more than 60 golf courses catering to a native population of only 330,000, Iceland boasts the highest number of links per capita of any nation in the world and even more courses per person than American golf hubs like Palm Springs, Orlando or San Diego. For about six weeks each summer – from early June to mid July – most of these courses are open around the clock as local duffers and curious foreigners take advantage of the never-ending light.
“Soccer is the most popular spectator sport,” says Hordur Arnarson, former coach of the country’s national junior team and resident pro at the championship Keilir Golf Club near Reykjavik. “But in terms of participants, golf is probably more popular. There’s a long waiting list for membership to every single golf club around the island.”
Arnarson estimates that in any given year, about ten percent of Icelanders play a round of golf. That percentage has increased steadily, with about a thousand new golfers joining the ranks each year. Golf is also one of the most popular sports among young Icelanders and the country has spawned Euro PGA pros like Birgir Hafthorsson and Bjorgvin Sigurbergsson.
Nearly every Icelandic city and town boasts its own golf course. Some are challenging, others not, but nearly all of Iceland’s links are thoroughly quirky. The municipal course of Borgarnes, surrounded by pastures and overshadowed by glaciers, features a rather unusual “hazard” between the second and third fairways – a giant red-and-white soda can erected by a local beverage company – that’s officially part of the course.
The seaside course near Holmavik, a village renowned for sorcery and witchcraft, sprawls across bluffs decorated with otherworldly scarecrows. And from just about anywhere on the 18-hole Selsvollur Golf Course near Fludir, you can see plumes of steam rising from nearby geysers. During a week roaming around the island, I couldn’t find two courses even remotely similar.
In a way, Iceland is ready-made for golf. The interior is dominated by ice and lava, but much of the shoreline is rolling, grassy plains. With so few people, there’s loads of vacant land. And it’s relatively cheap by European standards. Trees are a rarity – the Vikings took care of those many moons ago to build their longboats and stoke their hearth fires. Basically all you need to do to launch a simple municipal course is dig a few little holes and plant some flags.
Those who want to tee off on the island before or after their Iceland ProCruises journey this summer should check out the website Golf Iceland which includes information on every Icelandic course as well as tips on how to book tee times.