"If there's a golf course in heaven, I hope it's like Augusta National. I just don't want an early tee time."—Gary Player
I don’t know if there’s a golf course in heaven. But if there is, I would think everybody, including myself, would behave better in this life to guarantee getting their membership.
So, if heaven doesn't go extra holes, there is one thing I’ll love to do as long as I’m able, besides playing golf, and that's to play golf in different places.
When most of us think of the golf shrines to pay homage to before we die, we pick the obvious: Pebble Beach, St. Andrews. If we think we might be going to hell, we’ll add Pine Valley and Carnoustie.
But golf here on earth is played almost everywhere now, even in countries you don’t associate with the sport.
Play the nine places I’ve found and you’ll probably never look at the game the same way again. If not, I’ll press you on the back side.
Iceland is less than two degrees south of the Arctic Circle. On its longest day of the year the sun is up for over 21 hours.
Iceland’s annual amount of sunshine is actually similar to Scotland and Ireland and there are a lot more golf courses on this island than you might think. Some are framed by lava fields. You might even mistake it for Hawaii. OK, maybe not.
But Iceland now has a golf event Hawaii can't match—The Arctic Open—which features round the clock tee times. In 2012 it will be played in late June at a golf course so far north that Santa leaves his sleigh and reindeer in the garage and walks to it. The Akureyri Golf Club, founded in 1935, is taking registrations.
Go to: http://www.arcticopen.is/
Modern Israel is a young country and its short turbulent history and dry desert climate haven’t made it—shall we say—a golfing Mecca.
But I’ve heard that a golf course was considered diplomatically essential to the State of Israel’s well being, as in “If we want diplomats from other countries to come and be happy here, we better build a golf course.”
And so it came to pass that a “child” ordained it to be—a Rothschild actually who, when he visited the Roman ruins at Caesarea, noticed the site’s dunes and was reminded of Scotland. On the spot he decided that he would one day build a golf course in Caesarea.
When it opened in 1960 the Israeli statesman Abba Eban hit the inaugural drive on the first hole. He later uttered one of the darker golf quotes of all time: “Playing the game I have learned the meaning of humility. It has given me an understanding of the futility of the human effort.”
Two years ago the Caesarea Golf club got a Pete Dye redesign. It now plays over 7,100 yards from its back tees. Ambassador Eban, sir, life just got harder.
The Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio has hosted PGA Tour events, including the Bridgestone Invitational, for over 50 years.
But there’s another Firestone course that’s 5,000 miles away in Africa near Monrovia, the capital of Liberia.
It’s got only nine holes but has eight million trees. That’s right, EIGHT MILLION! They’re rubber trees that comprise the world’s largest rubber plantation within which the golf course is located.
Firestone has been operating in Liberia since 1926 and its relationship with the government there has been at times—let’s just say complicated.
As far as I know this is the only course in the country and it’s apparently, alive and well. This past weekend it held a pro tournament won by Liberia’s David Gwee who earned $1,500 for his victory in the "rubber" match.
Outside of Yerevan, Armenia’s largest city, a local businessman advertises that his residential community features a golf course.
There are pictures of what appear to be a driving range and a miniature golf layout but as you can see the real links seems to be missing.
The course has a name—Ararat Valley Country Club—and atop Mt. Ararat was the location where Noah’s ark rested after the floodwaters had subsided. Ever since its remains have been as difficult to find as a ball hit into gorse and heather.
If and when Armenia’s first course really launches, let's hope the members won't be restricted to only teeing off two by two.
The Himalayan Golf Course in Pokhara, Nepal isn’t unknown to golf adventurers, and does a good job promoting itself as the “Golfing high.” Its setting alone is enough to make it unique, unforgettable and perhaps even spiritual.
At par 73 and 6900 yards (that’s 20,700 feet) you might not be climbing Mt. Everest, but from the testimonials of those who’ve walked it, you’ll feel like you did.
And the first explorer to ever reach the summit of Everest may have just summed up the essence of golf, too after he accomplished his feat:
“It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.”—Sir Edmund Hillary
Surprisingly, Nepal has at least a half dozen courses including the Nirvana Country Club and another designed by David McLay Kidd of Bandon Dunes renown, who doesn’t list it as one of his creations however, on his website.
Remote as it may be the Himalayan Golf Course is a click away.
Yes, I know there were three South Koreans on the International Team in last week’s Presidents Cup. And of course I know that a Seoul-less LPGA would be something entirely different than what it is. South Korea and golf are becoming like Canada and hockey.
But did you know that the world record for the lowest golf score ever achieved was set in North Korea? Can you guess who posted it? Hint: rhymes with “him thong fill.”
In 1994, it was reported by North Korea that Kim Jong Il shot 38 under par on a regulation 18-hole golf course – including five holes in one! That doesn’t seem like quite enough holes-in-one, but whatever. Oh, and it was the first time he had ever held a club and played a round as well.
In addition to the line between delusion and reality, the two Koreas maintain another geographical one called the Demilitarized Zone. Actually, it’s maintained for them by the United Nations and with U.S. help.
Camp Bonifas is the base that sits in the middle of this and it has a one hole golf course that’s touted as the most dangerous in the world.
The 192 yard par three is surrounded by minefields. Miss the green and you may well leave yourself with the ultimate explosion shot. As seen here, some players even holed out but elected to pass on retrieving their balls.
The north of Chile is one of the driest inhabited places in the world, where the average annual precipitation is 0.03 inches. Is that enough to even fill a ball washer?
But despite the lack of rainfall, the climate is relatively mild in this ultra arid place, and so, near the region's coastal city of Arica some local golfers built a golf course.
They didn’t have to plant anything. In Arica Bermuda is a place you visit and rye is something you imbibe. The golf course, Club de Golf Rio Lluta, is 6,570 yards of dirt and rock.
Rio Lluta’s “fairways” are delineated by white lines. If you keep your ball inside the lines you get to place it on a piece of AstroTurf you carry along with your clubs. Outside the lines you play it as it lies.
Land your ball in a circle of blue rocks and you’re in a “water hazard” and must take a penalty stroke.
The greens are where the pins are but also discernible by their dark color produced from a combination of dirt and oil. When you reach one you can use the rake you also carry to smooth out the surface for the putt in front of you.
There are courses like this in other deserts in the Middle East—and even California—but this Chile dust bowl is in a grass-less class by itself.
Quick!—What is Estonia famous for? Give up? I almost did, too. But I have an answer: Skype. Yes, Estonia can be thanked for this useful way to communicate that’s remarkably, still free.
Golf in Estonia is a pretty recent development but the country was the site this past summer for the European qualifier for this week’s Omega Mission Hills World Cup. From the looks of this course I say "Welcome to the world of golf Estonia!"
For golf, the Kabul Golf Club is the only game in town—or in Afghanistan for that matter. And despite the war torn history of the country, one man has kept this meager course alive.
His name is Mohammad Afzal Abdul and despite everything from the Taliban to landmines, he has persevered and although Kabul Golf Club has had to move several times, Afzal Abdul gives clinics and even runs charity events.
This week Afzal Abdul will hopefully get to see something I’m sure he never expected—The Ryder Cup. Yes, the Ryder Cup is being brought to the Afghan capital by Colin Montgomerie who plans to spend four days in Afghanistan visiting British troops and while there, he wants to tour its only course.
Monty may not be Bob Hope, who loved to entertain American troops serving abroad while holding a golf club on stage, but wouldn’t it be great if someday the only shots heard round the world were golf shots?