My first visit to Iceland which I managed to combine with flying to and from the US Open at Erin Hills. Icelandair offer many routes in and out of the United States so Keflavik airport has become a rather interesting ‘hub’ for travellers to and from Europe and the United States and Canada.
It is hard to imagine a more beautiful and rugged country. If you are expecting fine conditioned courses with greens that hit over 11 on the ‘stimpmeters’ then think again. Come to Iceland to play the most fantastic fun golf in some of the most breath taking natural settings one can imagine. Try to forget about the somewhat rough and ready condition of the courses, instead marvel at the enjoyment golf twenty-four hours a day can offer. As a photographer the natural sunlight is as amazing as I have found anywhere in the world. Northern Scotland and Southern New Zealand have light that is similar. All I know is that I will return next summer to actually play in the Arctic Open which takes place in June every year over the summer solstice. I will also be back to see the Northern Lights, to just explore the wonders of this beautiful island and to meet more of their wonderful friendly people.
Sudurnes Golf Club ‘Golfklubbur Sudurnesja’ in Leiran Near Keflavik. A ten minute drive from Keflavik International Airport. This course is famous for the par 3, third hole which has recently been protected from erosion with new sea defences. The course has fabulous views across the ‘Faxafloi’ to the southwestern tip of Iceland. The wind was so strong as I headed out onto the course amidst a very serious Junior tournament. Built on lava the course sits below the charming clubhouse which offers great views of almost all eighteen holes. The par three third hole is definitely the signature hole but there are many other lovely holes with the 521 yards par five finishing hole one of my favourites.
Keilir Golf Club – ‘Golfklubburinn Keilir’ in Harnarfirdi on the outskirts of Reykjavik. This course is situated on the drive into Reykjavik from Keflavik. It is easily spotted situated beside the main highway just past a huge aluminium processing plant. This course is a definite tale of ‘two nines’ with the first nine holes meandering through a lava flow and then the second nine holes are situated above the estuary into Hafnarjfordur looking out to sea. The second nine is having two new holes built along the water’s edge beside the fishing port which will be a great addition to an already lovely course. I had an absolutely stunning evening here and was able to almost get the perfect midnight golf image with two players silhouteed against the sun at 11.40pm. The view from the clubhouse is amazing with a panoramic vista over the course and the sea towards the west coast of Iceland. The par three tenth hole sits beneath the clubhouse and is a 201 yard challenge to a green sitting on the edge of the sea. The eleventh tee behind the tenth green sees one hitting up hill on a slight dog-leg to the green 343 yards away.
Brautarholt Golf Club – ‘Golfklubburinn Brautarholti’ about 20km from Reykjavik – Situated about 40 kilometres west of Reykjavik and a little tricky to find but this has to be one of the most beautiful nine hole courses in the world. From the moment I arrived at the wooden clubhouse and saw the ninth and first holes stretching down the hill towards dramatic cliffs where the first green lies below and outcrop of rock I knew this could be something very special. But nothing really prepared me for the climb from the first green which seemed to be taking me nowhere and passing a sign telling me finally that I had nearly made it to the second tee where the views just exploded in front of me. A lovely little par three second hole followed by a stunning cliff top short par four with the other holes spread out below me with wonderful views of Reykjavik across the water. I could not believe this little course it was absolutely gorgeous. Not another golfer in sight, just the strong afternoon sea breeze and numerous nosiy Oyster Catchers and other sea birds for company. I can honestly say that there has to be a strong argument to nominate this course as the most beautiful nine-hole course I have ever seen or played.
Akureyri Golf Club – ‘Golfklubbur Akureyrar’ – on the Northern Coast. I was lucky enough to have managed to get a flight with Icelandair Connect to the Northern town of Akureyri which has an eighteen hole golf club where each year the Arctic Open is held in June. The town is famous for the whale watching opportunities that many tourists come to Iceland for in the summer months. I would have loved more time in this beautiful place. The course is actually more of a parkland course but it has many very lovely holes and always views of the mountains that surround this town and Eyjafjord that it lies beside. Like a lot of golf in Iceland there are some holes that are a little ‘quirky’ but above all this course is just fun to play. It is a par 71 course at 6,600 yards long off the back tees finishing with a charming par three hole nestling in the trees that surround the clubhouse. I loved the view from the elevated seventh tee a 370 yards par four heading straight to the snowy hills behind.
Husavik Golf Club – ‘Golfklubbur Katlavollur’ – on the Northern Coast – the weather was not co-operating for me at Akureyri so I made an unscheduled decision to head East towards the whaling village of Husavik where I had seen on the map that there was another nine-hole course. I found an absolute gem sitting on the side of the hill as you approach the village. The drive had been so lovely and I was not disappointed at all with what I discovered. Like all golf in Iceland at mid-summer the course was full of golfers at ten o’clock in the evening with players starting out to play a round. It is such a magical time of the year and to be able to come home from work in the early evening have supper and then decide to go and play golf must go a long way to compensating for what must be the depressing contrast of an arctic winter. This little course is as spectacular as it is beautiful. I loved the elevated first green and the valley where the 8th green and ninth hole lie but the most stunning sight was looking back to the 7th green nestling amongst a sea of lilac wildflowers beneath the hills.
Porlakshofn Golf Club ‘Poraksvollur Golfclubbur Porlakshafnar’ on the coast 50 km from Reykjavik is an eighteen holes links course beside the sea. Built behind some amazing black sand dunes the links like course meanders through the lava flow. Water hazards abound with the par three seventh a particularly nice hole with a pond to the right of the green as you stand on the tee of this 146 yards hole that stretches towards the lovely little wooden clubhouse. I also really like the par 611 yards par five thirteenth hole where you play from an elevated tee with a clear view of this double dog-leg monster. All in all this is a really challenging golf course with the wasteland sometimes giving you a chance as a lot of the lava is covered with black sand at least giving you an opportunity to escape if you stray off line.
Westman Island Golf Club – ‘Golfklubbur Vestmannaeyja’ Westman Islands, off the South Coast. I have to say this was one of the highlights of my adventure in Iceland. Leaving Porlakshofn golf club I drove eastwards along the south coast to where in the summer months you reach the 35 minute Emskip ferry to the Westman Islands. In the winter months one has to brave a four hour tortuous crossing from Porlaksofn as the entrance to the summer base at Landeyjahofn harbour is too treacherous to negotiate in the winter seas. The ferry itself is a comfortable medium size ‘roll on roll off’ ship with room for a number of vehicles and is the lifeline for the Islands as the tiny airport on the island can only take very small aircraft. The harbour of the main island of Westman is one of the great natural safe haven ports in the world and the arrival on the ferry is an experience on its own as you meander between sheer cliff faces and the lava flow of the volcano that erupted in 1974. The lava flow from the eruption of the smaller of the two volcanoes on the island nearly completely blocked the entrance to the harbour which threatened the whole existence of the island. In fact, the islanders spent many days with as many ships as they could muster spraying the encroaching lava with water to try and save the harbour which they managed in the end to do.
The golf course itself is situated beneath large hills on the North side of the island. A lush green oasis that was originally a nine-hole course which has recently been transformed to 18 holes. The most dramatic holes come in the last six holes with the stretch from the 13th to the 17th situated along the coastline. These are natural golf holes within the rocks that do suffer from the ravages of the Atlantic winters. Unfortunately, during my visit a number of the closing holes’ greens were under repair. I could see the sheer natural beauty of these holes framed against the high ‘mountain’ behind and the little rocky islands just off the coastline. The par five 16th hole and the par three 17th hole are tremendous holes visually which makes it difficult to concentrate on the difficulties they present. Many a ball will vanish into the Atlantic but somehow it is still worth the challenge. This course is a fabulous golfing experience in every sense with a friendly clubhouse that offers nice food and great views of the course. The Westman Islands are a fabulous experience on their own with abundant walking opportunities and birdlife trips which all end up back in the magical fishing port. Nowhere on the island is more than a two – three hour walk from the village. This was for me a magical twenty-four hours that I would have loved to have the time to have made a few days longer. In fact, this statement is synominous with my whole visit to Iceland.
Hella Golf Club – ‘Golfklubbur Hellu – Strandarvollour’ Near Hella 90 km from Reykjavik on the way back from Landeyjahofn and the Wetsman Island Ferry. After leaving the ferry I headed back towards Reykjavik and thirty kilometres from the port is Hella Golf Club which is actually a few kilometres before I reached the village of Hella itslelf. The course was easy to find situated just off the main highway with a clubhouse restaurant that offers fantastic fresh fish meals from 5pm till 9pm each day. I don’t know what it is with Icelandic golf courses but almost every clubhouse has one thing in common – a truly brilliant view from the main rooms looking out over the course. This club was no exception. The original course was a nine-hole design situated on the outskirts of Hella itself. In 1986 the course moved to its current location. The eighteen hole course is renowned as one of the best links courses in Iceland despite being located 20 km from the sea due to the lava ‘plain’. Majestic views of the Eyjafjallajokull Glacier and Mt Hekla greeted me as I stood on the first tee with the 18th green beside me in front of the clubhouse. The condition of the course was probably one of the best I found in Iceland. Lush fairways and true greens weaved their way through the plain with a lovely river dissecting the course. I found the 165 yards par three 13th hole to be one of the best holes on the course where you play across grassy wasteland to a green with a stunning backdrop of glacier and mountain. The 385 yards par four finishing hole was a lovely conclusion uphill over the river to the base of the clubhouse and the delicious fish that waited for me.
Geysir Golf Club – ‘Golfklubbur Haukadalsvollur’ Geysir 100km from Reykjavik. Driving from Hella I headed inland at Selfoss climbing into the mountains towards the famous little village of Geysir. In all it took me about seventy-five minutes to arrive at this extraordinary place. The name gave it all away as I arrived to be greeted to my left to a steaming cauldron of hot pools. The golf club itself is a little way through the village and another wooden clubhouse again with a stunning view of the course and the hills welcomed me. Geysir Golf Club is a nine-hole course built in 2006, and in one word is simply charming! With a river running beside six holes of the course and mountains surrounding the whole course it reminds me somewhat of the beautiful Boat of Garten course in Scotland. The greens are natural fescue style grass which are again similar to a lot of Scotland’s great courses. I loved this little gem of a golf course. It is just plain fun to play and very challenging at that. If you negotiate the first five holes with the ball that you hit off the first tee I would call that good golf! The eighth hole gives you the best views of the world renowned geothermal springs and the ‘Great Geysir’ that erupts every ten minutes or so hurling fountains of boiling water high into the air. The steam from these pools lingers in the cool mountain air and drifts across the slopes as you play this lovely little course.
Reykjavik Golf Club – ‘Golfklúbbur Reykjavíkur Grafarholt Course’ – I left Geysir Golf Club to head back towards Reykjavik. This is a breathtaking 90km drive through one of Iceland’s great natural parks and along the shore of the Pingvalla Vatn lake. It is just as well the speed limit drops to 50kmph through this area because my eyes were wandering and marvelling at the views every centimetre of the way. I arrived at Reykjavik Golf Club the oldest club in Iceland at around 9pm to see golfers just starting to play their rounds. How I wanted this to be a beautiful summer’s evening! Sadly the weather though dry was not co-operating and the sun hid behind western clouds for the evening teasing me with potential glimpses. There is something magical about being able to play this great game through the night. The sheer enjoyment of the golfers was plain to see as they hit off into the summer twilight. The course itself is a type of parkland golf that offers fabulous views of the city of Reykjavik, surrounded by new industrial and residential properties. These new buildings do not take away from the view from the clubhouse perched above the eighteenth green. This is one of the busiest clubs one could imagine with over 2500 members. The holes meander through lava areas, trees and heather. My favourite hole was the par five fifteenth hole which measures 579 yards from the back tees.