Family Travel with Golfing in Iceland

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We rented a cart at the Gindavik Golf Course and were definitely in the minority. The other golfers were encountered were using pull carts. OR Distance is posted in meters at Icelandic golf courses.

We rented a cart at the Gindavik Golf Course and were definitely in the minority. The other golfers were encountered were using pull carts. OR Distance is posted in meters at Icelandic golf courses. Kelly Westhoff photos.

When  Your Husband is Golf Crazy, You Find the Place that Pleases you Both

By Kelly Westhoff

After losing all of his balls in the scrubby grasses of the Geysir Golf Course, a golfer braves ice-cold water to rescue a ball long surrendered by another golfer.

After losing all of his balls in the scrubby grasses of the Geysir Golf Course, a golfer braves ice-cold water to rescue a ball long surrendered by another golfer.

My husband is a golf fanatic. His weekends are dedicated to the pursuit of golfing. During the work week, when the weather is nice, he hits the driving range over his lunch hour and again over happy hour. He watches golf on TV.

He reads golf magazines. He plays golf video games. I wasn’t surprised, therefore, when soon after I pitched the idea of traveling to Iceland, he said, “Do you think they have golf courses there?”

I had no idea, but he jumped online and discovered Iceland is indeed a golfing destination.

According to Golf Iceland, the country’s official trade association for golf and tourism, there are 65 golf courses in Iceland. About 50 of those courses are nine holes. The rest offer 18 holes. A few are even 27 hole courses.

Tough Weather for Golf

Iceland is about the same size as the state of Kentucky. Iceland’s geography—strewn with volcanos, glaciers, fjords and wind-swept wastelands—means much of the country’s land isn’t fit for habitation or recreation.

Also, for much of the calendar year, the winter weather and lack of sunlight mean playing a round of golf isn’t even an option. Add these factors together and it’s pretty amazing Iceland boasts the number of golf courses it does.

We planned to fly into Iceland at the end of May and stay for ten days. Our arrival would land us there near the beginning of the country’s golf season, which runs May through September.

After learning that, yes, indeed he could go golfing in Iceland, my husband started dreaming of doing just that. Instead of turning on the TV at night, he hunched over his tablet researching golf in Iceland.

Golfing in Iceland

Stroll the boadwalk behind the Secret Lagoon, or Gamla Laugin, for an up close view (and smell) of the hot springs feeding the pool.

Stroll the boadwalk behind the Secret Lagoon, or Gamla Laugin, for an up close view (and smell) of the hot springs feeding the pool.

Did you know, he said, that Iceland has the northernmost golf course in the world?

Did you know, he said, that in the summer in Iceland you can go golfing at midnight?

Did you know, he said, that there aren’t trees in Iceland, so playing golf there is like playing at St. Andrew’s?

No, I did not know any of these things, but sure enough, one day after landing in Iceland, I was on a golf course and there was not a tree in sight.

I am not a golfer. I’ve golfed. In the past. Once, years ago, my husband even declared himself my golf instructor. Those lessons weren’t productive and they ended soon after they began. Since then, we’ve maintained a pretty strict separation of church and state situation when it comes to our marriage and golf. In Iceland, however, I went golfing with my husband. Twice. And I liked it.

Swing the Club, Marvel at the Scenery

Oh, I didn’t really golf. I swung the clubs a few times. I putted a few times. I helped him hunt for his ball, which I liked doing, as the hunting put me up close and personal with a pretty, local flowering moss. Mostly, I spent my time on the golf course marveling at the scenery.

We’d booked a tee-time by email a week before our arrival at the Grindavik Golf Club, an 18-hole course outside the town of Grindavik. We rented clubs and a cart on site. Our cart request was met with curiosity. Most golfers, we were told, walk the course. The manager pointed to a line of push-pull club carts next to the door.

My husband shook his head and pointed to the one golf cart parked outside. The manager raised his eyebrows and shrugged his shoulders in an, “Ah, foreigners,” sort of way before gesturing us toward the cart.

Lava fields surround the town of Grindavik and its tourist attractions, the Blue Lagoon and the Grindavik Golf Course.

Lava fields surround the town of Grindavik and its tourist attractions, the Blue Lagoon and the Grindavik Golf Course.

We loaded in and took off, but after only a few holes we felt conspicuous in our noisy cart. What the manager had said was true. The other golfers, and there were other golfers on the course, were quietly pulling their clubs behind them. And I could understand why. The landscape, wide-open and far-reaching, inspired reverence.

No Trees to Block Views

Since there were no trees to block our view, we could see the north Atlantic in the distance shimmering in the sun. Mounds of craggy volcanic rock jutted up here and there. Sometimes the rocks were covered with gray-green lichen and moss. Sometimes the rocks were bare to the eyes and touch, black, rough and a reminder that the ground on which we were golfing had been born of fire.

In the front nine, there is a jagged tear in the earth. It is a place where, the manager told us, the tectonic plates of North America and Europe are ripping apart. On one hole, golfers tee off above the rip and hit their ball over the chasm to reach the fairway.

At the Grindavik Golf Course, a bridge helps golfers pass over a chasm in the earth where two tectonic plates are pulling away from each other. Golfers must tee off over the chasm.

At the Grindavik Golf Course, a bridge helps golfers pass over a chasm in the earth where two tectonic plates are pulling away from each other. Golfers must tee off over the chasm.

There were no violent rips in the earth at the Geysir Golf Club, a nine-hole course near Iceland’s famous geysers in the Golden Circle tourist region.

However, from this golf course, we could watch the largest geyser spout into the air at regular intervals.

A glacier-capped mountain hovered in the distance and a fast-moving river wound its way through the greens.

This river consumed several of my husband’s golf balls. In fact, between the river and the tall, scrubby grass growing along the fairways, he lost every single one of his balls on this course. He blamed his poor aim on the rental clubs and muttered about the posted distances being listed in meters instead of yards.

Wading on In

Near the end of the course, he was so desperate for a ball with which he could keep playing, that when I spotted some long-ago golfer’s abandoned ball half sunk in the muck in a quiet spot of the river, he took off his shoes and socks, rolled up his pant legs, and waded in.

The water was frigid. I knew because I had dipped my hand in it, but even if I hadn’t wiggled my fingers in the river myself, I would have known its icy sting from the screeches that came from my husband’s mouth as he made his way to that ball.

Among the front nine of the Grindavik Golf Course, the North American and European plates are pulling away from each other.

Among the front nine of the Grindavik Golf Course, the North American and European plates are pulling away from each other.

He finished the course with that ball, and that ball came home with us, a souvenir of our golfing adventures in Iceland.

Tips and Resources

Not all of Iceland’s golf courses have web sites. Of those that do, many are written completely in Icelandic. This worried me as I wondered how difficult it would be to try and schedule tee times, yet I never had a problem communicating with any course.

I found email addresses on the web sites and sent messages in English naming the day I wanted a reservation. I got responses in English before we reached Iceland. Once in the country, we called golf courses and spoke directly to the club houses in English.

Golf Iceland has an interactive map of the country’s 18-hole golf courses. www.golficeland.org

Golf Iceland also lists 9-hole golf courses in Iceland.

My husband brought his golf shoes and a handful of golf balls to Iceland.

He rented clubs in Iceland and wasn’t happy with their quality. He briefly looked into services that would ship his clubs to Iceland, but our travel there incorporated more than golf, so in the end he decided against this.  We did pack three clubs in our suitcase for our son because they fit and because we didn’t think we’d find any clubs his size in Iceland, which we didn’t.

My husband also didn’t pack his range finder and he wished he had as it offered a feature to translate meters into yards. Without this knowledge, my husband had trouble understanding the posted distances.

The weather can be unpredictable in Iceland, so plan for layers on the golf course.

The Gullfoss waterfall is an easy stop from Geysir. A boardwalk walks tourists right up to the edge.

The Gullfoss waterfall is an easy stop from Geysir. A boardwalk walks tourists right up to the edge.

Reykjanes Peninsula

The international airport is in the city of Keflavik, which is about an hour away from Reykjavik.

Keflavik is on the Reykjanes Peninsula . The peninsula is home to the popular Blue Lagoon, so lots of travelers spend some time in this part of Iceland.

We drove through Keflavik and noticed a lot of construction. There were new hotels and restaurants in the downtown area. Sudurnes Golf Course is an 18-hole course near Keflavik. http://gs.is/english/

While on the peninsula, we chose to stay in the town of Grindavik.

The Grindavik Golf Club is an 18-hole course just beyond town.

Tickets to the Blue Lagoon, which is very close to Grindavik, must be purchased in advance and spaces do sell out. Secure your tickets online beforehand. http://www.bluelagoon.com

Northern Light Inn is outside of Grindavik, near the Blue Lagoon. Roomy accommodations with spacious and comfortable common areas. Breakfast included.

Geo Hotel is a new construction hotel located in the town of Grindavik.

Salthusid Restaurant is a free-standing wooden building sort of behind the Netto grocery store. While it specializes in the local saltfish, we thought the pan-fried trout was superior.

The Secret Lagoon, or Gamla Laugin, is a steamy natural pool tucked away in the town of Fludir.

The Secret Lagoon, or Gamla Laugin, is a steamy natural pool tucked away in the town of Fludir.

Distance is measured in meters on Icelandic golf courses. If you're used to judging distance in yards, this might throw off your game.

Distance is measured in meters on Icelandic golf courses. If you’re used to judging distance in yards, this might throw off your game.

Papa’s Restaurant was difficult to locate but once we finally found it, it was loaded with locals. Large portions of fish and chips and pizza.

Other activities in the Grindavik area include Arctic Horses www.arcichorses.is and 4×4 Adventures Iceland  . Within easy driving distance are The Bridge Between Two Continents, the Reykjanesviti lighthouse and the Gunnuhver hot spring (for viewing, not swimming). Also, the nearby Reykjanesfolkvangur Wilderness Reserve offers many hiking opportunities.

Geysir

Geysir is part of The Golden Circle, a popular tourist route that is easily accessible from Reykjavik. It’s west of the city and offers a wide range of outdoor activities like geyser viewing, waterfall viewing, speed boat riding, horseback riding, scuba diving, and, yes, golfing.

Many travelers visit this area via tour buses from Reykjavik. We had our own car and used the “I Heart Reykjavik” blog to help us navigate the Golden Circle.

The Geysir Golf Course is a 9-hole course close enough to the famous geyser that you can see it spray while you play.  http://www.geysirgolf.is

We stayed at the Litli Geysir hotel, which we found on Booking.com. It is directly across the street from the geyser and we could see the golf course from our bathroom window. The breakfast buffet was an add-on, but it was very good. Lunch can be easily found in the cafeteria and shopping complex at the Hotel Geysir next door.

Gamla Laugin, called The Secret Lagoon in English, is a natural hot spring in Fludir which is worth the short detour from Geysir. The water was extremely hot, the free use of foam noodles was a nice touch, and the short walking path among the hot springs was fun.  The nearby Grund restaurant serves huge, fresh salads. There is also an Ethiopian restaurant, Minilik, in Fludir.

Other Golfing Options

There are a handful of golf courses right around Reykjavik if you want to stay in the capital city and play. The map on the Golf Iceland web site will help identify them.

While planning our trip, we researched several other golf courses. Alas, we couldn’t squeeze everything in. Here are three others we considered.

The Westman Islands are a collection of small, volcanic islands off the southern coast of Iceland. A ferry shuttles travelers back and forth between Iceland proper and Heimaey, the one inhabited island of the chain. Cars can be ferried across, but it is an added expense. Otherwise, cars can be left in a parking lot by the ferry dock. There is an 18-hole course on Heimaey called

The Westman Island Golf Course. Photos of it look beautiful. When I emailed the golf course about a possible tee time, I asked how we could reach the golf course without a car and was told the course was a 10-minute walk from town. website

If you’re doing a road trip of Iceland’s Southern Coast, Hofn is the last city before the Ring Road highway turns and begins heading up the island’s east coast. We found several mentions online of a golf course in Hofn, but found it listed by two different names: Silfurnesvollur Golf Club and Hornafjordur Golf Club.

We never found a direct URL for this course. We did see a couple maps online and were intrigued as it looked as though a boat had to ferry golfers between the third and fourth hole. Plus, according to the map, it looked like the eighth and ninth hole involved hitting over an expanse of bay.

If you choose to journey northern Iceland, you can play at the Akureyri Golf Club, the northernmost golf course in the world and home to the Arctic Open, a two-day tournament each June where golfers play through the night.

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Kelly Westhoff
Kelly Westhoff was a regular contributor to GoNOMAD and a member of our bloggers team. Before the importance of the bed time routine invaded her life, Kelly was a traveler — the kind who would throw all her stuff in a backpack, hit the road, and write about her adventures.When she wasn’t traveling, she worked as a freelance writer.She wrote about sustainable and organic lifestyles, home and garden, food and drinks, and more. She interviewed chefs, politicians, authors, artists, philanthropists, and business owners.