Eruption Not A Disruption For Iceland Golfers

The Iceland volcano Eyjafjallajokull continues to disrupt. There are plenty of walks of life where the repercussions must have been infinitely more serious, but competitive golf, as much as any other sporting arena, is only now emerging from the chaos.
The Moroccan Classic, a Challenge Tour event, had to be postponed, while those attending last week’s Ballantine’s championship in Korea were anticipating delays to their homeward journey. On the women’s side, the Helen Holm Trophy became a mostly GB&I  affair as the majority of the Continentals could find no way of getting to Troon.
In the amateur game, the Sir Michael Bonallack Trophy – Europe versus Asia Pacific – was cancelled altogether but not before Scotland’s James Byre had journeyed all the way to India from his university in Arizona.
Amid all these goings-on, the Secretary of the Iceland Golf Union reported, a little apologetically, that it had been golf as usual in Iceland. Hordur Thorsteinsson explained that only one course out of their 65 – the nine-hole lay-out at Vik – had been damaged. And even then the problems were not exactly serious.
Mind you, the golfing community were praying that in the event of any further fallout from the volcano there would be no big shift in the wind. Such a scenario could affect the Westman Island course, an 18-hole lay-out utilizing the sheltered bowl of an extinct volcano. Thorsteinsson thinks they should be all right on that score and worries rather more about the volcano at Katla and what would happen if that were stirred into action. “Katla,” he warned, “would be ten times bigger than Eyjafjallajokull.”
Golf arrived in Iceland in 1912 when a Scot did as Jack Nicklaus does today: He went fishing for salmon. In the autumn, the farmers found golf balls dotted around the river and automatically linked them to the occasional ghostly sighting of the Scot “swinging a stick.”
The first golf club, Reykjavik GC, was founded in 1934 and has hosted such high profile events as the European Boys’ championship and the European Senior Amateur. As for the pivotal moment in the Icelandic game, that came in 1988 when officials called for John Garner, a former Ryder Cup man, to help with coaching. Garner’s suggestion was that Icelanders should see the game as an all-year-round affair and use the bleak winters they had then to work on technique at one of their indoor centres.
It was not too long before Garner had a result which was the talk of Arctic circles. Armed with a team taking in a handful of strapping boat-builders, Iceland came out on top in the Nordic Cup. Their six-strong side finished ten ahead of Denmark and a little matter of 33 shots clear of the Swedes. Contrary to what everyone might think, Sweden had not fielded a second-rate side. They had chosen their optimum sextet and taken the further precaution of sending them to Florida for a fortnight’s practice.
Today, golf is second only to football in terms of popularity. Ten percent of the population of 320,000 play regularly and, at a time when many golf clubs in the UK have been losing members, those in the Reykjavik area are full to overflowing. The country’s recent financial crisis and the subsequent loss of jobs have contributed to a surge in the number of people taking to the links.
As against what happened in Scotland, where two or three months were lost to snow at the turn of the year, conditions in the Reykjavik area have been positively benign. Thorsteinsson said that the temperatures had mostly stayed between zero and five degrees – and that there had been so little snow that his local skiing centre had been closed for business for all but five days. “I’m 48,” said the Secretary, “and I’ve never known anything like it. Almost every day it was OK to walk out and play golf.
“The older citizens, the over 75s, are the hardiest,” he continued. “They like to be outside in the winter, and since they’re not working, they’re able to make the most of the short winter days.”
At this time of the year, the seniors play in the mornings and steer clear of the businessmen and women who pour on to the courses after work. If the latter tee up at five or even six o’clock, they can fit in a full 18 holes. When it comes to June, they will be able to play through the night if the mood takes them.
The Arctic Open, to be held at Akureyre in Iceland’s north, from June 24-26, is a round-the-clock affair, while there is a further open event along such lines – from July 2-3 – to be played on Westman Island.
It’s name is nothing if not topical – The Volcano Open.


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