When most people think of high altitude sports it’s mainly skiing and snowboarding that spring to mind. Although, there are plenty of other sports that can be practiced on snow, golf wasn’t one that immediately came to mind when asking around recently in a café in Meribel! One young snowboarder actually thought I was joking! Maybe it’s the use of the word “green” that makes it hard to associate golf and snow – funnily enough the “greens” are called “whites” when playing Snow Golf! Whilst you might think that this sport is reserved for celebrities and top sports people, snow golf is now becoming accessible to a wider audience.
The snow needs to be compacted down while it’s actually still snowing so players play on a hard surface and there is no chance of sinking into deep powder snow. The golf balls need to be bright colours – often red or luminous so that it stands out in the totally white surroundings! The ball flies well in the thin air at high altitudes, but doesn’t bounce, so golfer’s shots need to be adapted to this unusual environment. The greens become whites, golfing t-shirts are replaced by bulky ski jackets (which hinder movement rather a lot) and golfing shoes by moonboots!
It is often said that the first player of modern snow golf was the English author Rudyard Kipling (author of the ‘Jungle book’ in 1894 and the youngest Nobel literature prize winner in 1907). Already an avid golfer, he apparently relaxed by playing snow golf during the winters of the early 1890s while writing The Jungle Book in Vermont! Kipling painted his golf balls red and placed red cups in the snow to make life a little simpler!
Snow Golf and classical golf have a common ancestor in the Dutch game of "Kolf", played in Holland since the Middle Ages. Evidence of Kolf being an extremely popular winter pastime can be seen in various 17th century paintings by renowned artists such as Aert van der Neer and Hendrick Avercamp.
There are a few different versions of snow golf. I particularly like the Alaskan version which appears to be a mix of golf and the French game of “Petanque”. The game is played on frozen lakes, in particular in the Matanuska Valley and there is not pre-determined number of players or official golf course! The first golfer hits the ball any where and his ball then becomes the target! Each player tries to get as close as possible to the target but if nobody gets close enough, then the ball furthest away becomes the new target! I can imagine the walk back to the starting point can sometimes get rather long! An alternative version when playing golf on a frozen lakes in Alaska (for example in the Talkeentna mountains), is to get your ball (or other object!) into a circle drawn on the ice. In this game, the players wear ice skates which could seriously hinder performance in some cases! Winter golfing has also existed for a long time in Canada and is played wearing snowshoes or skis, using coloured golf balls or big rubber balls (which sink less in deep powder!) Here again the aim of the game is to touch a target.
It seems that where there is snow there is snow golf! There are competitions in Greenland, Canada and Argentina to mention just a few… In Switzerland, official Snow Golfing or Winter Golfing has existed since 1979 when the Engadine Golf Tournament in St Moritz was first held. Since 1996, the event has taken place in the village of Silvaplana. As Britain came to a standstill in the snow earlier this year, eighty international golf players took part in the 34th Snow Golf Cup with Carlo Lazzati and Caroline Rominger up on the podium… Watch this short YouTube video for more info.
The first Snow Golf World Championship for amateurs was carried out in January 2007 in Obertauern in Austria. This event was hosted as a major Austrian celebrity event and sponsored by the state of Salzburg as part of plan to attract tourists to the area. The event attracted personalities and golfers from all over the world as far afield as the Philippines, Australia and the United Arab Emirates. Entrance was tightly restricted to only 100 amateur golfers, Olympic champions, world champions and celebrities! Thanks to the climax activity, the "Million Dollar Putt" contest, the official Championship offered the biggest prize for an amateur golf event in the world! Alongside amateur competitors, many big names from sport and showbiz tried to sink their "Million Dollar Putt" to raise a million dollars for important charity causes such as "Wings for Life" (Spinal Cord Research Foundation). Nobody managed to pull off the big putt, and the prize remains unclaimed!
There are many Snow Golf competitions open to everyone – one of which is the Gstaad Boërl & Kroff Snow Golf Trophy on Saturday the 9th March 2013 which is rather classy event with chalet accommodation organized and a gala dinner at the end of the event. In France, the ski resort of Megève is often referred to as “the cradle of snow golf”, thanks to a keen golfer, the jeweller Philippe Guilhem, who in 2000 he had a brilliant idea and launched the Megève Winter Cup - a 9-hole course laid out for the occasion on the Mont d'Arbois Golf Course. Since then, two individual snow golf events are held in Megève each year.
The first of these events is the Vacheron Constantin Snow Golf Cup, presented by the Edmond de Rothschild Group and Rolls Royce. The 13th edition of this prestigious event took place this year from the 7th to the 9th of February. This is actually a private event with entrance by invitation only – I’m not sure who does the inviting… Immediately after this event, the BMW Winter Golf Trophy was held on the 10th to the 17th of February, starting with the BMW Winter Golf Kids Trophy, and ending with the 5th NAPAPIJRI Amateur Snow Golf World Championship. These two events are chic and sporty, with the best international golfers coming from around the world to enjoy the stunning natural surroundings and take a breath of fresh air!
If all of the that sounds a bit glitzy and glam, then why not make your own mini snow golf course and make use of all that snow we’ve been having! All you have to do is pack down an area of snow in your garden (using a piece of board or plank of wood is the quickest and most efficient way of doing this), use tin cans or plastic cups buried in the snow as your holes and then use your imagination to make different ramps and obstacles - your success can depend on the amount of snow there is - not only your imagination! Kids absolutely love playing (and making) mini snow golf courses – I highly recommend it - hours and hours of fun! Enjoy! Leave a comment if you’re a snow golf fan already and tell us where you’ve played – even if it is was just your back garden!
Being lucky enough to have parents who were crazy about skiing, my love for the mountains started when I was 4 years old on our first family ski holiday to Austrian ski resort of Obergurl. One ski holiday a year was never enough and tears rolled down my face as I looked out the back window of the car on the drive down the valley on the way home!
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