“There are plenty of people who come here late at night after the clubs close, especially in the beginning of summer. Some even arrive at six o’clock in the morning and try to make a quick round before the staff arrives,” a woman tells me at a parking lot somewhere in Reykjavík while putting her golf gear into the trunk of her car.
It is almost midnight but the sun is still up. The golf club closed two hours ago, and no one is around except two of my friends and the lady just leaving. As soon as she does, we three become members of the group she was just talking about.
But why be sneaky? Why not just pay the price and enjoy a game with the rest of the crowd?
“The waiting lists are so long that I can’t be bothered to apply. Plus, it is so expensive to become a member. Being a student, I just can’t afford it,” one enthusiastic golfer had told me when asked about the subject.
After doing a little research I found out he had a good point. Golf is without a doubt a posh sport, and, in recent years, it has become so hyped in Iceland that those interested in joining the clubs and practising golf sometimes have to wait up to two years just to become members, although being married to a member can speed up the process. The price to pay for joining is another factor. The fee for one year ranges from around 35,000-55,000 ISK in the capital area plus an extra 50 percent for a special entrance fee the first year. In addition to that you have to buy all the cool gear, clubs, a trolley, gloves and trendy clothing, as jeans and sweatsuits are, of course, not appreciated in this elite company.
But even though the price might strike the regular worker as a little too high, a large percentage of the population has become infected with the golf virus. Today, a remarkable number of about 20-25,000 people play golf all around the country, and roughly about 15,000 of them are members of a local golf club.
The rest? Well, most of them pay a day fee ranging from 3,000-5,000 ISK per round. And then there are people like us. People who find that ridiculously overpriced and just decide to sneak in when no one is watching and play their round for free. Being a cheapskate or getting a rush out of breaking the law is not the whole explanation for this behaviour though. The main factor is the desire to have the whole course for yourself, free from any hassle or comments from other club members.
“It’s just fun to go with a couple of friends once in a while when no one is around. Also, I don’t golf so often that it’s worth becoming a member. And I like practising at night. It is a special feel to be able to golf long after midnight. Start the round on one day and finish it the next. Some of my best rounds I played at that time. No harm done really,” another golfer told me. The third one admitted the same thing: “I started sneaking into golf courses a couple of years ago. Then my friends and I drove to various courses on weekends, even with some beer, and had fun for hours. After playing like that for some time I became a member, but I still love going at night in good weather and enjoying the special atmosphere.”
All of them agreed on how different it is to play midnight golf in Iceland. Being able to golf until morning without the sun setting is something that the majority of the world’s golfers would enjoy. In Iceland there are about 50 golf courses all around the island, some located right by the sea, others hidden in valleys or next to riverbanks. Although the weather usually isn’t ideal, and the summer is short, Iceland is a great place for practising the sport. Almost 24 hours of sunlight in June and July means 24 hours of golfing and this is the reason golfers from all around the world pay high prices just to try the unique experience midnight golfing so close to the Arctic Circle provides.
The courses in Reykjavík and the neighbouring area are quite remarkable. The Hafnarfjörður course has the panoramic view over the sea on one side and the aluminium smelter on the other. At Seltjarnarnes, I couldn’t hear any noise at all, except for a few terns flying around. The hustle of the city was far away at the course I chose as my victim (and the location will remain secret), although it was only minutes away from a traffic-filled street. It was immediately apparent why people stay awake and drive to hidden places to play golf after hours.
After our friendly woman had left the parking lot, my friends and I headed out to play. The weather was unusually good and the peace and quiet just amazing.
“Do you think someone will come?” my friend asked as a couple of cars had been driving past us when we were practising our swing. But none seemed to care what we were doing. Our worries of being caught soon vanished. With every hole we finished, our swings got a little bit better. In the end, I could almost hit the ball once in every five attempts. (This was my first time golfing, I should point out.) It being the end of July the sun wasn’t as strong as in early summer, so at a little past 1 a.m. we couldn’t see the ball anymore, so my first (but certainly not last) golf session ended there.
Not all are as satisfied with this situation. An employee at the GKG golf club was well aware of the situation. “It is quite common that people sneak into the courses. The most traffic was around the Jónsmessa night when the sun was up for 24 hours. Around that time we sometimes spotted 20-30 people playing golf at 2 a.m. when making our routine check. Then we had to approach them and hand them a fine,” he said and added that the feedback was often less than pleasant. “A group of people think it is really clever and funny to play around like that, but they don’t realise all the effort we have to make just to keep the courses perfect for our members. Those who sneak in are maybe driving around on a Saturday night and decide it would be a great idea to go golfing, but that is just like sneaking into Laugardalsvöllur football field to play a game. Who does that?”
Golf is an elite sport all right, and those paying high prices to practise it don’t like those who cheat. Understandably. But those not ready to commit to a whole year or who are forced onto waiting lists to join the club don’t have much choice. Some courses don’t even allow people to play after 2 p.m. unless they are members and most have day jobs.
It is neither cheap nor easy to become an honest golfer and as the popularity of the sport continues rising, it will almost be necessary to be a club member to even get a tee-time in the future. Will the sneaky golfers be forced to pay tens of thousands to practise their hobby? Maybe. But while there aren’t any 24-hour guards or bloodthirsty watchdogs preventing them, a number of kids and workers will be practising illegally in the midnight sun.