Golf In The Westman Islands: Being Angry and Frustrated In A Beautiful Place

Golf In The Westman Islands: Being Angry and Frustrated In A Beautiful Place

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York Underwood
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York Underwood

“I’m going to tell you something, ok? What shot do you really think you can do? Do you think you’re going to make that long difficult shot? Probably not. You want to be a better golfer? Make better decisions,” said Howard Glassman, co-host of the golf podcast Swing Thoughts and co-host of the long running and popular Humble and Fred Show in Toronto (now on SiriusXM). “But just stop for a second and look around. This is great. We’re golfing in Iceland. The view alone puts most courses to shame.”

The golf course Vestmannaeyjar is located in an archipelago on the south coast of Iceland. The course sits in the remnants of an extinct volcano, edged up to the coastline, and features swarms of puffins and arctic turns circling overhead before settling back on the cliffs. The course was built in 1938 by 36 dedicated golf enthusiasts. It was originally 9-holes, but was expanded to 18-holes in the early 1990s and currently plays as a par 70 at 5,820 yards. It’s ranked as one of the top 200 golf courses in Europe by Golf Monthly.

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“This is the type of course where they just laid down the turf over the natural landscape, similar to Scotland,” said Howard. He’s in Iceland on a trip with his daughter, but agreed to go golfing with me and leave his daughter, Charlie, to fend for herself in town for a few hours. That’s the thing about getting to this course. You need to book a ferry.

In 1973, Eldfell erupted resulting in a complete evacuation of the Westman Islands. The golf course was completely covered in ash. After a few years, the original course was restored and in 1994 the course was expanded by 9-holes and edged right up to the sea giving it one of the most breathtaking and difficult back nine holes in Europe. With Iceland being on the tip of the Gulf Stream the weather is mild enough for golfers to play year round.

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“You want to keep your head down until after you hit the ball. You’re raising your left shoulder and topping the ball,” said Howard with what appeared throughout the day to be infinite patience. “This course is very tight. It’s all close together. You don’t have a lot of room for error…Look! A tourist just popped out of nowhere. You could have killed him. This might be the only golf course where humans are also a common hazard on the course.”

It’s true. There are huddles of tourists crawling around the course like it’s not in use. That being said, I didn’t kill anyone. That’s the benefit of constantly topping the ball. You might be mentally enraged enough to go on a murderous rampage, but the ball just won’t have the OOMPHF to cause any damage. That’s why the scenery in golf is so important. It cools you down and prepares you for the next swing. Even though I swear I’m not lifting my head early.

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If you’re not a tournament player and all-around expert like Howard, the course is still quite manageable. I’m what life insurance agencies call “a liability.” That didn’t stop me, however, from tapping in a nice birdie on a par 3 in the back nine. This sudden stroke of decent playing only lead to more heartbreak for the rest of the course. Or as P.G. Wodehouse said, “Sudden success in golf is like the sudden acquisition of wealth. It is apt to unsettle and deteriorate the character.”

Howard and I returned our cart and headed into the clubhouse to return our rental clubs. Howard continued his coaching, encouraging me to keep practicing. He see’s a lot of potential in what I’m doing. It will just take work. Then just before I handed my clubs to the attendant at the till, he grabbed one out of the bag.

“No wonder you were topping all day. These are women’s clubs.”