Fire and Ice: Iceland is good for golf and good for the soul

Fire and Ice: Iceland is good for golf and good for the soul
The fourth green at Akueryri golf club, which is buried under snow for much of the year.

The Iceland Air flight from Reykjavik to Akureyri lasts 40 minutes. Below, the interior of this small country is desolate and two-tone, the black mountains and volcanoes piercing through blankets of snow, their slopes trapping the snow in crevasses hidden from the sun.

This is the Iceland one imagines and the shadow of the 30-seater plane skims across a landscape where no house or road exists.

The descent into Akureyri reveals more of the same before green fields and valleys slip into sight, the lush green a stark contrast to the brown and white. 

As the plane circles to land you might even see Akureyri Golf Club, set on the hillside above the town.

Iceland, with a population of little more than 330,000, may not spring immediately to mind when it comes to choosing a golf destination but bear with me. 

Icelanders are passionate about the game.

How else do you explain the 65 golf courses stretched around a coastline filled with fjords, volcanic rock and mountain tunnels? 

Courses are under snow for over half the year but once the snow clears those green fairways appear and, not long after, so too do the flags.

A trip to Iceland is not just about cramming in golf: there is so much else to consider, too many distractions, too many views. 

As we left Akureyri and headed west that became abundantly clear as the road twisted along the mountainous coastline and rivers rushed underneath us before exploding into the open air, dropping to the sea far below.

We passed through three tunnels to reach Siglufjörur — shortened to Siglo for non-Icelanders — the country’s most northern town. 

It sits in a fjord a few miles shy of the Arctic Circle and it has had a tumultuous history… something that the town embraces as it recovers from decades of decline. 

This was the herring capital of the world in the 20th century but that all changed in 1968, almost overnight, when herring stocks vanished.

A crumbling fishing boat near the quays is a reminder of the town’s olden days. It looks lost and forlorn away from the water but most signs of those difficult years have vanished. 

The town has been enjoying a rejuvenation, thanks to a long lost son.

Robert Gudfinnson left Siglo decades ago with many of the younger generations to find fame and fortune away from a lifeless town… but he has now returned with two goals in mind: to restore the town to its former glory and to develop and sell a product called Benecta that helps the older generations (yes, think golfers) ‘Defy Your Age’.

Iceland from the air can seem to have a pallette of two: brown and white. But where green does peek through, you might be looking at one of the island’s 65 golf courses.
Iceland from the air can seem to have a pallette of two: brown and white. But where green does peek through, you might be looking at one of the island’s 65 golf courses.

We were staying in Robert’s hotel during the trip. It is one of the first buildings you come to as you drive down the mountain and his fishing boat rises and falls with the tide against the hotel’s wooden walkway.

Next to it is the hotel’s outdoor spa, steaming quietly. It is heated geothermally as is the hotel and entire town.

Inside are black and white photographs that date back to the town’s herring heyday. 

It is charming and contemporary and, most of all, effortlessly comfortable. There are 68 rooms and suites in all.

Robert is also responsible for two restaurants that make the harbour a colourful centre of activity while other enterprises, such as the Segull micro-brewery, are a perfect demonstration of how a town can spring back to life.

Perhaps this rejuvenation also attracted film-makers as this town was used as the backdrop for Trapped, an Icelandic detective series shown on BBC4.

The purpose of our visit to the north coast of Iceland was simple: learn about the benefits that Benecta offers golfers… and play some golf.

At midnight.

The dramatic Siglo sixth tee
The dramatic Siglo sixth tee

Yes, visiting in June meant we were teeing off on Siglo’s golf course at 11pm at night, but playing in daylight. That right there is bucket list stuff.

The golf course is new — we can thank Robert for that — and the nine hole course is astoundingly fun. The par three 7th should make a list of ‘1,000 holes to play before you die’.

The green sits in the middle of an angry river, which is one of the course’s key features, while its shape reflects the mountains around it: big shoulders and slopes and no forgiveness. 

It is a thriller and there’s plenty more in this deep valley to tempt golfers.

One key issue has to be addressed and it is an obvious one. 

How good can a golf course be when it’s only open for a maximum of five months and under snow for the rest of them? 

The answer is: good enough as long as you accept that you aren’t going to get sublime carpet-like fairways and velvet greens (Siglo’s were excellent) you enjoy back home. 

You have to cut the courses some slack and enjoy them for what they are. And besides, the views are breathtaking with those aforementioned mountain peaks and crevasses laced with snow.

As midnight approached and we teed off on the 8th, we drove directly towards the sun which was drifting just below the horizon, beyond Siglo.

We paused for a group photo with the sky a mix of blues and yellows and golds. The spirit of adventure kept us warm the whole way round.

Here’s another consideration: how often can you go from sinking a putt to watching a blue whale cavorting in a fjord?

On our second day, we played at Dalvik, another nine-hole course with mountains around us and waterfalls crashing through the rock.

A road slips through the middle of the course and we stood on it as we crossed and looked in both directions. 

To the east it drifted into an endless landscape swallowed by the mountains; it was no different to the west.

The golf course was busy and holes like the 3rd and 9th are glorious. 

Following our round we drove into Dalvik itself, stopping at Kaffihûs Bakkabrædra for the most delicious fish soup I’ve ever tasted. 

A large vat sat on the counter and customers returned for seconds and thirds… but we had no time to linger. There was a boat to catch. And not long after that, we were whale watching with Arctic Sea Tours.

Siglo hotel pool and boat house.
Siglo hotel pool and boat house.

For many, including myself, that was another bucket list item ticked.

We ate at the Siglo Hotel that evening, with the other two nights spent enjoying fabulous food in the Hannes Boy restaurant across the marina. 

We ate local beef, we ate langoustines and mussels, there was ‘fish and chips’ but unlike anything you’ve had before, and there was lamb with a liquorice sauce… yes, liquorice… and it was fabulous. 

The chef came out with a saucepan and offered it to us and no one refused. Why would you?

Our last game was at Akureryri, a thriving town where many of the world’s cruise liners drop in to say hello. 

Akureryri has the only 18-hole course outside Reykjavik and it sits in the hills above the port… but not so high up that it doesn’t still feel swamped by mountains.

Those mountains were ever present during our stay and even as we applied sunscreen on the 1st tee we couldn’t help but glance at the snow-covered peaks and smile.

The golf course is a tumbling, tossing and turbulent affair and it doesn’t take long before it shows its muscle.

An abandoned boat in Siglo, which was a thriving fishing village until the herring stock disappeared in the 1960s.
An abandoned boat in Siglo, which was a thriving fishing village until the herring stock disappeared in the 1960s.

It is a parkland with real spirit and the opening holes are just a gentle taster of what’s to come. 

There are water features, big drives towards yawning backdrops, smartly sited greens and a back nine that raises the temperature considerably.

The courses along this northern stretch are just part of a fabulous adventure that condenses so much into an itinerary you won’t find on your average overseas golf trip! 

It is one of the reasons that it is so special. A buddy trip that’s not just about golf is good for the soul.

And, with Benecta, it’s good for the body and mind, too.

Over the past decade, Benecta (www.benecta.com.uk) has been developed and perfected in Siglufjörur. 

This natural health supplement (short-chain chitosan is extracted from crustacean shells) has rejuvenation at heart and it is most suitable for those in their 50s and above. 

In other words, perfect for golfers and a sport where the average age is in the mid-50s.

Benecta works by optimising the short-chain chitosan so that it enters the blood stream directly. 

This supports the body as it ages by reducing the impact of stiffness and general aches.

The company conducted a trial with 2,000 golfers and the anecdotal evidence it produced showed that Benecta had a significant effect. 

Of those surveyed, 81% reported that they had fewer aches and pains. Chances are, if you’re going to notice a difference to your energy and movement it will be within the first three to four weeks. 

A jar of 60 tablets is a month’s supply so is that not worth the investment to find a solution that could improve your overall wellbeing and help you defy your age?

Iceland was once a far away, hard-to-reach place. 

Today, with the excellent Icelandair flying direct routes to dozens of destinations in Europe and North America, ‘The Land of Fire and Ice’ is now within easy reach.

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