Travel

Playing Through the Midnight Sun at Lofoten Links


Growing up in the United States, no matter how close to the solstice you played, your round of golf always had to end. As an adult, it’s usually because the real world is beckoning, but as a kid it was usually because the sun was setting and it simply wasn’t possible to see the ball anymore. I can’t remember a sunset that I was thankful for in those days as I never wanted those evenings to end. So when I first heard about Lofoten Links in northern Norway, where the sun does not set for two months, I became enamored with the idea of playing golf through the night.

After spending the last 33 months living in and traveling around Europe, and with a move home date quickly approaching, some travel buddies and I booked one big final European excursion. First, three days exploring the vast wilderness of the Arctic on an archipelego called Svalbard, then making our way down the Lofoten Islands in northern Norway for a week of hiking, kayaking, beaches, and ten straight days of no sunsets. These buddies aren’t exactly golfers, but I was able to show them some pictures of the nothernmost links course in the world, and surprisingly it didn’t take them much convincing to get them to accompany me.

Arctic islands and puddle jumping flights are less than ideal for golf trips. There were no clubs packed or shipped, and we were limited to packing one bag each to last us 10 days. This meant one pair of shoes (hiking boots, a necessity in this part of the world) and rental clubs. Not a bother at all, as our scores weren’t even kept. We’re here for the mountains, the ocean, and to try to figure out how the hell they built a golf course onto this piece of land.

Arrival

The days leading up to our scheduled visit were spent watching the forecasts closely, and I could barely contain my excitement when we awoke on that Tuesday morning to a glorious 65 degree day. We spent the afternoon at Haukland Beach soaking up the rays, watching Norweigan girls strip down to just their bikini bottoms and sprint towards the freezing cold water to take their Instagram pictures. We hiked around, had a picnic on the beach, and steamed with envy when six gorgeous girls playing beach volleyball chose to invite four Norwegian guys, and not us, near us into their game. Damn you, odd numbers.

So far, Lofoten seems like a perfect paradise. We’re in no rush to make our way to the course, as there is no concept of time here. The only reason you have to look at a clock is to try to time your hunger with a restaurant opening, or to make it to a grocery store before the 8 PM cutoff for alcohol sales. Your energy comes and goes at all times of the day (slash night?). It was not unusual to spend a rainy afternoon in bed, and to be hiking a mountain under clear skies in the midnight hours. It’s surreal.

World class Norwegian engineering makes traveling these island roads a scenic breeze, and as we rounded the corner and first laid eyes on the property, the ooh’s and aah’s reverberated through the car. Sandwiched between the majestic Lofoten mountains and the calm ocean was the golf course I had seen in many magazines and on many websites over the recent years. Here it was in real life, and it was spellbinding.

We arrive at 6 PM to a surprisingly busy clubhouse. This is a rather remote part of the world, but with clear skies in the forecast, there’s a plethora of visitors here to get the full experience. We check into our cabin down the road, and get sorted for an official tee time: 8:40 PM, with the invitation to play as long as we’d like. My buddies are only gonna stick around for 9 holes, so the pro recommends to us that we play the back nine first (and we would soon see why). We ask what we should do with their rental clubs when they’re done.

“Oh, the golf shop will still be open. We’re open until midnight.”

Of course it is. This is golf heaven.

Lofoten Links

Lofoten Links is one of the five northernmost golf courses in the world. It’s not easy to get to, but its remoteness is perhaps its most endearing quality. Situated almost 100 miles above the Arctic Circle, the sun rises on May 23 and does not set until July 25. The property faces north, which maximizes the sunlight during this time of year, as it doesn’t even dip behind the significant mountainous landscape. On a clear day, you can see the sun stop falling out of the sky, and start to rise as the dew forms on the grass, not coming close to touching the horizon.

Frode Hov is the founder and managing director of the course, and the course is built there on his family’s land on the north coast of the island of Gimsoya. Construction on the course began in April 1998, and opened later that July as a nine hole course measuring just 2,172 yards. Now it is a full 18 hole layout stretching out to over 6,000 meters (about 6,600 yards) from the back tees.

Norway’s coast is not ripe with field of green grass and fertile soil. The terrain is mostly a combination of rocks, marshy wetlands, and basically anything else that would potentially inhibit you from building a golf course. It’s rugged, and one of the first things you’ll notice about Lofoten Links is its raw nature. The fairways are narrow, and if you miss them, you likely aren’t finding your ball.

The “rough” is a combination of rocks, marsh, heather, and more rocks. The most demoralizing part is that in the midnight sun, the rocks kind of look like golf balls, and you get repeatedly fooled into thinking that you’ve finally found your ball. This “unfinished look” gives you an even greater appreciation for how difficult it must have been to carve out tee boxes, fairways, and especially greens on land that’s so unforgiving. The pathways between holes are rocky, and sometimes it’s even a bit difficult to find where your next teeing ground is. It’s grueling, and it’s awesome.

We’re here in June, which isn’t quite the peak time of year. Snow is still melting on the mountains in the distance, as the spring bloom from the harsh Norwegian winter slowly takes shape. The greens are furry, and the course isn’t in top form yet, but it’s hardly even noticeable considering the setting.

Playing Through The Midnight Sun

We had trouble finding the 10th tee from the clubhouse, but once we did, we knew we were in for a tough test. A narrow fairway awaited us from an elevated tee, and you play away from the water and back towards the mountains that define these islands in the distance. Watching the traj against those mountains was the perfect scene setter, just in case for a second you forgot where you were on Earth.

After another par-4, you cross the main road to the long par-3 12th with a great view of the water behind it. Next, a dynamic dogleg left par-5 with beautiful views towards the Gimsoy maelstrom. Do I know what a maelstrom is? No. But that’s what the course guide size, and that sounds amazing.

I mean, just look at this video:

The hits keep on coming.

The 14th, another tee shot at a mountain, this time the one just barely off the property.

The 15th, back away from the clubhouse and towards the clouds that are rolling in through the mountains in the distance.

Next, another incredible par-4 back out towards the water. The 17th tee is a miniscule little cutout and set deep on the rocky coast for the 160 yard par-3 (see the last shot from the video at the top of this post). The routing from holes 12-17 is one of the most scenic stretches of golf I’ve seen on this planet, although I’m still not fully convinced that we were on Earth.

With no one in front or behind us, we took our sweet time on this stretch taking photographs, drone shots, hitting multiple shots, and doing everything we could to soak up this environment. The other guys had run out of balls by the turn, and even though they were only planning on playing nine holes, they grabbed beers in the clubhouse and came out to walk the other nine with me. Even non-golfers were able to grasp the uniqueness of this experience, and they were in no hurry to leave the property despite being done playing.

11:00 PM

The sun is low, and sitting directly behind the signature 2nd hole. This par-3 is the one you’ve seen pictures of, but in this light, it was tough for us to capture our own.

It’s just a flip wedge out onto the peninsula from an elevated tee, but it’s a tough green to hold with the wind at your back.

The 3rd:

12:00 AM

The boys gathered round the 6th tee to hit one final shot before heading out for the night. They’re well aware that I’m staying as long as my legs are still functioning, and leave me to go on this spiritual journey on my own. I started with a dozen balls, but my stash has been depleted by offline shots that I’m blaming on the rental set. Energy is dipping faster than I had anticipated, and my body clock is trying to tell me that it’s time to sleep.

12:50 AM

I’m making the turn for another nine holes. On my own with only my thoughts and back on the best stretch on the course, the weight of the experience really starts to set in. Everyone has heard of the Pebble Beaches and Winged Foots of the world, but how many experiences outside of the world top 100 are like this?

I’m beat up after a day in the sun and a lack of sleep over the last three days, but there’s no chance I’m getting pulled off this golf course. You might think that the light is at least starting to fade to a dusky twilight glow, but it’s as bright as it was at noon earlier that day. There’s a couple out in front of me enjoying the scene. The wind is blowing, my hands are getting cold, and my game is getting worse and worse. And I’m having the time of my life.

1:30 AM

The sun has been slowly, slowly dipping for five hours now, and just as it looks like it’s going to go below the horizon, it begins to rise back up again. The couple ahead of me has called it a night, and there’s not a single sound except for the wind, waves, and the birds. It’s golf nirvana.

2:00 AM

There’s dew forming on the ground. The wind has calm down a bit and I’m down to three golf balls. I’m going to play until I run out so I’m moving up tee boxes just to make sure I can make it all the way around. A single cloud drifts over the sun and it starts to get really cold.

2:30 AM

The sun is back out in all its glory. I’m finished on the 18th, but I grab a wedge and head back out to the signature second hole to play it one last time. My FitBit starts vibrating, and knowing I was already over 30,000 steps for the day, I’m assuming it means that it’s dying. Nope. It resets at midnight, and I just hit 10,000 steps after midnight.

With the sun now off to the right, the hole could not look more scenic. To my left, my cabin is in the distance. I hit one to a foot and knew that was the signal to call it a night.

2:45 AM

Perfect sunlight. Just, absolutely perfect. The sound of the waves crashing on both sides of the second green. I just wanted time to stand still like that for as long as possible. I’m the only one left on the property and I’m standing on one of the most scenic greens in the world in the middle of the night. I got my camera out to snap a few more, but realized it was better off in my pocket. No picture could capture this scene. I walked back and stood on the 2nd tee and stood there admiring the land for about ten more minutes.

3:00 AM

With blisters forming on my heels, I start to trek back to the lodge. I pass by an RV lot and see people trying to sleep with the piercing 3 AM sun coming through their windows. Like, I’m incapable of describing how bright it is. There’s tents on the beach, and a long haired bro emerged from it to take a leak right there on the beach. There’s a horse farm, and five or six horses come right up to the fence to scope me out as I walk by with a golf bag. There’s picture perfect houses that look like they were built specifically to be Instagrammed. This place looks like a movie set.

I grabbed a few hours of sleep, and went back to the clubhouse to meet Frode and to wait for my ride. We talk a bit about the night, and the weather we had, and one thing he said to me really stuck out:

“You got to see it.”

Some more pictures from the scene:

Rates

As always in these posts, in the spirit of full disclosure, I’ll note that Lofoten Links was kind enough to provide us with a complementary tee time and accommodation for the night. However, I was astonished to hear what the tee time costs are, and what the rates are for accommodation. Considering the expensive nature of Norway as it is, the island location on which the course sits, and the (I’m assuming) extreme cost of building this course, the rates are even less than what I would pay for a typical weekend round of mediocre golf in the suburbs of Chicago. I’ve translated the rates on their website to USD below.

July, August, September

$100 USD for non-lodge guests

$65 US for lodge guests

May, June, October

$77 USD for non-lodge guests

$53 USD for lodge guests

Link to all rates.

That’s absurd!

And again for the rooms, so very reasonable: About $110 USD for a single, $165 for two people, or $220 for three in a cabin. This is no more than a typical hotel room, and considering the setting, all of the other hiking and beautiful sites in the area, you don’t even need to play the golf course to enjoy a stay here.

Accomodation rates.

The Lofoten Islands

If you’re not convinced yet to visit Lofoten Links, let me also add in some context. I’ve traveled to 40 countries in the last three years, and the scenery around the Lofoten Islands is some of the best if not the best that I’ve seen on this planet. We spent a week around different parts of the islands doing midnight hikes, eating fish, drinking expensive beer, and trying to sleep during what feels like midday sun. The islands are 100% worth visiting even if you’re not playing this golf course. However, if you’re a golfer and you’re visiting here, you’re essentially required to book a tee time.

Notes

  • (The source for some of the history facts about the course come from Jeff Klein’s New York Times piece “Golf in the Land of the Midnight Tee Time“)
  • Thanks to my friends Ben Wade and Chris Anstine for coming along and adding to the experience. And a special thanks to Ben for the fantastic photographs.

About the Author

Inventor of #TourSauce, always waits for the green to clear, and club twirl savant.

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  • Greg Courtney

    Oh my. There are some amazing places in this world. Some of which I’ve seen, some of which I will see, and some I know I never will.

    I now have a new bucket list item. Thanks for the great story.

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