Date: October 10, 2016
Author: Mark Hayes

The most far-flung golf courses in the world


Robin Sieger, revered speaker and motivator, holds the world record for playing the coldest round of golf at -26C in Fairbanks, Alaska.

So when he and good mate adventure nut Neil Laughton – one of few to conquer the world’s “seven summits” – returned to the clubhouse at Alice Springs after a mid-December round in 2002 with on-course surface temperatures hovering around 52C, it was safe to say they needed a beverage or three.

Their round came at the end of an odyssey most could only dream of, while others would cringe at its very thought.

They’d formed the “Awesome 8 Golf Society” that year by playing at eight of the most far-flung clubs in the world, each with its own peculiar – and extreme – claim to fame.

Alice Springs had been the hottest and North Star GC in Fairbanks the coldest; La Paz GC in Bolivia the highest at 3342m (almost 11,000 feet) above sea level and then Furnace Creek in California’s Death Valley the lowest at 65m below sea level, yet still a green oasis among the surrounding salt plains.

They’d played at stunning Ushuaia GC (54 degrees south) in Argentina’s section of the Tierra Del Fuego as the southernmost club, then the mighty Hammerfest GC (70 degrees north) in arctic Norway the northernmost.

There was no such thing as the “easiest”, but they ventured to remote Ko'olau Golf Club in Hawaii to play the world’s toughest course – a monster the USGA has joked might even be outside the 155 upper limit of its slope ratings system.

Naturally no golf pilgrimage is complete without a visit to the home of the sport in St Andrews, Scotland, so the good folk of Alice Springs were delighted to see the pair when they turned up in the Red Centre as their final destination of their year-long adventure.

“The final and, as it turned out, the most memorable of all the `Awesome 8’ courses (was Alice Springs),” Sieger said.

“The welcome we received at the course was not far off the type returning astronauts are used to.

“That said, it is hot, I mean sauna hot, nothing had prepared me for the extreme exhaustion that came with it. We played in 42C and recorded a surface temperature of 52sC.

“But the members are the friendliest in the world, immensely proud of their jewel in the desert, one of the top 10 desert courses in the world.

“It is a members’ club that makes every visitor feel like a member. They even threw a dinner for us to celebrate of final round.”

There had been a couple of other contenders for the highest course in the world, but both have fallen into disrepair and are used by only the most desperate of golfers – with extremely well adjusted lung capacity.

The once undisputed champion no longer exists. Swallowed up by dense vegetation, the 4370m (14,335 feet) above sea level Tuctu GC in Peru has been abandoned, which might be a blessing for some would be adventure golfers at such a headache-inducing altitude.

Another to have become largely unplayable is the Yak Golf Course in north-eastern India. At 3970m (13,025 feet) above sea level, it’s nestled between Bhutan and Nepal on an Indian army base. It was once playable between May and November with its water hazards turned into skating rinks and fairways a cross-country skiing site through the northern winter.

It’s claim to fame was that it used yaks to shuttle senior members around because of the altitude, but  it, too, has become a wasteland with its owners turning their attention to kickbacks of rifles than countbacks of golf.

Which leaves the mighty La Paz as probably the most physically taxing of the “Awesome Eight”, a travelling poser for golfers of any capability.

“Robin Sieger and I had the most remarkable time during the course of this unique, challenging and fascinating golf challenge,” Laughton told the Awesome Eight website.

“You will laugh, cry, lose a few balls, get fit, see the world (and) meet amazing people.”

He couldn’t have summed up golf any better if he’d tried.