Popular as a short-break destination, Iceland is now wowing overseas golfers.
There are 65 golf courses spread around the volcanic island – 16 offering 18 holes and two with 27 holes – and golf is second only to football as its most popular sport.
Foreign golfers are increasingly being attracted by its green fairways. Almost 4,000 visitors played golf in 2016, a big increase on 2015, and while half of them played only one round 27% played five or more rounds.
Despite its proximity to the Arctic Circle, Iceland’s golf season lasts six months on average, and seven months in the south. Some courses near the coast can be played most of the year and there was even a golf tournament in northern city Akureyri, the world’s most northerly 18-hole golf course, in the middle of December!
Golf Iceland chairman Magnus Oddsson said: “We have over 16,000 members in the Icelandic Golf Union, which is about 5% of Iceland’s total population, but according to surveys about 30,000 Icelanders say they play golf.
“But we have so many courses, all of them open to public and during the midsummer months open 24 hours! Only 330,000 people live in Iceland and we are number one in Europe regarding courses per capita, so we have a lot of available tee times for visitors.”
Golf Iceland was established in 2008 when the country’s courses and tourism sector joined forces to create an organisation to promote and market its golf internationally.
“IAGTO helped us with the first steps and made a marketing plan for us,” said Oddsson. “The number of foreign golfers visiting our courses has increased over those years, but it took some time to get the messages out, that golfers can play in nature on 65 courses around the island – in fact to make people believe that there are good golf courses in Iceland!
“We have had a very good increase and in 2016 we were up about 50% compared with 2015. Almost 4,000 visitors played golf in 2016 and over 10,000 rounds were sold to foreign golfers last summer.”
IAGTO Chief Executive Peter Walton said: “Very much like the destination itself, Icelandic golf is often spectacular! There are a number of high quality courses that will appeal to avid golfers and trophy hunters, as well as golfers who love to experience unique and interesting environments with some tremendous views. We nicknamed the excellent Kellir Golf Course near Reykjavik ‘Lava-Links’ because the front nine negotiates its way through lava fields, transforming to a true links experience on the back nine. The Grafarholt and Oddur golf courses are also close to Reykjavik and are well worth playing for those visiting the capital.”
Walton added: “Playing golf among volcanoes and even within ancient volcanic craters, such as on Heimaey in the Westman Islands, or within sight of angry towering geysers is not an every-day occurrence, which is why they live long in the memory. Interestingly, most courses in Iceland offer a special rate for couples which is significantly less that the cost of two green fees.”
For more information, visit www.golficeland.org