Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Snow Golf — just another unique Finnish sport

Posted on 1 March 2019 by Emilia Ottela

(We) Finns love weird sports. Moreover, not only do we love strange sports, but we tend to be incredibly good at them. Maybe indulging in those funny sports events are one of the reasons why Finland was selected as the happiest country in the world last year.

Many people think that Finns are shy and serious. It might well be the case, but looking at this array of events they organise — to mention just a few — you might just change your mind. Examples include:

Wife Carrying World Championships
Swamp Football World Championships
Rubber Boot Throwing
and… Snow Golf tournaments

Credit: Santa Claus Golf Club

Mikko Rantanen — the flying Finn — won the Speed golf world championships last year and running and playing golf at the same time doesn’t seem like the worst idea. Especially during the winter, as, once you cross the Arctic Circle, it can get rather cold out there.

“It is -30C degrees today, but there are still a few players on the golf course,” said Pia Lillberg, the managing director of Santa Claus Golf, which is located in Rovaniemi, in northern Finland.

It is no coincidence that the golf course is named after Finland’s most famous man as Santa Claus officially lives in Rovaniemi. And in case you were wondering, Santa has played here as well.

Credit: Santa Claus Golf Club

It was actually the snow golf course that was first built in the heart of the city of Rovaniemi in 1986. For a few years, the course was only open during winter months. Later on, the members of Santa Claus GC decided to build a ‘normal’ nine hole course as well. A few years later another nine holes were built. Today the winter course sits above the summer golf course, and some holes follow the design of the actual layout.

“The winter course is nine holes long with beautiful scenery. The longest holes are 200 meters and sometimes you are playing on the frozen water hazards,” Lillberg added, describing the specialities of the course.

Unfortunately, this winter was far from perfect for building a snow golf course in Finland.

“We had problems with low snowfall this year. Southern Finland was covered with ample snow, but Lapland was struggling to get enough to build a snow course,” Lillberg explained.

In order to build a snow golf course, you need at least 40cm of snow. Luckily, the course was opened on Valentine’s Day, as planned. Since then, players have been able to enjoy the sunny Finnish winter weather as its best.

“We Finns celebrate nightless nights in the midsummer. The opposite and bad thing is that in December we don’t see daylight at all. The best time to play snow golf is in March when the days are getting longer and lighter, and the sun starts to warm up.”

The rules of snow golf are largely the same as in normal golf. The biggest differences are that you hit the ball from standing on a matt — to avoid slipping — and that you can place your ball every time you hit a golf shot. You can either put the ball on a tee or make a tee of snow and place the ball on that.

Lillberg said: “It is actually better to miss a fairway in snow golf than in normal golf, because you can see a hole in the snow and then you just need to dig the ball from there. And again, you can place the ball on the snow tee after you have found it.”

It would be quite challenging to find a white golf ball from the snow and that is why people understandably tend to play with orange, pink or yellow golf balls.

Credit: Santa Claus Golf Club

“2000 rounds are played on the course during winter time. Our summer golf course is still more popular because the season is a bit longer, but people are getting more and more interested in snow golf,” she added.

“Most of the players [playing on the winter golf course] are our own members, but we have been lucky to get international guests as well. Last year, the CEO of United States Golf Association (USGA) — Mike Davis — visited the golf course.”

In a video on the Santa Claus Golf website, he says that he enjoyed the round and was surprised and impressed by how good it was to putt on the “whites.”

Grass on the greens are naturally called ‘greens,’ which explains ‘whites’ for a winter golf course. That’s one of the few things that makes perfect sense…

In terms of equipment, snow golfers are allowed to use three golf clubs (irons) plus the putter. Trolleys are not allowed on the course, so players tend to use sleds. For some players, playing snow golf is a real arms race in terms of kit and they have modified their sleds with fancy golf bag holders.

Credit: Santa Claus Golf Club

In addition to colourful golf balls no additional special equipment is needed to play on snow. “Warmer gloves than the normal golf gloves might be useful on a colder day,” Lillberg noted.

Santa Claus Golf organises three tournaments during the winter season. The main tournament — Santa’s Snow Golf Classic — will be held in less than a month and the winner will receive a huge trophy donated by Mike Davis and the USGA. It will be the unofficial Finnish Championships at the same time.

“I hope we can see World Championships in this incredibly fun way of playing golf someday,” Lillberg said to end our conversation, while inviting all the golfers around the world to try this exotic format of golf.

Currently, it is 40 days until the first major tournament of this season, the Masters. Around that time in early April, however, it is also time to say goodbye to the snow golf course as it melts away and makes room for the summer course to blossom.

Featured photograph/ Santa Claus Golf Club