I’m sometimes told that “man does not live by golf alone.” Granted, the people who say that aren’t the rabid golfer that I am, but it’s true that including other activities in a golf trip can make it an even more rewarding adventure. Seeing the Northern Lights (a.k.a. the Aurora Borealis) is a bucket-list experience on its own. It’s true that combining golf in a foreign land with the opportunity to see the Aurora’s captivating light show may not be as easy as booking your next trip to Scotland. And due to the capricious nature of the lights, there are never any guarantees. But you can increase your odds of pulling off this magical quinella by being in the right place at the right time.
The “right” places include those that typically fall under the auroral oval, where the earth’s magnetic field attracts the charged particles that result from solar storms. These particles form something of a halo around the North Pole—an auroral oval (more of a band shape) that generally falls across sections of Norway, Iceland, Canada, Greenland, Alaska, and sometimes other countries and regions. It’s also possible to catch the Aurora in northern parts of the U.S., U.K., and Sweden, too, but you’ve got to be lucky. Experts say that in 2024, as solar activity reaches the peak of its 11-year cycle, we may see even more auroral light shows—and farther south than usual. So you might get lucky closer to home. But to give yourself the best chance, you’ll want to travel to one of these right places.
The right times to catch the Northern Lights are generally late fall, winter, and early spring—because you need dark skies to see the Aurora in all its glory, and in the more northerly climes, summer days are long and the nights, short. But it is possible to time things so that you can play golf by day and take in the majesty of the Aurora at night. You’ll need to plan a longish trip, though—ideally, a week or more. Don’t expect to show up for a weekend and catch the Aurora the way you’d pop in for a 9pm feature at the cineplex. But if you’re determined, and don’t mind teeing it up in temperatures that might be on the chilly side, it can be done. And it’s well worth the effort.
Here are some recommendations for places to consider for such a trip. The bonus with each of them is that they’re all captivating destinations in their own right.
Lofoten Links—Gimsøysand, Norway
There are more than 160 golf courses in Norway, but you’ll want to favor those in the north for your golf and aurora trip. Of these, Lofoten Links is the must-play, and it stays open through the end of September. Set on the rocky shoreline of a Lofoten Archipelago island that’s north of the arctic circle, Lofoten Links isn’t easy to get to, but it’s worth the trip. You’ll play right along the shoreline, as at the opening hole and the picture-perfect, do-or-die, par-three 2nd hole, and along the sides of craggy mountains that tumble down to the beaches. It’s not a punishingly long course, but does have some stout par fours. And there’s enough trouble everywhere that you need to plot your way carefully around the course, which shares its windswept landscape with an ancient Viking burial ground. For sheer beauty, few courses in the world are the equal of Lofoten, which also provides accommodations, a restaurant, and sauna facilities—all perfect for unwinding after a day of golf and prior to a night looking up at the skies.
Akureyri Golf Club—Akureyri, Iceland
Playing golf in Iceland, with its steep mountains, volcanic landforms, and jaw-dropping scenery, is always a heady experience. Akureyri on Iceland’s north coast has for many years served as host of the Arctic Open, a summer event where competitors have the chance to tee off under the midnight sun. A moorland-style course with holes that twist up and down between rock-strewn areas of rough, Akureyri is considered the northernmost national championship course in the world. Icelandic golf course architect Edwin Roald spent a decade improving the course—re-routing some holes, adding and moving tees, and creating a new driving range. The result is a golf experience that checks all the boxes and has earned Akureyri a high position in Iceland’s national rankings. The nearby city of Akureyri is a fun place to visit, too, with a wide range of cultural activities and nature experiences close by.
Roald was at it again to the north of Akureyri, near the old coastal fishing village of Siglufjörður, which served as the center of Iceland’s commercial activities in the early to mid-20th Century. Today, Siglufjörður is a booming resort town, thanks in large part to Róbert Guðfinnsson, a Sigló native who returned to his native Siglufjörður to make it the new home of his Benecta chitosan food supplement company. He also made large investments in the town’s infrastructure and recreational attractions. One of these attractions is the spectacular 9-hole course that Roald created there, simply called Sigló. Sigló opened in 2018, and its setting in a deep valley just inland from the sea is as magical as they come. You’ll need to negotiate glacial streams, an island green, greens tucked tight into alpine glades, wetland areas, and tilted fairways bordered by rock outcroppings to score well at Sigló. But I promise you, you won’t care what you shoot. This area is also far from any city lights, so if the Aurora is doing its thing when you’re there, you’ll have the best of all possible views.
Nuuk Golf Club—Nuuk, Greenland
The Danish district of Greenland, the world’s largest island that isn’t a continent, is three times bigger than Texas. But it has a population of just 56,000 hardy souls. Nuuk is Greenland’s capital, but it’s not much more than a large fishing village. It does have one golf course, though—a 9-holer called Nuuk Golf Club that, truth be told, isn’t going to appear on any top-100 lists. You’ll have to negotiate rock outcroppings almost everywhere, and the playing conditions are spartan owing to the extremely short growing season in Greenland. But it’s a fun, old-school course routed over dramatic terrain that offers some captivating views. And there’s no question that Greenland is one of the best places in the world to experience the Northern Lights. In fact, they’re a big part of the area’s culture. One Inuit legend says that the lights are depicting the souls of the dead playing football with a walrus skull. Certain groups believe that children conceived when the lights are putting on a show will be particularly intelligent. Nuuk is in southwestern Greenland, but it’s a small enough city that you won’t need to venture far from the city lights to take in the Aurora. Or you can detour farther north to places like Ilulissat and Sisimiut for a full-on immersion in the majesty of the Northern Lights, Greenland-style.
Mountain View Golf Course—Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada
Mountain View was built and is operated by a nonprofit society of dedicated golfers who wanted to see a full 18-hole course in the Whitehorse area. The course plays to a par of 72, and stretches to over 6,500 yards from the tips, so it’s a real golf course—unlike many of the 9-hole tracks in the area. Its pine tree-lined fairways favor straight hitters, but many greens are of the push-up variety, so accurate iron play and a solid short game will also do you well here. The views of the area’s mountains and the nearby Yukon River are simply majestic, and while Whitehorse is not technically the end of the earth, it can possibly be seen from here. Still, you’ll find excellent accommodations in the area, including at the Northern Lights Resort & Spa, where their Aurora Glass Chalets let you enjoy the pyrotechnics of the Northern Lights from the comfort of your own warm bed.
Chena Bend Golf Course—Fort Wainwright, Alaska
To play Chena Bend, you’ll need to go through security, since it’s located on the base of Fort Wainwright, home of the U.S. Army’s 11th Airborne Division—the “Arctic Angels.” Once you get to the course, you’ll be treated to one of Alaska’s best. Chena Bend gets its name from its location along the southwestern shore of the Chena River. It was designed by Jerry Matthews, former president of the ASGCA, who routed the 6,410-yard course through stands of pine trees growing in the shadow of Alaska’s towering White Mountains. The opening holes border base roads and the airstrip, and other than some holes where the river comes into play, it’s not a notably scenic course. But it’s an engaging track, with conditions that are good by the standards of a course with such a short season. If you go, try to stay at the Borealis Base Camp, about 25 miles from downtown Fairbanks, where you can stay in a geodesic igloo with a clear ceiling that gives you an unobstructed view of the night sky over the camp’s boreal forest location.
Whalsay Golf Club—Island of Whalsay, Shetland, Scotland
It’s entirely possible to catch a showing of the Northern Lights from many parts of Scotland if the conditions are right. But the farther north you go, the better the possibilities. And you can’t tee it up any farther north in the British Isles than Whalsay, a par-71, 6,171-yard seaside course routed across rugged headland terrain on the island’s spectacularly scenic north coast. Views from the front nine take in the distant Skerries, a cluster of treeless islands inhabited by the Norse as far back as the Bronze Age. The back nine takes you up onto higher terrain, with sea cliffs coming into play on several holes, including the brilliant 16th, a par four with a steep drop-off into the sea on the left side of the sloping fairway and a green perched just above the edge of the rocky shoreline. Whalsay is a tough course. Between the omnipresent wind, the wee burns and lochs you’ll encounter around the course, the occasional pot bunkers, and the steeply uphill holes like the par-four 17th, you’ll do well to shoot within five strokes of your handicap. But you’ll love every minute. To get to Whalsay, catch the car ferry in Laxo, 20 miles north of Lerwick on Shetland. The Old Manse B&B down the road offers comfy accommodations with sea views that will wear out the stoutest of camera lenses.
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Have you played any of these courses? Tell us about your round—and if you saw the Northern Lights—in the comment section.