Last year the Keilir Golf Club in Hafnarfjördur, near Reykjavik, celebrated its 40th anniversary. As any avid golfer can tell you, that is old by golf-course standards. The course started with six holes, then grew to nine, then 12, all carved around the lava. Finally, 18 holes were completed in 1985, and, in 1992, a new modern clubhouse was built. Later, nine more holes were added, bringing the course total to 27 holes.
Golfers will find Iceland a magnificent place to play, surrounded by natural beauty. Another attraction: 24-hour golf during the summer solstice, when the Midnight Sun stays up all night long. Be aware, however, that golf in Iceland is expensive, rivaling costs in Ireland, the United Kingdom and Pebble Beach. You should also keep in mind — a shock to some members of my group — that golfers in Iceland walk the course and carry their own bags. Only old men use golf carts in Iceland.
We made our travel arrangements through Britannia Golf (tel 804 346 8716), a tour operator that helped us secure tee times and hotels.
Beyond golf, there is a lot to see and do in Iceland: fjords, hiking, fishing and, as we were told by one traveler we encountered, diving down to the tectonic plates. But we were there for golf and we completed four rounds in three days.
(568 yards, par 5)
From the tee you need a nearly perfect drive to the center of the undulating fairway, which comes into play on your second shot. For the best chance of reaching the green, your second shot should be to the left side of the fairway, and if the lava cliff on the right is not intimidating enough, you will soon discover that, from here, the hole is not reachable in two unless you have a strong tailwind. (We didn’t.) The green slopes back to front. Congratulate yourself when you get there.
(377 yards, par 4)
Don’t let this hole deceive you. It measures only 377 yards, but it is legendary among members as the most difficult on the course — the dreaded No. 1-handicapped hole. On the tee box, you have two options. You could play it safe with a long iron on the left side that will leave you with a significantly longer shot to the green, which is small and protected by a lava crevice in front. (Yes, in front.) Or you could take out the big stick — the dog, the hammer — and slam one down the right side, in the hope that you will nail that perfect shot over the lava cliff to the landing area. The second option offers a more player-friendly shot to the green.
(152 yards, par 3)
This is probably the most beautiful hole on the front nine. Lava cliffs surround the green and partially block it from the front — an interesting view from the tee box. The lava offers a “bailout” area to the left of the green.
(512 yards, par 5)
This is not a particularly long par 5, but it’s a tricky hole to play, as it is a crooked dogleg right and slightly left. The fairway undulates, and you need to carry a huge swale (lovingly known as the “Valley of Death”). You must clear this depression to have any hope of reaching the hole in par. Hitting this green is possible if the wind blows in your favor, but the shot to the green is blind and if you’re a first-timer at Keilir you’ll find positioning difficult. On your lay-up, stay away from the left side as there is lava and rough. Right offers you a better shot to the green, which is tucked inside a “Roman amphitheater” of lava cliffs.
(438 yards, par 4)
Ranked the No. 3-handicapped hole on the course, this one is a test from start to finish. Your tee shot must avoid the lava cliff on the right, about 242 yards from the tee. A pond in the front, which will come into play, protects the large green and is a particular issue when the wind is strong. The green is two-tiered, making club selection and knowledge of the pin placement essential. From here you are heading to the links-styl e back nine, where the winds can be so strong they turn a veteran player into a novice!
(412 yards, par 4)
The day my group played Keilir, the wind was howling at about 40 mph. Add to this the fact that we were walking the course and carrying our own bags, and this uphill hole became particularly difficult. Furthermore, you need to land on a heavily protected green, designed by a famous Icelandic abstract painter and dotted with sand traps. If you walk away with par here, you can be proud of the achievement.
(492 yards, par 5)
The wind is a huge factor on Hole 15, the only par-5 on the back nine. One person in my group hit two balls off the tee into the Atlantic Ocean, which lines the entire right side of the hole. Add the slight dogleg right and this is a true challenge for those who tend to slice the ball. The bunkers that separate the 14th and 15th fairways can, and do, come into play off the tee box. Pot bunkers line the fairway about 80 yards from the green, tucked tightly beside the ocean where overshot balls will be lost.
(165 yards, par 3)
This is another beautiful hole with the Atlantic Ocean behind the green, Mt. Snaefell glacier beyond, and a small town in the foreground. It is a near postcard-perfect image. Short, but guarded by bunkers on the front and left, a birdie is possible as long as the wind does not send your shot astray.
(438 yards, par 4)
On this wonderful, challenging finishing hole you can slam away at your tee shot to the wide, open fairway. Your shot will send the ball to the elevated green, which is nearly 50 yards long and two-tiered. Avoid the rocks on the left (landing there is the kiss of death) and the deep bunkers to the right. Players familiar with this course often play their ball short and left and pitch up the green.
KEILIR GOLF CLUB
tel 354 565 3360
The city took its name from Athena, goddess of wisdom, strategy and war, and protector of the city. The financial, political and administrative center of the country and an all-powerful city-state in antiquity, Athens is a major center of culture. A visit to the first-ever museum dedicated to Byzantium, a stroll around the National Garden and a trip to the Olympeion archaeological site will take you back through time.
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