A Winter's Tale: Golfing on snow

Rudolph the red-nosed caddie

Reindeer have many uses in Swedish Lapland and, rather improbably, one of them is making terrific caddies. Clearly, reindeer are not best equipped to advise on whether you should use a six-iron or a seven-iron for your tricky approach to the fourth hole, but then I've had caddies at St Andrews who haven't been up to that either. But reindeer caddies are altogether more dependable, and sometimes a sight more intelligible, than their two-legged counterparts.

Reindeer have many uses in Swedish Lapland and, rather improbably, one of them is making terrific caddies. Clearly, reindeer are not best equipped to advise on whether you should use a six-iron or a seven-iron for your tricky approach to the fourth hole, but then I've had caddies at St Andrews who haven't been up to that either. But reindeer caddies are altogether more dependable, and sometimes a sight more intelligible, than their two-legged counterparts.

My caddie at Arvidsjaur Winter Golf Course was Jompe, a phlegmatic male reindeer aged 11. He was guided by a Lapp of similar temperament called Martin. Jompe pulled my clubs on a sledge while I walked alongside, marvelling at the novelty of a golf course laid out on the surface of a frozen lake and made entirely of snow.

The townsfolk of Arvidsjaur decided to construct a snow golf course five years ago. Jukkasjarvi, 250 miles north, has a celebrated ice hotel, and Arvidsjaur councillors wanted a competing draw to pull in the tourists during the winter months. The course, which opened in 1997, is not a leading contender to host the Ryder Cup, but it is great fun. More significantly, it is the northernmost golf course in Europe where the game can be played in the depths of winter, with any degree of authenticity.

And so to the first tee. My playing partner was Jerry, a 15-handicapper and a left-hander. We teed off, with orange balls for obvious reasons. The temperature was -22C. When people on golf courses talk about 22 under, they usually mean 22 under par, a score well within the reach of Tiger Woods, if not ordinary mortals. But in this instance, 22 under represented a level of cold I had not experienced before. By the seventh hole it had made me incapable of coherent speech.

"This is a dog-leg hole from right to left," said Jerry. I meant to ask "is it a par 5?" but it came out more like "issomparfi?" and Jerry looked at me oddly, perhaps because I suddenly sounded vaguely Swedish. In fact, I think I might have hit on the reason why Scandinavian languages sound the way they do: simply because it's so cold. On the first hole I recorded a par four, rather a good start. Being swaddled in clothes did not exactly encourage a flowing swing but, against all odds, the ball flew high and straight.

The course is completely flat and surrounded by handsome pines. The snow on the fairways is compacted every morning by snow-bashing machines. And although the ball does not run very far, it runs fast and true. The rough is a different business altogether; powder snow a couple of feet deep, so there is no chance of playing the ball as it lies. On the other hand, you always find it, because of a telltale hole in otherwise virgin snow. Some modest digging and there it is. Which is just as well because you wouldn't want to spend time searching when it is -22C.

I completed my nine holes in 46 shots, well above my handicap, but not bad in the circumstances. Afterwards I slapped my caddie on the backside - another first - and retired to the blissful warmth of the bar. Over a black coffee laced with dried reindeer meat - to flavour it, unless somebody was rather cruelly having me on - it was all I could do not to break into song.

The daily green fee at Arvidsjaur Winter Golf Course is SK150 (£11). Golfing packages are available from 00 46 960 17500. For further information call the Swedish Travel & Tourism Council (020-7870 5600; www.visit-sweden.com)

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