Travel: Tee off amid llamas, nudists, freezing wastes and ball- eating iguanas

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The Independent Travel
The view held by most of the human race is that golfers, like goalkeepers and the Barmy Army, are oddballs from another planet.

When Mary Queen of Scots strolled out for a few holes after the murder of her husband, Lord Darnley, her apparent indifference was labelled as callousness by those who knew no better. To golfers, though, it was a self-defining moment.

There seems no limit to the ordeals we are prepared to endure while pursuing our insane pastime, and most golf course designers are only too happy to indulge such masochism. Some, however, go even further. And their creations, whether sadistic or just plain absurd, often leave the most stoical blinking in amazement.

Inevitably, America leads the way. The world's longest course, Dub's Dread, is in Kansas, home of the equally arduous Yellowbrick Road. Measuring 8,101 yards and boasting a par of 78, this monstrosity is best tackled if you are on a suicide mission. A simpler form of self-annihilation might be to jump off the top of the seven-storey garage at Pompano Beach, Florida, or over the side of the ocean liner Legends of the Seas, where two of the world's shortest layouts can be found.

However, for mental torture in its purest form you would be hard pressed to find anything more excruciating than the 14th, aka flottante, at Coeur d'Alene in Idaho. This par-three hole has a green which is surrounded by water, is made of polystyrene and can only be reached by ferry. What really sets it apart, though, is its movability. It changes position daily and can measure anything between 100 and 175 yards.

Not all American golf is devoted to aversion therapy. The cable car which plummets more than 1,000ft from the 17th green to the 18th tee at Industry Hills, California, provides a view of downtown Los Angeles which takes the breath, as well as unpleasant memories of an unsatisfactory round, completely away.

Breathing difficulties can be expected on the world's highest course at Tuctu in Peru (14,335 feet above sea level), but players on the 860- yard par-7 sixth at Koolan Island, Western Australia, also find themselves gulping for air, and not just because it is one of the world's longest holes. It doubles as an airstrip.

When it comes to traffic and congestion, the Japanese lead the way. They have even installed a traffic light at Fukuoka, one of their busiest courses. After putting out at the ninth, players switch it to green for those waiting behind.

Floodlit golf is commonplace in Japan as, indeed, it is in Dubai where the Nad-al-Shiba course was built specifically for the nocturnal market.

The oil-smeared greens known as "browns" at colonial outposts are largely gone, but there is still plenty of wildlife on show. Elephants and warthogs enjoy a right of way on many African courses; balls often finish in hippos' footprints or close to sleeping crocodiles, and rattlesnakes pose a similar hazard in Arizona or Colorado.

At a course in Vermont, llamas act as caddies while squawking crows are constant companions at the aptly-named Wack Wack club in Manila. At the Royal Canberra course, the kangaroo population is regularly culled, and ball-munching iguanas are scarcely more welcome in Malaysia.

Mickey Mouse, or rather a bunker shaped in his silhouette, is the nearest they get to nature at Walt Disney Magnolia in Florida, but the French are more interested in naturism with a course that is exclusively for nudists near Biarritz and another, near Nice, with holes which bear a close resemblance to parts of the anatomy when seen from the air.

Contrary to the sport's rather stuffy image, no challenge is beyond golfers. Imagine teeing up at the world's most northerly course, Akueyri in Iceland, and then consider that an airbase manager on Victoria Island in northern Canada stakes out nine holes each winter on the frozen Beaufort Sea. The same pioneering spirit is evinced by a cattle farmer, Gerald McDermott, who missed the game so much when he moved to Belize in Central America that he built one solitary, 100-yard hole.

Perhaps golf's most famous missionary was Captain Alan Shepard, commander of Apollo 14, who struck a ball with a makeshift club on the moon. Not quite another planet but that historic moment, no doubt, would have met with Mary Queen of Scots' approval.

FACT FILE

US Golf Association. Telephone: 001908 2342300

Japan Golf Association, Tokyo. Telephone: 00813 2150003

Australasian PGA Tour, Sydney. Telephone: 006124763333

Dubai Promotion Office, London. Telephone: 0171839 0580

Iceland, Akureyri Course, Akureyri. Telephone: 00354 9622974

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