In the past 44 years of my lifetime, I have seen and played thousands of golf courses. But nothing prepared me for the Tórshavn Golf Club on the Faroe Islands.
In preparation for my trip to the Faroe Islands this summer, I was curious to know whether or not they had a golf course, Could these remote set of 18 tiny islands, where there are more sheep than people, actually have a golf course? If so, I was going to find it. The results of my research weren't too encouraging. All I could find was a Faroe Islands local website confirming that there was indeed a 9 hole course but the information provided was beyond vague. No reviews could be found any where. I did find a few articles about a new course being built in 2020, but again I found myself searching for some concrete evidence that an actual course existed in these elusive islands. I tried calling the number given for the supposed 9 hole course but no one ever picked up. I was about to embark on a month long golf journey around Europe (Italy, Corsica, France, Sweden) and the Faroe Islands would be my final stop. This was going to be a true adventure. Since my months of research had proved futile in finding any actual proof that a golf course existed, I thought I might as well lighten the load and ship my clubs home before flying to the Faroes. Then my girlfriend stepped in and convinced me otherwise. Just in case...
So the story begins....
From the moment I stepped off the plane in Vagar, I was blown away by the topography of the Faroe Islands. Just outside the airport it looked as if 18 holes were begging to be discovered. Unfortunately looks can be deceiving. The entire set of islands are basically barren. The reason being is that the whole thing is one big rock. The little top soil is spread thinly on top. It rains constantly leading to unimaginably beautiful waterfalls everywhere you look. Unlike Scotland and Ireland, where the natural dunes and sand terrain lead to courses which take care of themselves, the Faroe Islands have no such luck. My thoughts upon surveying the landscape were that to build a course here would be quite an endeavor. That being said, if someone could build a modern design in these otherworldly islands, it would be something truly unique.
I was soon to find out that someone had indeed already built a course here, one reminiscent of the origins of the game of golf.
Where does one go to discover landmarks and places of interest upon visiting a new land? The tourist information center. Off I went to the capital of Torshavn and found myself conversing with a young lady, a "knower-of-all-things-Faroe Islands", inside the tourist information center (which also happens to have a delicious little cafe with homemade pies and chocolates). She acknowledged that there was a golf course in Torshavan (the only one on the Faroe Islands) but she, nor anyone else she knew, had ever been there. I was excited at the mere confirmation of this course and asked her to point on the map exactly where it was, which she graciously did (about 20km from town). Map in hand with X marking the spot and my clubs in the trunk of my rental car, I was off to find the Faroe Island golf course.
An hour later, after a harrowing car ride on winding, narrow roads with both steep cliffs and sheep meandering into the road to contend with, my initial elation faded when I found myself at a dead end. This was exactly where the tourist lady told me to go! This is where the golf course is supposed to be! Where was it? I looked around and all I saw was a desolate and foggy shepherd's farm. A young girl appeared from a small wooden hut with a grass roof. "Hello! Is there a golf course nearby?" I asked with a waive and a smile. The little girl smiled at me, waived back, then walked back inside. Well, it was worth a try. I'm hungry, tired and needless to say, disappointed - but still magically intrigued by these strange lands. No golf course but hey, maybe I'll have better luck getting some good food.
After a truly great dinner at Barbara Fishouse (so damn good) in Torshavn, I decided to roll the dice one more time so before leaving for the night, I asked the waiter if he knew if/where there was a golf course. Yes! He gave me directions, telling me it was in the complete opposite direction I was originally told. It was now after 9pm but luckily it doesn't get dark until around 11:20pm. Off I went again...searching. After about 20 min I was ready to admit defeat and call it a day. In a last ditch effort I stopped a couple walking on the side of the road to see if maybe they knew. They both shook their head yes and said there is a small course over there down a small dirt road. They told me where the road was and how to get there. Awesome - we're making progress. Before leaving I quickly say to them, “So there is a golf course down this road?” The response was nothing short of classic: A shrug of the shoulders with the response of “I really don’t know”. What?!
How could a golf course exist in a town of 20,000 people and no one has ever seen it or knows where it is?! I was starting to get intrigued to say the least. I was not giving up. Down the said dirt road was over a mile of nothing, just sheep roaming all over the place. It was about 11pm and the sun was just about to go down. As I came over a ridge I saw what looked like a shipping container sitting on the edge of a road. Ready to call it quits I turned my head and did a double-take. I saw what appeared to be a flagstick blowing in the wind. It was nearly dark and maybe my fatigue was making me see things. But no- right there next to the brown shipping container-like building was a flag and a small green. Holy Moses! This was it. I had actually found the course! There was a fence guarding the course so I would need to return the following day to investigate further.
The next day I headed out bright and early to see about playing this odd looking golf course. Upon arriving, I see what looks like a large shipping container with an attached deck. This, my friends, is the club house. Before I have a chance to go inside I spot a group of three men walking toward me on the course - they happened to be playing their club championship match and were making the turn. After introductions and hearing about my scavenger hunt adventure of finding this place, they gladly invited me to join them, as "this would make a great 4 ball", one of the guys exclaimed! I followed behind them to the next t-box, noticing the distinguished footwear each member wore. Nike? Under Amour? Puma? No, these gentlemen were all fitted with heavy duty rain boots. Finn, one of the players, looked at my designer golf shoes and cracked a smirk, "those won't work on this course." Out here in the wilderness on this throw-back shepherds golf course, it was all about the game of golf - and that's it.
As we made our way down the 1st hole, Finn began telling me about the creation of the course (built upon land owned by a neighboring shepherd), starting with the first fairway. As you walk along you realize how perfect the grass is but when you look at the rest of the course it is nothing like this. Instead, it is natural in every sense of the word. Finn began to explain that when the local Torshavn soccer stadium was replacing its turf to synthetic, the members of the golf club decided to bring all the old sod up to the course in their cars and create the first fairway and all the greens. The membership is very proud of the grass from the stadium - they quoted me all the great players (including Ronaldo) and matches that were held at the stadium (World Cup Qualifying). It was such a moment of pride on such a small island.
The first 3 holes were my favorite. The second was essentially a blind green par 3, with only the tip of the reg flag showing...if you make an effort to look for it. The shot was only 120 yards at most, but the stunning ocean backdrop and the unknown right out of the box had me super excited! I was able to get up and down for a second par of the round. Finn continued to tell me that he, along with some other members were essentially the caretakers of the course. There are no official groundskeepers or staff.
The walk to the 3rd hole has you climbing a short ladder to cross over the sheep fence. Definitely the best tee box on the course, the 3rd is a blind driving hole. All that can be seen are the orange boundary stakes making the edges of all fairways. If there were no stakes you could not determine a fairway at all.
As local rules go this one is as unique as any I've ever heard: If you hit your ball anywhere inside the orange fairway markers and don't find your ball (which happens more than you can imagine) you get a free drop in the area you feel is a good lie. If however you hit outside the orange markers and don't find the ball, it is considered lost and you must walk back and hit off the tee again!
The 3rd green is probably one of the toughest to hold with its slope running away from you for your second shot. On top of that, the green was covered in sheep @#$%!! Luckily the members at the club have rakes near all the greens for just such a problem.
The walk from the 3rd to the 4th hole is the most uphill part of the course. Care must be taken on this course as the damp conditions make for a slippery situation.
The club started almost 30 years ago. It now consists of around 100 members with only about 30 active members, the rest being international members. Finn and the guys expressed their hope that the island would support an initiative to build a full 18 hole championship course on the grounds of the current 9 holes. This would allow the the Faroe Islands to compete in an International Island Olympics, which would bring more of an international appeal to this area. As I will explain later, an 18 hole championship course is not something I would like to see done at this course.
Here on the 4th green I was informed that the mower broke down during the mowing so it's usually a little bigger. Are we sure he broke down? He looks fine to me!
One of the biggest issues with the course is the lack of drainage, hence the need to wear waterproof boots. This would definitely be a place I could see the club investing a little money to make a much better experience. This could be done with the help of an experienced course designer who wanted to see this hidden gem reach its full potential. Or perhaps in true Faroe Islands style maybe the local plumber will solve the problem once he becomes a member. Or does the fact rain galoshes come with your greens fees make you wanna play it even more now?
Walking back toward the clubhouse on the 7th hole, you can see the lawnmower is hard at work on the 1st fairway.
The shape of the 7th green would make Donald Ross smile! The upside-down saucer shape was one of the more difficult to navigate. The members here may not have a traditionally designed course but they have all traveled off the island to play other courses (including those in the homeland of golf, Scotland). They have taken their own knowledge of the game they love and applied it here in the best way they can. I see this course as a testament to the game of golf and it should be held in high regard. I imagine this is how the first golf courses looked- rough and authentic with a touch of artistic genius.
On the 9th hole my ball hit this rock in the center of the fairway, which the locals claim to be the home of a troll. There is more than one hole with a troll on the course which they say accounts for all of the missing golf balls.
After the round was over, the guys lead me into the clubhouse, a bare bones makeshift freestanding structure with an attached deck. The inside was as barren as the course, consisting of a couple of shelves with a coffee pot and snacks, a room for club storage, and a sturdy metal desk upon which lied a green guest ledger (where I was instructed to write my name and put the 50 Kroner greens fee). Here I met Joguan, the President, and Janus, the Vice President. They both invited me back to play anytime and Janus was receptive to my ideas about making minor improvements to the course, which included making the course more accessible to guests of the island (let's start with a sign!).
The greens fee of 50 kroner for an outside guest may seem high at first but converted to dollars it's only about $7.50 US. This was certainly the most fun I have had for under $10 at a golf course. I gave a couple of the members a lesson after the round, as I was told the teaching scene here on the island is a little slow right now.
This group of golfers have taken a barren piece of land and transformed it into a golf course. They established a clubhouse, scorecards, meter posts, rakes for sheep shit, fairway markers, greens and a fairway from a soccer stadium. They have themselves created a destination that they seemed not to be aware of. I told them how I had been all over the world playing this game and very few places have done so much with so little. Think about it - they don't have any golf balls, clubs or anything else golf related available for sale on the island. You have to travel by boat for 30 hours (or if you have the money you can take a one hour flight) for the closest golf ball! And these guys don't flinch at that. It's just a way of life. This course was as close to what the original creators of the game must have faced some 500 years ago. This is golf with sheep grazing on the course while you play. This is golf with natural rugged terrain and players who passionately love the game. This is golf - period. This kind of charm will be lost forever if a full 18 hole modern design becomes a reality. My advice to these gentlemen was to look for another piece of property to build the 18 holes and leave this 9-hole course as it is. This little 9 hole track should be embraced and any money dedicated to it should be for subtle improvements.
The rest of my time in the Faroe Islands was spent exploring all the amazing terrain. It truly is a special place that everyone should visit once in their lives.
As the sun sets on my trip to the Faroe Islands, I am left pondering the direction golf is headed and wondering if a course like this can make us realize what is really important about the game. It's always been about more than just the score. It's about creating a connection between yourself and others and the land you play upon. Thank you Faroe Islands for one of the best experiences of my life!