One of my favourite yearly traditions is going up to our family cottage for New Years. And one of my favourite activities to do at the cottage in winter is ice golfing. When I mention ice golf I usually get confused looks in return. Likely because it is a pretty niche sport, requiring a frozen lake to play.
Ice golf is really quite a simple concept. It is golf, on ice.
The ice presents a unique experience due to the variety of conditions that you can experience in a short period of time. One day the lake can be covered in a thin layer of water that results in big bounces but little rolling.
The next it can be a giant sheet of glass where a light chip can send your ball across the lake.
A snowstorm later and you can be knee-deep in snow with no bounce and no roll.
How to Play
So if you ever find yourself on a frozen lake I suggest you give it a try. I have put together a quick checklist with tips that we have discovered over the years, but nothing is really too surprising.
Frozen lakes are dangerous. Do your research and learn how to test if the ice is safe to play on. Especially because you will be playing over a large area, test many locations to avoid falling through thin areas. Also familiarize yourself with ice rescue procedures.
Any club will do really. I recommend 4-5 iron as a general purpose club. However, if you want to get serious about it, you are welcome to carry more around.
The traditional white ball is not a good choice in these conditions. I prefer bright orange. Red, pink or scribbling black permanent marker onto whatever balls you have will also work.
If it is snowy you may be able to shovel a “green” and see it from a distance. However, getting flags is recommended. “Stake flags” will do the job, but the flimsy wire won’t last long and can be hard to get into the ice. We invested in some steel tube and stick a little wooden flag into the top after hammering it in. You want the flag to be 0.5-1m off the ice. This lets you see the flag against the snow on the lake rather than trying to spot it against cottages and trees.
I also prefer to chip a hole in the ice, but you can also play just to hit the flag. Depending on the flag it can be a very satisfying ding.
You will need at least 2 holes, but I find that 4-6 arranged somewhat in a circle gives a bit more variety.
The shoes you use are very important, especially if the ice is smooth. Walking Crampons or ice cleats keep you from sliding around while you swing. You can use skates which let you move around quickly, but they don’t give you firm footing you are taking your shot. (You will also need a longer club!)
Other than that you want some comfortable clothes so that you can swing easily. Temperature isn’t usually a problem because unless you are playing with a large group you will be walking most of the time which helps keep you warm. A balaclava is also a good idea as the wind can pick up on the flat lake.
I enjoy playing golf with something to drink. But whether it is hot chocolate or beer, it is important to maintain ideal drinking temperature. Bringing a thermal mug, or even just a beer koozie will keep your beer from transitioning from ice-cold to slushie.
I hope you get the chance to try one day. It’s a lot of fun.