Into thin hair a Personal Account of the Greenland Golf Expedition, in Which Aging White People Braved Arctic Cold, Dog Hazards, Whale Jerky, Beer Famine, Clowns, Clinical Madness, Walrus Genitalia and a Moldavian Rock Band Singing Mustang's Alley—All in Pursuit of a Timeless Dream: To Ascend to the Top of the World and Break 90.
"I couldn't care less about Greenland," William C. Starrett II said with disarming candor shortly after arriving in the northernmost country on Earth. "I'm here for the golf."
Sixteen empty beer bottles were lined up in front of the retired California bankruptcy lawyer, so he looked like a contestant in a carnival midway game. It was the last week of March, and Starrett, two photographers and I were passing a five-hour layover inside the modest air terminal in Ilulissat, a southern suburb of the North Pole, by systematically divesting the bar of its biennial beer supply. We began by drinking all the Carlsberg and then depleted the Tuborg reserves, and we were grimly working our way through the supply of something called Faxe, evidently named for the fax-machine toner with which it is brewed, when Starrett began recounting his life's memorable rounds. Rounds of golf, rounds of beer—the distinction was scarcely worth making.
"Livingstone was an interesting course," he said. "It's in Zambia, near Victoria Falls. The greens fee is 35 cents, and the pro shop has one shirt. At Rotorua, in New Zealand, the hazards are geysers. Sun City, in South Africa, has an alligator pit, and you don't play your ball out of that." This summer, Starrett said, he would rent a house in County Cork ("Walking distance to the Jameson's distillery") and travel from Ireland to Iceland for the Arctic Open, played in 24 hours of sunlight. He was, on the other hand, unlikely ever to return to the Moscow Country Club. It has gone to seed, don't you think, after expanding hubristically from nine holes to 18?
I feigned a look that said You're telling me and shook my head world-wearily.
"It is said that once a traveler has seen the world, there is always Greenland," says the Lonely Planet guidebook Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands, which only partly explains Starrett's presence here, 250 miles north of the Arctic Circle in Ilulissat, at the exact point at which mankind's appetite for golf exceeds the capabilities of fixed-wing aircraft.
Our profane party of golfers and journalists had flown five hours to Greenland on its national airline, Grønlandsfly, after first laying waste to the duty-free liquor shop in the Copenhagen airport so that its ravaged shelves resembled those of a 7-Eleven in the hours immediately following a hurricane warning. After alighting on Greenland, the world's largest island, we required two more northbound flights of an hour each to reach Ilulissat. This was the end of the line for the four-prop de Havilland DHC-7, and we now awaited the arrival of a Vietnam-vintage Sikorsky military transport helicopter to take us the last hour-and-20-minute leg north, to the frozen coastal island of Uummannaq, for the first—and possibly last—World Ice Golf Championship (hereafter known as the WIG).
The WIG was open to anyone with $2,000, a titanium liver and a willingness to spend a week 310 miles north of the Arctic Circle, in one of the northernmost communities in the world. Who could resist such a powerful come-on? Every citizen of planet Earth save 20, it turns out.
Still, though the tournament was a sponsored contrivance designed to promote Greenland tourism—and a Scottish liqueur company, Drambuie—winter golf on Greenland promised to have singular benefits for the high handicapper. For starters, the island's 840,000 square miles are virtually unblighted (from a strictly golf-centric view of the ecosystem) by trees. Nor would water come into play, as 85% of Greenland is covered by a permanent icecap, which in places is two miles thick. Most significant, the Greenlandic counting system goes only to arqaneq marluk, or 12, after which there is simply passuit, or "many"—an idiosyncrasy surely to be exploited to my advantage on a scorecard.