By: Todd Keirstead
The Traveling Golfer’s Top of the World Tour, took us smack dab in the middle of both the Arctic Ocean and inside the Arctic Circle, to participate in the 24th Annual Billy Joss Open.
We hopped on a plane, not travelling to lush green fairways and the warm tropic trade winds but destined for ice filled arctic waters, shale rock and tundra fairways. After transfers in Edmonton, Yellowknife, and a pit stop in Kugluktuk we arrived deep into the Arctic. Ulukhaktok is a remote community of approximately 460 people located on the Western side of Victoria Island in the Northwest Territories about 900 KM North of Yellowknife. Eugene Rees, the tourism representative (of the hamlet formerly known as Holman) greeted the Traveling Golfer.
The first experience that I had in Ulukhaktok was with a rod and reel at the shore of the Arctic Ocean instead of a golf club. Making my way down to the Ocean shore I witnessed a local woman hauling on the end of her fishing rod a monster, a 20 plus lb Arctic Char. Oh this city boy was so out of his element not having fished in about 30 years! I have seen fishing shows where professional anglers fight monsters this size for hours but the only real angling experience I have ever done was with a protractor in 6th grade math class. To my surprise within 10 minutes of trying not to snag myself with each novice cast of my line, my rod bent, the line pulled and I started reeling. I had caught a 14 lb Char myself. A little different than the sunfish and rock bass found at the end of the dock at the cottage. Amazing what 15 min can do to a man’s ego. I felt like Opie Taylor in the Andy Griffith Show walking to the water and now I felt more man then Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor in the TV show Home Improvements. I even let out the simian, manly “grunt” as I marched back to the house with fish in hand. With a few skilled cuts from an ulu, fresh Arctic Char sizzled in the pan over an open fire…delicious! Breakfast served.
Next stop was the Ulukhaktok Community Centre. There we used Starting Time’s portable mini putt golf course, “My Mini Golf”, donated by the Traveling Golfer, which provided the perfect introduction to the game of golf. We then headed to Ulukhaktok’s nine-hole golf course as I prepared to teach the fundamentals of golf. This golf course is unlike any that I have experienced before. Utilizing outdoor carpet for greens, tundra and shale rock for the fairways and if you want to try and save the bottom of your clubs, a rubber mat to tee off from, a far cry from our manicured gems we play in the south. On hole #2 I hit the perfect tee shot, landing 4 feet from the hole only to bounce 20 yards past. Everyone laughed. I quickly realized that I am going to become the student as I had a whole new set of course management lessons and rules to learn from the locals. The Inuit taught me how to move the tundra for me to place my ball when it rests on shale, ways to utilize the sand that surrounds the greens on approach shots and the art of reading the undulating slopes of the postage size artificial turf putting greens. These people love this game, “What a Traveling Golfer experience!”
I am now ready to play to play some golf! For the past 24 years, Ulukhaktok has hosted The Billy Joss Open Celebrity Golf Tournament. It is named after the man that brought the first golf clubs into Holman. It is their Major Championship with locals and guest from as far away as Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton competing for bragging rights on the most northern golf course in the world. Nine holes are played each day in approximately 4 hours with a break at hole 5 to sample the whale, seal, muskoxen, caribou and banik bread (my favourite). The entire community comes out over 3 days with a warmth and generosity that I have never experienced before. The 24 of sunlight gave me the unique opportunity to play around the clock. I watched the sun circle around the sky as I played throughout the night. Jerry Jr, a young man, became my playing partner at 1:30am. Jerry thought this playing time was old hat and he did not understand the glee I felt in playing at this hour of the night. To be honest, the first time I stepped foot on this course negative thoughts entered my mind: no grass, artificial greens, rocks, dust, no control over the end results of your shots and now I have complete appreciation of the natural beauty here and what these holes mean to this community.
As I spent the entire night on the course, I started to reflect on the man that gave me the ability to play this game, my father who past in September of 2009. The Arctic is filled with a vast emptiness that is overflowing with a strong spiritual presence. I built an Inuksuk with a necklace, a golf tee, and a Pro V1 tucked inside as a monument to my father. The man would be proud.
This Traveling Golfer experience would not be complete without a 3 hour 4-wheel ATV ride to the local gem of a fishing hole on Lake Uliyukto. Surrounded by Eugene, the fishing Newfie, Gair the Norwegian that could easily outlast any person on “Survivor” and Claudio “The Traveling Golfer” who could be right at home hosting any fishing television show, we went after lake trout. As they hoisted on the hip waders, I the unprepared novice I am, peeled of my boots and socks, rolled up my paint legs and made my way in to the ice cold Arctic lake water. I was landing between 4 – 7 lb lake trout with every 5 casts or so. It was amazing to see how much lake trout that was in this body of water. I was addicted, so much I forgot that I was still barefoot and freezing.
This land of the midnight sun hosts the most northerly golf course in the world and provides the most magnificent fishing. It is seventh heaven to a nature lover: spectacular scenery, rugged openness, Blue Ocean and clean air. The people have as much to teach you as does the place. Ulukhaktok pulls you out of yourself, and gives you the opportunity to experience something inside that you didn’t know was possible. What I did not realize that what started out as a unique golfing expedition turned into something even greater, one that would open my change my life forever. The Traveling Golfer looks to share Ulukhaktok with you next year so you too can cross this Arctic golfing experience off your bucket list.
For more information about Arctic Golfing in Ulukhaktok visit www.arcticgolfing.ca/.