Back Page: Par without Peers

  • Sheila Gibson Stoodley

Robin sieger, a 49-year-old Scot, belongs to the world’s most exclusive golf club; he and his friend Neil Laughton, an Englishman, are its two members. They are the only people who have completed the Awesome Eight Golf Challenge, which the pair invented four years ago to place an endurance-sport spin on the placid, pastoral game.
 
The Awesome Eight comprises the world’s hottest (Alice Springs Golf Club, Australia), coldest (North Star Golf Club, Fairbanks, Alaska), highest (La Paz Golf Club, Bolivia), lowest (Furnace Creek Resort, Calif.), “most difficult” (Ko’olau Golf Club, Hawaii), “greatest” (St. Andrews, Scotland), northernmost (North Cape Golf Club, Norway), and southernmost (Ushuaia Golf Club, Argentina) courses. To gain membership in the club, candidates must complete rounds at all eight courses within the span of a year, playing without caddies or carts.
 
Sieger and Laughton barely qualified for their own club, completing the challenge on the 364th day with only eight hours to spare, but they deliberately increased the degree of difficulty by playing the Australia and Alaska courses in the worst possible conditions. They teed off at North Star when the temperature was minus 15 degrees Fahrenheit, cold enough for golf balls to shatter into chunks when struck with a driver. The Alice Springs round also was no walk in the park, as the temperature fluctuated from 111 to 126 degrees Fahrenheit. “There was no shade to be had,” says Sieger. “By the 16th hole, I was nauseous. I would drink a pint of water and pour another over my back. Afterwards, I sat under a cold shower for half an hour.”

Sieger, who embarked on the Awesome Eight to support a favorite charity, is disappointed that no one has picked up his golf gauntlet yet. “We’ve had a lot of inquiries through the web site [www.awesomeeight.com], but no one else has done it,” says Sieger.

His lament notwithstanding, Sieger’s club likely will expand someday soon. Robb Report has been tracking golfers’ growing desire to play unusual and extreme courses since the early 1990s, beginning with a feature titled “Different Strokes” published in May 1993. Almost five years later, in March 1998, we published “Extreme Golf,” which described the playing of such courses as experiences that golfers could collect, not unlike the way that members of the Travelers’ Century Club amass travel destinations (see “Country Collectors,” page 227). However, few of the greens described in the articles were odd enough to appear in Extreme Golf (Sourcebooks, 2004), London journalist Duncan Lennard’s book on fantastic courses and bizarre tournaments, such as the World Ice Golf Championship, which has been held in Greenland since 1999.
 
In addition to conquering some of the Awesome Eight courses, Lennard has played Arikikapakapa at the Rotorua Golf Club on North Island in New Zealand, where hazards include steaming sulfuric thermal lakes and puddles of bubbling mud, and the Lost City Golf Course in Sun City, South Africa, where the 13th hole is fronted by a pond filled with crocodiles. “Hitting over lions at the Hans Merensky Country Club in South Africa or unexploded bombs at the Kabul Golf Club in Afghanistan or heaps of slag at the Old Works Golf Course in Montana makes the challenge more interesting, more intense,” says Lennard.
 
As for his game, Lennard could benefit from any of the programs described in “Sultans of Swing” (page 126), though he is not interested in reducing his handicap. “Some golfers look so miserable all the time, because they’re trying to improve,” he says. “Perhaps [the need to improve] makes the game drier, into a task to overcome rather than a thing to be enjoyed,” he says. “But extreme golf heightens the enjoyment of the game and restores the fun. Where the ball went doesn’t matter. It’s just great to be there.” 

Photo by James Lipman
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