Winter Golf: Super-cool alternative to greens and fairways

CNN  — 

Think of golf and images of lush fairways and perfectly manicured greens are likely to spring to mind.

High up in the French Alps, however, winter golf is offering players a whole new kind of challenge.

Played in sub-zero temperatures on a specially prepared course of compacted snow and ice, the nine-hole competition is extreme.

Thick winter coats, hiking boots and plenty of orange golf balls are required for those willing to put their skills to test.

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Golf in the Alps? And in the snow??
06:11 - Source: CNN

Earlier this year, the famous ski resort of Val d’Isere hosted a special winter golf tournament to promote this month’s Ryder Cup – which is taking place in France for the first time at Le Golf National just outside Paris.

In attendance was Thomas Bjorn, the captain of the European team which will try to win back the cup it lost to the US in 2016.

“It’s a fantastic thing,” the Dane told CNN’s Living Golf. “I remember playing golf as a kid, sometimes there would be some snow and I also used to go skiing quite a lot.

“I love it on the side of a mountain but I’m also well aware that I’m a 36-handicap skier.”

Raphael Jacquelin is a four-time winner on the European Tour who is no stranger to winter golf. But even he finds playing on the whites, as opposed to the greens, a challenge.

“It’s really difficult to play on snow,” admits the Frenchman. “The first time I played I was really bad and after a few years, I can now hit the ball properly.

“But it’s tough, the contact on snow is completely different; chipping and putting is difficult because you can’t get any spin on it. It’s like curling!”

“The ice is like putting on a table, but where a table would be flat, these weren’t so the ball went everywhere,” added Bjorn. “It’s extremely hard.”

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With France not being one of Europe’s traditional golfing nations, eye-catching events such as the Winter Golf Cup and the Ryder Cup are key to raising the profile and popularity of the sport within the country.

“The Ryder Cup is the most important asset that we could bring to help us to develop the game in the country,” said Pascal Grizot, president of the 2018 Ryder Cup.

“It’s a tournament where you have golfers coming to watch but you also have non-golfers and it’s very important for France to attract new people who are not playing golf at the moment.”

“We need more golfers,” added Jacquelin. “Hopefully the Ryder Cup can bring a lot of kids to watch the sport and if we can get all those kids playing golf as well, that’s going to be good.”

If growth is the aim for golf in France, then the Winter Golf Cup is playing its part. Since the event’s inception in 2000, it has now spread to four different locations in three countries.

Despite the demands that come with playing golf on the snow, the format has certainly left a lasting impression on Bjorn.

“It’s great fun. It’s a type of golf that brings people to the game in a different way,” he said.

“The more people who can get a golf club in their hands for the first time, the better it is for the game.”