Greens on the tundra
GOLF MAY SEEM LIKE AN UNLIKELY SPORT TO PLAY IN NUNAVIK, BUT FOR AVID GOLFERS, THE TUNDRA MAKES A THRILLING FAIRWAY.
BY ELISE DANIELLE LEGAULT / PHOTO ALEXI HOBBS
Perfectly trimmed grass lined with lush trees, pressed polo shirts, overloaded caddies, and speedy golf carts may be the typical representation of golf as a sport, but out on the tundra, such customs don’t apply. Rather, bushes, rocks, mosquitoes, and gusty winds are just a few of the hurdles golfers have to grapple with. When golfing in Nunavik, you’re not just competing with other players, you’re facing off with nature!
Joe Snowball is a proud ambassador and devoted player of the sport. In fact, he founded the six-hole golf course that lies on the outskirts of Kuujjuaq. "The first time I played was around ’98. I saw friends play and I decided to join them. Being a hockey player, I knew how to swing and I enjoyed the game." There are a small number of golf courses in Nunavik, notably in Aupaluk, Kangiqsujuaq, and Kuujjuaq. Back in the 90s, golfers in Kuujjuaq were compelled to play in a sandpit. "There was not much space, we were playing in the gutter all the time! And it wasn’t fun when it was windy. There were sand blizzards!" jokingly recounts Joe. And then, about ten years ago, Aqpik Road was built, opening a new world of possibilities for golfers.
Kuujjuaq’s present-day course stands on solid ground and offers a stunning view of the Koksoak River. At first, the greens were old carpets repurposed by Joe and his friends. But as the number of players grew and a younger generation took interest in the sport, fundraising efforts were made to purchase turf. Today, each flagpole is anchored in a patch of bright green artificial grass. Tournaments and friendly pick-up games generally run from May to October—depending on the whims of the weather. In Kuujjuaq, about 30 players, both men and women, enjoy driving down Aqpik Road to play a round on the six-hole course.
Without the proper machinery or dedicated manpower for maintenance, golfers scan the terrain and the greens before playing, removing any hazardous obstacles. "A perfect golf day would be about 15 degrees, 30-kilometre winds", and a regular game usually consists of 12 holes, with players cycling through the course twice. "We don’t have a par system, we just do a score card and we count our shots", explains Joe. And what happens when a golfer’s ball gets tangled up in nature? "If you lose your ball, you get a one-shot penalty, like the professionals. If it’s in the bush, we usually agree on a club length either to the side or the back, just to have a good shot."
The rules of the game are somewhat fluid, adapting to the terrain, but for keen golfers, the feeling of being on the land swinging a few balls outweighs playing by the book. "For me, golf is a stress reliever. Sometimes we work too hard, so being outside is great. Just having fun with the guys, competing with them. It feels really good."