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banner Thursday, 22 February, 2001, 14:33 GMT
Melting golf-courses and polar bears
The Drambuie World Ice Golf championships gets underway in April
BBC Sport Online's Mike Burnett looks at the bizarre phenomenon of ice golf as the preparations begin for the third annual event in the nether-regions of Greenland.

One thing you can rely on in golf is that the courses always stay the same and, with enough study, most players can enter a tournament adequately prepared.

However, in ice golf the course not only physically changes every year, but given the weather, could alter on a daily basis.

Add to that the danger of a polar bear pinching your ball and St Andrews seems a million miles away.

At the start of April, the local population of Uummannaq in Greenland will look on as their little town, which lies almost 600km north of the Arctic Circle, is invaded by a bunch of gung-ho golfers for the third World Ice golf championship.

Golf's image of sunshine, tans and beautiful green courses looks set to be shattered by the growing popularity of this new version of the sport.

It's the absolute challenge of doing something different
  Jonathon Brown
Drambuie regional director
Golf carts have been replaced by Huskey-driven dog-sleds, the balls are fluorescent, and the only spectators on hand will be the Inuit townspeople and, possibly, a few passing polars.

So the question is, why would anyone swap their golf shoes for pair of snow-boats?

Jonathon Brown, regional director of the event's sponsor, Drambuie, claims it is the old Star Trek mentality of boldly going where no one has gone before.

"It's the absolute challenge of doing something different," he said.

"It's just the most amazing amount of fun."

Certainly, there are few experiences that match playing golf on a frozen sea in Greenland.

While the origins of ice golf are lost in the midst of time, the world championship began life in 1998 but had to be cancelled after a warm winter meant the course was in danger of melting.

World Ice golf championship in 1999
Grab your golf club and some thermal underwear to take part
Things finally got going the following year with British golf journalist Peter Masters winning the inaugural event.

Masters' victory elevated him to superstar status, if only in the small town of Uumannaq where eager locals asked for his autograph.

"I remember one lady handed me a handkerchief which I thought was to blow my nose, then I realised she wanted me to sign it," he said.

Masters returned to defend his title in 2000, but was beaten by Danish school teacher Annika Östberg.

The 31-year-old, who has 10 years experience on the national team and numerous national titles, grabbed victory by 7 strokes.

Beware of polar bears

Of course playing in snow and ice means that some of the basic rules of golf have had to be altered.

As the tournament's rule book points out: "The use of golf buggies is prohibited" and the ball may be lifted and placed within 15cm of where it landed, without a penalty.

Local rules also cover unforeseen eventualities such as a polar bear stealing your ball.

The event does appear to be growing, from 19 competitors in 1999 to 22 last year, and 36 are booked to play in April.

But as the sole hotel in town has only 36 rooms, it looks like the tournament may have already reached full capacity.

Advice to those daredevils who have booked their place this year is to wrap up warm, and if the scenery appears to be moving, it could mean you are standing on a loose iceberg.

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