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Golfing at the Top of the World

Much has changed in the more than three decades since Adventure Canada’s founding. Long-time guest Everen Brown received a brochure in 1989 for a North Pole golf trip and couldn’t help but sign up! Here he recounts the record-breaking legacy trip and how he came to love expedition travel.
North Pole golf expedition

© Everen Brown

The North Pole has been the prize for polar explorers for centuries. Not a year goes by as someone or some group mounts an expedition to this elusive place. The reasons for the journeys are different—yet they share that common prize—to stand on top of the world.

In 1989 I received a brochure in the mail from Adventure Canada. It was filled with various outdoor adventures and vacations. The outer cover featured an image I will never forget: a parka-clad person golfing in the snow. Yes, you read that correctly—golfing in the snow! The trip on offer was being called the “first scheduled golf tournament at the North Pole”. I was instantly intrigued and dumbfounded. Why in the world would anyone want to do that?

Three days later I could not get this absurd idea out of my brain, so I picked up the phone and called Adventure Canada. One of the owners, Mathew Swan, answered. I inquired if this trip was for real and he assured me it was indeed. Matt went on to paint a picture of a most magical journey to one of the coldest places on earth. He described this trip as a must-do and promised that a person would have the time of their life doing this absolutely ludicrous event. He was endlessly enthusiastic, and with him at the helm, how could we not have a great time?

Everen Brown and Matt Swan

© Everen Brown

Everen Brown and Matthew Swan, 1989

A day later I signed up. I wasn’t quite sure of the ridiculousness of it all, but it just seemed like the right thing to do. Less than five weeks later I would be on my way to the North Pole—home of myths, fairytales, Santa Claus, and polar exploration. It was time to buy a sleeping bag rated to -20°C and start packing.

April was prime time for going to the North Pole. Winter was ending, which would give us both more daylight and hard ice surfaces to golf on. I met the group at the Edmonton, Alberta airport for a flight to Resolute, Northwest Territories (though today the community is part of Nunavut). This was a stopping point to get outfitted and take another flight to our base camp.

Twin Otter plane Resolute Nunavut

© Everen Brown

Once we arrived in at the Resolute airport, our luggage was offloaded, and I remember seeing some golf clubs and a giant green AstroTurf carpet coming down the conveyor belt. I thought to myself, that seems odd, who would play golf up here? Then I remembered it would be me and our Adventure Canada group—we were the ridiculous people who had trekked this far north to do the impossible!

We set off to get our rented polar gear. That same parka the person in the Adventure Canada brochure was wearing, I was now trying on. We came to learn that it was super important to layer, layer, and layer. This was no vacation on the beach!

The next day we boarded our Twin Otter aircraft for a ride to our base camp at Lake Hazen, on the northernmost tip of Ellesmere Island. The base camp was a large Quonset hut with dormitory style sleeping quarters and a kitchen. It was quite comfortable given its remote location.

Everen at base camp

© Everen Brown

This is where our golfing adventure began, and we set off for our first round of practice. Ice golf is not as easy as it looks. Conditions made it necessary to tee up the golf ball each time to get a clean shot, and we soon learned that orange balls were the easiest to find. (Neon yellow balls didn’t provide enough contrast in the snow.)

As we were practicing, another Twin Otter attempted a landing on the runway we were using as our makeshift golf course. We were surprised to see this aircraft come out of the blue and quickly scattered so it could make another pass and land. Our practice session had abruptly ended for the day.

Practice golfing on ice

© Everen Brown

Later, we would find time to dig a hole through the ice and fish for Arctic char. Our fishing “poles” were just a wooden stick with a line and a hook, simple as you could get. Within two minutes of pulling out a fresh char, it would be completely flash frozen from flopping around on the ice. I was feeling proud about my catch of the day until I realized that we too could freeze like that freshly caught fish if we stayed out much longer!

Fishing for Arctic char

© Everen Brown

Soon the weather conditions were optimal, and we embarked again on our Twin Otter to do what no one had done before. Flying over the last patch of land with towering white mountains, the terrain soon turned into a flat ice sheet. The North Pole is a place on a map in the middle of the Arctic Ocean, nothing more than frozen sea ice.

The pilot monitored our destination carefully looking for the best area to land. Several barrels of fuel had been ferried up earlier and we could see them as we approached. A couple of empty barrels were stacked on top of each other to create a tower. I looked at our location reading right before landing and we were on target. After circling once, we landed. We were finally at the North Pole!

Our guides Matthew Swan and Hugh Culver went to work immediately setting up our northernmost golf course. They had brought a huge piece of AstroTurf to serve as the green, but the frozen roll was nearly impossible to unravel and level out.

Golfing on Astro Turf green North Pole

© Everen Brown

A television film crew from ABC got to work as well, filming each moment for a prime-time program called Over the Edge, hosted by Barry Nolan. Our North Pole golf tournament was official and would be televised for enjoyment later.

The rest of our intrepid group were put to work putting up ceremonial flags where we would tee off from. Since four countries lay claim to North Pole— Canada, Denmark, Russia and the United States—these flags were erected accordingly, and the course was now ready for play.

Canada flag golf hole North Pole

© Everen Brown

After the inaugural swing, the first scheduled North Pole Golf Tournament had officially begun! It was a silly affair with lots of mistakes and laughs. No one took it too seriously, as the terrain proved to be even more challenging than our practice sessions on the ice runway from days before.

At the tournament’s completion, it was time for a little celebration and a bottle of champagne was opened. As it was poured into my cup, I remember how fast it began to freeze—if not consumed quickly it would soon become an ice cube! A light-hearted toast put a big smile on everyone’s face, just in time for the group photo.

Group photo North Pole golfing

© Everen Brown

Then we rounded up our golf clubs, headed for the plane, and soon landed back at basecamp filled with memories for a lifetime. We had not just stood at the top of the world—we had golfed on top of the world!

Months later, after sending off for official approval, our little game of golf at the North Pole made it into the 1990 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records. Our journey had captured the imagination of the world!

North Pole golf souvenirs

© Everen Brown

A collection of Everen's souvenirs from the North Pole Golf expedition, including the original brochure he received in the mail, the Guinness Book of World Records that highlights their achievement, and a jar of North Pole ice that Matthew Swan advised to "keep refrigerated."

Since that fateful day in 1989 when I received that first brochure, I’ve travelled with Adventure Canada many times. Today, Matt Swan has retired, and his children Cedar, Alana, and Matthew-James are part of the next generation now running the show. Although they no longer offer North Pole golfing trips (but, then again, I don’t believe anybody does!), their expeditions are still full of adventure, fun, and whimsy. I can’t wait until my next one.

About the Author

Everen T. Brown

Everen T. Brown

Adventure Canada Guest

Everen Brown's many journeys have taken him over two million miles around the world, allowing him to combine his two of his favourite passions: travel and 360-degree panoramic photography. In his soon-to-be released online software project, fellow globetrotters will be able to travel the world through virtual reality! From the Canadian Arctic to Easter Island to Antarctica, this amazing software takes you to all seven continents, over 180 countries and geographic destinations.

Everen has been travelling as a guest with Adventure Canada for over thirty years. After all this time, Everen says Adventure Canada’s North Pole Golf trip is still one of his top adventures! He is the photographer and author of four books that highlight his unique imagery and experience.