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Snow golf: Driving off piste under the Northern Lights

By Matthew Knight, CNN
updated 6:19 AM EST, Fri January 17, 2014
Golfers in search of an alternative winter break might want to consider a trip to Swedish Lapland, where they can play snow golf in the picturesque surroundings of the<a href='http://en.bjorkliden.com/' target='_blank'> Björkliden mountain resort</a>. Golfers in search of an alternative winter break might want to consider a trip to Swedish Lapland, where they can play snow golf in the picturesque surroundings of the Björkliden mountain resort.
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Teeing off inside the Arctic Circle
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ski resort in Swedish Lapland offers chance to play snow golf
  • Visitors can tee off during the day or at night on the nine-hole course in Börkliden
  • Intrepid night golfers can experience thrill of playing under the Northern Lights
  • Snow golf is proving popular across Europe, especially Switzerland

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(CNN) -- The thought of it is enough to make fair-weather golfers shudder in horror.

But for hardier sporting souls, a sub-zero round in the Arctic snow could be the perfect off-piste adventure this winter.

Welcome to a world where greens are "whites," where snowplows -- not mowers -- groom fairways, and players swap snazzy pants and Pringle sweaters for ski jackets and mittens.

Like normal golf, the goal remains frustratingly simple and the rules are largely the same as they are on grass. But the obstacles are somewhat different as players battle a strange playing surface and the cold.

At Björkliden, a ski resort in Swedish Lapland which started offering snow golf last year, players can expect a warm welcome but a decidedly chilly round.

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"We are 250 kilometers to the north of the Arctic Circle. It can be anything from zero degrees Celsius down to -25, but usually the average is around -10," says Merja Bergwall, marketing and sales manager for Lapland Resorts, the company which manages Björkliden's facilities.

Thin a ball at those temperatures and your poor hands may never recover. But for most the experience is a happy one, Bergwall says, with players enjoying clean, crisp air under frequently blue skies while mastering the art of driving, chipping and putting on snow and ice.

Björkliden's winter golfers tread the same path as summer guests, playing the route of a long-established grass course beneath.

"Summer golf has been here since the 1930s, but we wanted to do something for the wintertime," explains Bergwall.

"We have nine holes and we use snowplows that we usually use on the slopes (to smooth the course)."

Visitors pay 350 Swedish Krona (around $50) for a round, which includes club hire and balls.

Tee times after dark are also available thanks to glowing golf balls -- and night golf also lets players witness one of nature's most magnificent spectacles up close.

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"It's very, very magical if you catch the Northern Lights. We are one of the best places in the world to watch them," Bergwall says.

The Aurora Borealis can be seen frequently in Swedish Lapland during the winter, but sadly the opportunities to get stuck into snow golf are more limited -- the course is only open for three weeks in March.

"We want to keep the 'whites' in the right condition to ensure a good standard of play," says Bergwall.

Björkliden joins a long list of European destinations which host snow golf events.

Engadin Golf Club in St. Moritz, Switzerland will welcome entrants to the 35th Snow Golf Cup later this month, and in March patrons of the annual Boerl and Kroff Snow Golf tournament will reconvene on Wispile mountain in Gstaad.

Other annual events are scheduled to take place in France and Austria, but 2014 will not see the return of the World Ice Golf Championships in Uummannaq, Greenland which has, since 2009, fallen foul of the weather.

"Global warming has made it more difficult to arrange the event as we can't rely on ice being formed on the fjord of Uummannaq -- the place where the event used to take place," Malik Milfeldt of Visit Greenland told CNN.

Happily for Björkliden, there have been no such issues with the weather so far and plans are in place for a weekend of competitions in late March, with the Scandinavian Snow Golf Masters forming the centerpiece.

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