CALGARY, ALBERTA - Their fairways flirt with the clouds and their greens lay covered in snow and ice for much of the year. What the world's highest golf courses lack in oxygen, they make up for in, well, altitude.
So where is the highest golf course in the world? Interestingly, the past champion no longer exists. Swallowed up in clouds and dense vegetation at 14,335 feet above sea level, the Tuctu Golf Club in Peru has now been abandoned. At its nose-bleeding altitude, a sign at the club should have read (no joke): Acclimatized Golfers Only.
Robin Seiger and Neil Laughton, golf philanthropists and adventurists, are winding up a journey that saw them play "The Awesome Eight" (the highest, lowest, toughest, most northerly, most southerly, hottest, coldest, and greatest courses in the world). Apparently, all their research led them to Tuctu, Peru when choosing "the highest." But, as Seiger explained, Tuctu was not in playing shape.
"No one seemed to have any details of Tuctu. We eventually made contact with the mining company who owned the course. They told me it was abandoned 10 years ago and is now completely overgrown. We asked if we could play on its site, but they said it was a dense mass of bush and vegetation, so it would be impossible and nothing remotely resembling a course exists."
They continued searching.
"We then heard of a course in the Himalayas built and run by Indian Army engineers. Again we were unable to make contact or verify, but a mountaineer said it was a rough cut nine-hole event, and he thought it to be around 11,000 ft.
"Later we discovered a course in Bolivia, La Paz Golf Club, which is at an elevation of 10,800 ft. It is an old, established 18-hole venue that makes a formal and legitimate claim to the highest in the world."
Whew. Finally, a record holder we can all agree on. But wait. There are other courses that also make the claim. On an internet search for the "highest golf course in the world," the Gulmarg Golf Course - which is located in the mountainous, war-torn region of Jammu & Kashmir - comes up numerous times. Interestingly, though, there is some discrepancy in the actual elevation of Gulmarg. While some sources have it pegged as high as 9,000 feet, most sources place it only around 7,000 ft., which doesn't even come close to matching La Paz and other lofty layouts in China and the United States.
Sadly, due to the ongoing violence and unrest in the area (India and Pakistan are fighting over ownership of the land) this course is also nearing closure and is in horrible playing condition. In fact, according to Faisal Ahmed, a reporter for The News-Times India, "Gulmarg is a living - no a dying - witness to the tragic reality of Kashmir."
Golfers in the United States are fortunate enough to play what is likely the highest collection of golf courses above 8,500 feet in the world. The state of Colorado, and most specifically Summit County, is home to numerous courses over 9,000 feet. Mt. Massive, a 9-hole course in Leadville, stakes a firm claim as being the highest course in North America. It hits the altimeter at 9,680 feet. The highest championship course in North America? That would have to be Copper Mountain. Its clubhouse is at 9,500 feet but portions of the course climb to nearly 9,700 feet. And you thought you could only ski at that height.
But, the La Paz Golf Club, laid out at a dizzying height of 10,800 feet, appears to be the undisputed champion, and it's very much open for play. The course, in fact, is a terrific test of golf and is considered to be the best in the country. Although it's possible golf might be played at slightly higher elevations on rugged 9-hole tracks (like the Leh Golf Club in Pakistan, which is said to be laid out over rocks and dirt) this writer will go on record stating that there is no 18-hole championship course in the world higher than La Paz. If you so desire, check out www.lapazgolfclub.com (it's in Spanish).
But, keep in mind, operating at high elevations can be dangerous. The air starts to really thin out over 5,000 feet and engaging in recreational activity can be challenging. Bruce Keith, the Executive Director of The Alpine Club of Canada, offers some words of wisdom if your intentions are to play golf in "nose-bleed" country.
"I certainly wouldn't recommend a quick trip from sea level to play golf above 14,000 feet at Tuctu. But, without acclimatizing, people could still experience problems at 11,000 feet at La Paz. Headaches, nausea, edema, and even death can occur when people are not acclimatized to high elevations."
Thankfully, there have been no reports of golfers - in any country - dying from edema. Of course, the Mt. Everest Golf Club hasn't been designed yet.
Here is a brief list of some of the world's loftiest layouts. La Paz Golf Club, La Paz, Bolivia: elev. 10,800 ft. Jade Dragon Snow Mountain Golf Course, Yunnan Province, China: elev. 10,000 ft. Copper Creek Golf Club, Copper Mountain, Colorado, U.S.A: elev. 9,700 ft. Mt. Massive Golf Course, Leadville, Colorado, U.S.A.: elev. 9,680 ft. Telluride Golf Club, Telluride, Colorado, U.S.A.: elev. 9,500 ft. Breckenridge Golf Club, Breckenridge, Colorado, U.S.A.: elev. 9,324 ft. The Lodge Golf Course, Cloudcroft, New Mexico, U.S.A.: elev. 9,200 ft. Gulmarg Golf Course, Jammu & Kashmir: elev. 7,000 ft Vialatta Golf Club, Sestriere, France: elev. 6, 677 ft. Incline Village Golf Course, Incline Village, Nevada, USA: elev. 6,500 ft. Tignes Golf Course, Tignes, France: elev. 6,300 ft. Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course, Lake Tahoe, Nevada, USA: elev. 6,200 ft. Kananaskis Golf Course, Alberta, Canada: elev. 5,000 ft.
January 8, 2003
Andrew Penner is a freelance writer and photographer based in Calgary, Alberta. His work has appeared in newspapers and magazines throughout North America and Europe. You can see more of his work at www.andrewpenner.com.
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