Strolling a fairway at midnight, with plenty of light to read the greens and the scorecard at the Top Of The World golf course on the longest day of the year is a hoot for some. “It actually gets easier to see the ball the later at night it gets,” said Siana Mills, one of three dozen golfers who participated in the Midnight Romance golf tournament held annually on the summer solstice in the mining and tourist town of Dawson City, Yukon Territory, Canada. “The sun was in our eyes when we teed off just before 10pm on June 21st,” she said.
Winters are dark and cold north of the 60th parallel, but the area gets 21 1/2 hours of daylight on the solstice. This draws duffers to the Klondike despite a golfing season of only 5 months long and some of the roughest rough around. “The season may be short, but we get 3 rounds of golf out of every day since the daylight is so long,” said Carrie Docken, president of the local golf association in Dawson City, a town of 1,319 residents where the Klondike and Yukon rivers converge.
Dawson City’s municipal golf course, which prides itself as Canada’s northernmost with greens, is one of the most remote and least dusky in high summer. Tucked amid tall pines and dense foliage, the nine-hole course features the rusting hulks of abandoned gold mining equipment as yard markers and an undulating landscape caused by the annual thawing of the permafrost with the Sunnydale slopes in the distance. A standard round costs about $30. The club has only 38 members but the manager says that 100s of visitors play the course each season.
“It’s a celebration of our ability to stay up late and hit a ball on the only permafrost contoured course in the country,” said Dawson City Mayor Wayne Potoroka. The golf course can only be accessed by the George Black Ferry across the Yukon River and then a 15 minute drive up a steep mountain ridge along the Top of the World Highway which runs to the Alaska border. That is after most visitor’s have endured a six hour drive up the Klondike Highway from the nearest international airport in Whitehorse, the provincial capital of the Yukon.
The overnight golf tournament draws a mix of locals and first timers. For some, it is a once in a lifetime experience. “It’s always been a dream to come up here. This was on my bucket list,” said Lee Limpach, 69, a retiree from Sacramento, California. Near a sand trap on # 5, Lee pointed to a paw print he thought might be a wolf, but as the sun’s rays slowly waned, the only predator spotted was the mosquito. “The skeeters are out tonight'” he sighed, aiming his putter on the ninth green. “There were so many I almost missed the putt,” he said.
The larger critters may have been spooked by the blast of a 12-gauge shotgun to kick off play. On quieter days. locals say the course attracts nearly as many animals as golfer, including black bear, moose and the occasional cougar. Last year organizers were forced to postpone the tournament by a week after a grizzly bear killed a moose in the middle of a fairway.
A bigger nuisance is the chronic disappearance of golf balls. Members blamed the foxes, but that theory was ‘for the birds.’ It turned out to be the work of Yukon’s official symbol- the raven. Local rule No.10 states; No penalty if you lose a ball to a raven. A more common threat is losing a shanked ball in the thick forests encircling the club. “Our version of the rough isn’t the same as down south. The bush here extends on for thousands of kilometers in every direction,” said Paul Robitaille of the Klondike Visitors Association, known for their ‘True Northern Hospitality’.
In the early 1990’s, a local businessman cleared the site and built the course, naming it after the nearby highway. His family members said it never made money, so the town took it over and renamed it Dawson City Golf Course. Its golf bag tags and scorecards still read Top of the World.
The lure of the Midnight Romance Tournament isn’t the prize money. The best foursome receives simple parting gifts including six-packs of Yukon Brewing craft beer, copies of the book “Wilderness Life in Canada’s Yukon Territory” and gag gifts such as Kama Sutra cross-stitch patterns.
Afterward sleep-deprived players gathered around a fire pit outside the clubhouse to celebrate staving off the sand traps, skeeters or at least the sandman. How many golf tournaments end with a bonfire.