Golf is a funny game. Hit down to make the ball go up. Swing easy to launch it far. And yet the oddest thing about golf isn’t how it’s played, but the places people play it. You won’t come across these layouts on GOLF Magazine’s list of Top 100 Courses. You’ll have to look in much stranger spots than that.
PRISON VIEW GOLF COURSE, ANGOLA, LOUISIANA
Local rules rarely get more rigid than they do at this nine-holer, which sits on the grounds of the Louisiana State Penitentiary, a facility once known as the “bloodiest prison in America.” Firearms are forbidden on the property, and so, for that matter, are convicted felons. But even law-abiding golfers are required to book their tee times at least 48-hours in advance, the better to undergo a background check. All vehicles are searched upon arrival, and play may be suspended at any time “due to institutional needs or at the Warden’s discretion.” Sandbag at your own risk.
NULLARBOR LINKS, NULLARBOR PLAINS, AUSTRALIA
“Nullarbor” derives from Latin for “no trees,” but there’s not much of anything in the Nullarbor Plains, a great barren expanse in southern Australia. Wait, come to think of it, there’s a golf course. And not just any course. The world’s longest layout, stretching 850 miles through a landscape of Road Warrior desolation. Most of the greens are Astroturf. Some are dirt. Three putt? No biggie. Shake it off during your 30-mile drive to the next tee.
BRICKYARD CROSSING, INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA
Even Rory McIlroy, revving in high gear, would lag behind the leaders who roar around this track, a Pete Dye-designed layout that is partially contained within the oval of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Though the course is walker-friendly, given the surroundings, it feels like you should ride. Just don’t try to make the turn at 200 miles per hour.
LEGEND GOLF & SAFARI RESORT, BOSVELD, SOUTH AFRICA
When golf goes extra holes, it’s usually dramatic. But rarely is the atmosphere as dizzying as this. Accessible only by helicopter, the tee box of the Legend’s par-three 19th hole teeters on a ledge near the top of Hanglip Mountain, some 1,200 feet above your target: a green shaped like the African continent.
MERAPI GOLF COURSE, YOGYAKARTA, INDONESIA
And you thought your buddy had a temper. The real hot head around these parts is Mt. Merapi, an active volcano that looms in the near-distance, within lava-spewing range of the first tee. The last time it erupted, in 2013, it spat its smoldering innards nearly a mile high, blanketing the surrounding landscape — golf course included — in a thick layer of dust and ash.
With its frozen-over fairways and its greens of winter white, this is less a formal layout than an arctic playland — and the perfect setting for the World Ice Golf Championships, which unfold in Uummannaq once a year. Orange balls are used for easier spotting. The holes are cut larger than regulation cups. And players get all the time they need to warm up. But no one goes as low as the mercury, which bottoms out at minus-50 degrees Fahrenheit.
HANS MERENSKY GOLF CLUB, PHALABORWA, SOUTH AFRICA
Ever get the feeling, while you’re hunting birdies, that something else is stalking you? Cut along the edge of Kruger National Park, Hans Merensky supplements golf’s usual hazards with the alpha predators of a wild animal preserve. Leopards leave their fresh kill dangling in tree limbs. Monster crocodiles lurk in the greenside lakes. For the most part, the four-legged spectators keep their distance. But in 1998, a German golfer was trampled to death by an elephant after startling the beast with a camera flash.
FURNACE CREEK GOLF COURSE, DEATH VALLEY, CALIFORNIA
Like a desert oasis — or a heatstroke hallucination — this unlikely layout sits in the depths of Death Valley, 214 feet below sea level, where the record temperature (134 degrees) is the highest-ever recorded in the Western hemisphere. Whether for commercial or sadistic reasons, the course remains open throughout the summer, when the sun is set on broil and the coolest days still average in the triple digits. Oh, well, at least it’s a dry heat.
KABUL GOLF CLUB, QARGHA, AFHGANISTAN
In 2004, on the outskirts of the embattled Afghan capital, Mohammad Afzal Abdul scraped and fought to open this dirt-and-rock nine-holer. His struggles had only just begun. The ensuring years brought death threats from the Taliban, who shot and killed Abdul’s brother, Khan, his hard-working partner on the project. But with war raging around him, Abdul soldiered on, keeping the layout open for those brave enough to play it — a grim-looking golf course, ghostly and grass-less, but a golf course all the same.