Czech forest golfers make an extreme sport of game

Czech forest golfers make an extreme sport of game

UVALY, Czech Republic - Agence France-Presse
Czech forest golfers make an extreme sport of game

A forest golfer prepares to hit a tennis ball in a forest near Prague. A club hewn from a chopped cherry branch and a tennis ball is all it takes to make golf an extreme sport. AFP photo

A club roughly hewn from a freshly chopped cherry branch, a tennis ball and a buddy to play with is all it takes to make golf an extreme sport that would test the skills of even top professional players.

Over the last decade, a group of Czech “forest golfers” has pioneered a novel approach to this gentleman’s sport in the wilds of Bohemia on terrain that would usually be out of bounds on a regular golf course.

“The idea was born when two friends at a summer camp decided to introduce the kids to golf,” says Jiri “George” Rehor, a veteran forest golfer. “Besides playing, they wanted the kids to make the equipment themselves. When they returned home, they were thrilled with their idea and asked their friends to join them.”

The sport has caught on, with dozens of Czechs competing up to nine times a year at forest golf tournaments played across the republic, including both singles and team events.

On a sunny September Sunday morning in a lush forest in Uvaly just east of Prague, about 20 extreme golfers are testing their skills on a rough 10-hole course crossed by a yawning ditch. Most have come equipped with clubs made of walnut, sour cherry or other harder types of wood, a tennis ball or two and snacks, sometimes including a bottle of hard liquor.

“You can bring the club with you or make one on the spot,” laughs Rehor, sporting four clubs and joking that a new club or a set of tennis balls make a perfect birthday gift for him.

The club must pass through a testing tube that is 10 centimeters wide, according to the forest golf rule book on the golfers’ meticulously maintained website, which includes a link to their Facebook page.

No regular tees
Instead of regular tees, forest golfers use spruce cones broken in halves, while tennis balls replace regular golf balls, which are too tiny for the terrain. “It also hurts like hell when you get hit by a golf ball,” says Rehor, as a few balls ricochet off trees at the height of the players’ heads.

Leona, a woman who has come with her husband and two children, tees off from a hill towards a hole hidden behind a tree about 40 meters away. To her dismay, her daughter hits a tiny pine, while a family friend whacks the ball against a tall spruce; it rebounds onto a cushion of light-green moss.

“You’re on the green,” Leona chuckles, before scoring an impressive -9 on the par-15 hole -- the usual limit for forest golfers.

“We’ve been playing full seasons and had fixed rules since 2000,” says Rehor. “I’ve been playing for seven years and I’ve won four seasons,” 63-year-old Vaclav Hajek chimes with pride as he skillfully sinks a tennis ball in a hole just an inch wider than the ball itself, hidden between the roots of a tall spruce.