Chase the Midnight Sun to Yellowknife

A golf cart with golfers drives towards the ever-present midnight sun during the Yellowknife Golf Club Midnight Classic Golf Tournament. (Image: Yellowknife Golf Club)

The Midnight Classic is played during the summer solstice, when the sun glances off the horizon at the start of the new day before quickly regaining its strength. (Image: Yellowknife Golf Club)

Founded in 1948 by golf-mad miners, bush pilots and other hardy Northerners, Yellowknife Golf Club is home to the Midnight Classic Golf Tournament, played every June under the never-setting subarctic sun.

(Last updated March 2024.)

Intrepid golfers might boast of wildlife encounters on African fairways or a tee off in the Australian outback interrupted by enraged kangaroos. But only those with Canadian-style grit will triumph over the ankle-deep sand fairways and swarms of black flies at Yellowknife Golf Club, home of the famous Midnight Classic Golf Tournament (June 21-22).

Played every year on the June weekend closest to the summer solstice, when the sun merely glances off the horizon at the start of the new day in the subarctic before quickly regaining its strength, the Midnight Classic draws as many as 400 adventure-seeking golfers to the capital of Canada’s Northwest Territories. 

A golfer tees off from artificial turf and aims for the sand fairway at the Yellowknife Golf Club. (Image: Kylie Frederick)

Though the golf course features artificial turf greens, sand fairways are still in play. (Image: Kylie Frederick)

2024 will see the 63rd playing of a tournament that began as a weekend-long marathon for golf-mad miners, bush pilots, surveyors and other sturdy citizens of Yellowknife. Golfers played around the clock till they finally dropped from dehydration, black fly bites and sheer exhaustion. The marathon format lasted until 1970, when Yellowknife’s own Sandy Hutchinson became a local folk hero after playing a record 171 holes in just over 35 hours of continuous golf.

No one was ever likely to beat that. The next year the Midnight Classic switched to the stroke-play tournament still, with minor changes, played today. The always raucous fun starts with a Friday night opening celebration, followed by 18-hole- and 9-hole scrambles through the night and into the following day. A dinner and prize ceremony fills the clubhouse on Saturday night.

Founded in 1948, Yellowknife Golf Club’s original nine-hole course featured sand fairways and putting greens—or “browns” as they were called—of gritty sand that was rolled and pounded down, and then saturated with heavy oil to provide at least a semblance of smoothness. Artificial turf greens were introduced as the course evolved into an 18-hole layout. But to this day sand fairways remain in play in a stark landscape where natural grass stubbornly refuses to grow. For fairway shots, local rules permit golfers to hit off small mats of artificial turf.

Few courses can match the colourful history of a club whose first clubhouse was the fuselage of a DC-3 that crash-landed at the nearby airport. Offered the stripped-down carcass for free, the membership hauled their prize to a position near the first tee.

The wreckage of a DC-3 plane served as the first clubhouse for the Yellowknife Golf Club. (Image: Yellowknife Golf Club)

The fuselage of a DC-3 that crash-landed nearby served as the first clubhouse. (Image: Yellowknife Golf Club)

In those days the frontier crept right onto the course. Golfers armed themselves against the threat of black bears who, while making their way to the town’s garbage dumps, gathered in groups to frolic on the strange oily surfaces of the greens. Before departing, they often clawed out the putting cups, carrying them away as souvenirs.

“Wolves had a different approach to the game,” wrote George Erskine Inglis, a founding member, in a 1968 article for Canadian Geographic. “The red pin flags were the object of their attention. The wolves would jump up and literally tear the coloured triangles to shreds in snapping efforts to satisfy their curiosity.”

Despite the obstacles, such was the enthusiasm for golf among Yellowknife golfers that volunteer springtime work parties were always well attended, all winter-weary hands eager to get the most from a season lasting at best from mid-May to mid-September. An added incentive for participants was a $5 rebate off the $15 paid in annual dues.

It’s said that Stanley Thompson, the most revered of all Canadian golf architects, paid a visit to the club in 1949.

“What do you think, Mr. Thompson, of digging a few sand traps here and there?” a club member enthusiastically inquired.

Astonished, Thompson hardly knew how to reply. “I think,” he finally said, “your golf course is one complete sand trap.”

To be sure, tournament golf under the midnight sun is not for everyone. But as Yellowknife members are fond of saying, “Where the hell else can you play 24-hours-a-day?”