Friday, November 14, 2008

Sweden’s courses are almost certainly not on your must-play-before-you-die list, but you shouldn’t bypass the Nordic country’s fir-lined tracks. From old windswept links courses to a newly opened venue flirting with Ryder Cup planners, the country has a number of places worth checking out. I recently played three of the best in the southwestern part of the country –- Hills Golf Club, Vasatorp Golf Club and Falsterbo Golf Club, a unique links-style course on Sweden’s coast.Hills_18_2

Hills Golf ClubMolndal, SwedenThe most challenging course I played in Sweden was Hills, named for the course architect, Arthur Hills, but also an apt description of its extreme elevation changes. Ten miles south of trendy Gothenburg (Sweden’s second-largest city), the course winds through enormous firs and massive rock formations, with serious elevation changes on almost every hole. The front nine is beautiful, and the back is even better. The Hills’ “picture hole” is the 10th, a mid-length dogleg par 4 that plays from an elevated tee box over a creek that slopes back uphill toward a tiny green. (Beware of the 10th’s rock-walled greenside bunker.) The 18th, a dogleg par 5 (above right) has water along the left side while playing back toward the massive, log-cabin-like clubhouse perched over the course. In its two-year history, it’s already been visited and admired by former President Bill Clinton and rocker-turned-golfer Alice Cooper, and the owners think the course could be the first in Sweden to host a Ryder Cup.
Tip: It’s a challenge to walk, so take a cart unless you’re willing to be sore after your round. Also, don’t play from the tips. There are seven sets of tee boxes, the longest playing to about 7,700 yards. Falsterbo Golf ClubFalsterbo, SwedenOn the southwestern tip of Sweden, next to the quaint town of Falsterbo, sits Sweden’s third oldest course (founded in 1909) and one of its only links-style tracks. Danger lies everywhere. The course is full of hazards, from large, intimidating waste bunkers lining the fairways to small creeks snaking throughout the course to ponds fronting tee boxes and greens. The trickiest hole might be the long par-3 14th. A bunker in front of the green gives players a blind tee shot to a putting surface with a false front. The 18th plays near the coast, so don’t go right. You’ll end up in sandy dunes lining the sea. The coastline never actually comes into play, but you’ll get great views of Denmark in the distance, as well as the Oresund Bridge, which connects the two countries.
Tip: Beware of the bird watchers. The area is well-known for migratory birds, which rest there before crossing the waters to neighboring countries. The amateur ornithologists, who have been know to stand in the middle of fairways, didn’t heed screams of “Fore!” or “Move!” Vasatorp Golf ClubHelsingborg, SwedenWhile not as dramatic as The Hills or as historic as Falsterbo, Vasatorp (which opened earlier this year) is a course worth checking out for its sweeping dune-like bunkers and the unique rock walls that follow the holes. The real estate (a few miles north of Helsingborg) is not as undulating as The Hills, but architect Steve Forrest was able to squeeze a picturesque layout from the land. The finishing hole is a beauty –- a par 5 that zigs and zags through trees, past a rock wall and toward an enormous green. Even if you’re on in three, you’ll likely have a lengthy birdie putt.
Tip: Trust the Swedes. We accidentally left our van door open during the entire round, about five hours. When we returned, everything was safe and sound.
Two more tips when playing in Sverige: Distance is measured in meters. To make yardage conversions, just add 10 percent to the listed distance. And, socialist-leaning Sweden mandates a spot for public tee times at its private courses. (The Hills is private, but Falsterbo and Vasatorp are public.) For traveling golfers looking to get on at clubs, redistribution is a good thing.(Photo: Hills Golf Club)

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