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From midnight sun to electric eels: The Swedish Golf Experience

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From midnight sun to electric eels: The Swedish Golf Experience
08:58 CEST+02:00
Author and golf enthusiast Gene Oberto bisects the fairways of the nation in this above par guide to the golf courses of Sweden.

First things first: this is not a top ten list of the best places to play in Sweden (though some are right up there). Nor is it a list of the most challenging courses, the most scenic or the ones requiring most expertise, though some could be on at least one of those lists and some would make them all.

Not every course is readily available to play (Falsterbo, for example) but most are, while Björklidens in the far north is an expedition, involving either a long drive or a plane and coach trip.

Also, some of the courses are exclusive and some are pay and plays.

However, all are legitimate golf courses that offer a variety of challenges and levels of playability. If you're a golfer, the kind like me who has never met a golf course he didn't like, this list is for you.

PHOTO GALLERY

Björklidens GK

Situated 250 km north of the Arctic Circle, this is just about as exotic as golfing in Sweden gets. Nestled between the mighty mountains of Sweden's northern wilderness, Björklidens is surrounded by breathtaking views over Lapland and Lake Torneträsk.

For about five weeks a year at Björklidens Golf Club the Arctic landscape, the magic light of the midnight sun and the game collide for a golf treat that every golfer should experience. The course was designed so that it made as little environmental intrusion as possible. Therefore, it is shorter than a normal course, the fairways are narrower, and the greens are small, as well.

That does not mean the course is easier or less interesting than other golf courses. The fairways and the greens were designed so that the player can always enjoy the scenery. The fifth, sixth and seventh holes are definitely among the most scenic in the world. Björklidens is not easy to get to and a robust challenge to play. But every golfer owes it to him or herself to tee off at midnight under the broad daylight of the midnight sun.

Did You Know?

Travelers between North America and Scandinavia would arrive by boat to Narvik, Norway, as it had an ice-free harbor in the winter. When the train line from Narvik to Stockholm was completed, Björkliden was a rest stop along the way.

The American travelers would get out to stretch their legs and the native Lapps would sell the folks native handcrafts. One favorite item was to have a souvenir photo taken swinging a golf club with a Laplander in full costume posing as a caddy. Because the Americans would pay for their items in the American currency, the locals dubbed the train the “Dollar Train”.

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Bro-Bålsta GK

OK, easy call, I know. This is the course where Annika Sörenstam decided to take up golf as a junior. The rest, as they say is history. Sörenstam is arguably the best woman golfer ever, and is without argument the most successful professional golfer that Sweden has ever produced.

But the reason for the inclusion of Bro-Balsta is not the course's famous protégée. Bro-Balsta was put together by famed Swedish course designer Peter Nordwall. Showcasing its creator's principle of designing with environmental concerns, Bro-Balsta is naturally placed in beautiful surroundings.

Another characteristic of the 18-hole course are the large undulating greens. Based on the greens found on the famous links in Scotland, their size allows less maintenance to hold their quality, as well as leading to putts that are as long and twisting as the roller coaster at your local amusement park.

Did You Know?

Annika Sörenstam birdied the final hole to win the 2006 Scandinavian TPC title by a stroke from Mexico's Lorena Ochoa at Bro-Balsta Golf Club, her home course where she had played since age 12. Sörenstam closed out her defence with a flawless eight-under-par 65, to equal the course record. It would be the last time she would win as a professional in Sweden.

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Bro Hof Slott

If crushed marble in the sand traps sounds a little indulgent for a regular golf course, you would be right: Bro Hof Slott is no ordinary golf course. Owner Björn Öras went to the great golf course designers, players and course caretakers around the world and asked one question, “If you could build your ideal golf course, what features would you add?”

After collecting his answers, he didn't quibble and added them all to his original design. Bro Hof Slott is world class in every aspect: playability, challenge, design, scenic beauty, and cultural and environmental preservation. It may seem an expensive price to play there (1,600 SEK at weekends), but in comparison with its peers in Europe and the United States, Bro Hof Slott is a world-class bargain. Golf Digest rates this the #1 course in Sweden.

Did You Know?

To gain access to the Lake Mälaren shoreline, Bro Hof Slott donated, restored, and maintains 35 hectares of meadows for the community as a nature sanctuary. The castle at Bro Hof, the golf course's namesake, has been fully restored to its Rococo splendor. The owners of Stockholm's Lux Restaurant are operators of the golf course restaurant, Bro Hof Lux.

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Falsterbo GK

A perennial favorite on Swedish golf's Top 10 lists, the genius of Falsterbo is in its simplicity. A wonderful links course that sits on the point of Skåne where the North Sea and Öresund meet. I have been there when it was hot and sunny or with a howling gale coming in off the sea, and that was all before reaching the 17th tee. Falsterbo has not changed much in over 80 years. It looks simple, but believe me: bring your “A” game.

Did You Know?

The course is located in a natural preservation area and is frequently visited by bird watchers since the Falsterbo peninsula is the last stop for many migratory birds. Golfers must halt their game to allow the non-golfers to pass.

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Halmstad GK (North Course)

In a quiet neighbourhood about three blocks from the dazzling sunsets of the beach at Tylösand lay the 36 holes of golf at Halmstad. The South Course is a very good and picturesque golf course, but the legendary North Course is the most honoured course in Sweden, suitable for the world's elite golfers.

It was also the site of Solheim Cup in 2007. This is a golf course that just gets better the more you play it, as doesl your appreciation for a design that reflects the classic English style. Winding through the forest and streams of the seaside area of Tylösand, the North Course stands out as Sweden's finest example of park-like beauty and golfing challenge.

Did You Know?

The Tylösand Hotel is co-owned by Halmstad native, Roxette's Per Gessle. In Bettans Bar, the part of the hotel closest to the beach, there is a downstairs bar with Roxette memorabilia lining the walls.

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Mölle

Located inside the Kullaberg Nature Reserve, Mölle Golf Club sits on the peninsula that forms Sweden's westernmost point. In what had to be either the highlight of Sweden's neutrality policy or the craziness of golf, the club was established in 1943 as war ships cruised back and forth below its cliffs.

Combining the scarcity of land with a classic design, Mölle is a riot of tight fairways, small greens and, because of its location, the enduring evasiveness of a flat lie. When you reach the 8th tee, make sure you walk to the back and see a panorama of the Öresund and Denmark that will make you wish you brought the camera.

Did You Know?

You can walk to the brightest lighthouse in Sweden from the parking lot of the golf course. It lies 78.5 meters above sea level and can be seen 50 kilometres away. It may also be the only golf club I had to pay to enter before paying to play as there is a fee to enter the Kullaberg Nature Reserve.

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Sommarro GK

It is not uncommon to see golfers walking or riding their bikes to play golf at Sommarro. Located about five minutes from downtown Karlstad, Sommarro is a true public golf course in Sweden.

Started as a driving range, Sommarro then added an executive course and now boasts a nine-hole links style course that has all the character and challenge of Scotland without the firth. It is a rare course in Sweden that does not need a tee time to play.

At Sommarro, you go at the next available opening. You can choose your course based on your schedule. Don't have time for 18? Play 9 or the executive course or bang balls on the driving range. Sommarro's concept is based on the idea that everyone should be able to play golf when and how they want. Not quite the way it's normally done in Sweden.

Did You Know?

Sommarro Golf Club is built on the former land of the Karlstad Airport. After the airport moved further away from the city, the property was planned to be either a Jack Nicklaus designed golf course, a housing tract or a business park.

None of those plans came to fruition and the land lay empty for years. The tarmacs still remain and this is the only golf course in Sweden that has an airport control tower on top of its clubhouse, the former airport terminal.

Ironically, one of the owners has a vacation house in South Africa, near the town of George. George is famous for its links styled golf course, designed by hall of fame golfer Gary Player, on land that was a former airport.

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Särö GC

The club is located south of Gothenburg on the Särö peninsula and is famous for its golf and tennis history. The Särö Golf Club's history began in 1899 when James Keiller, of Lysholmen, built five holes.

A freak storm flooded Lysholmen and the salt water ruined the course. Golf play was shut down after the salt-water damage and the club donated its assets to help establish Göteborgs Golfklubb.

Särö Golf Club is now a par three golf course, but don't let the shorter yardage fool you. The greens were brought up to USGA standards in 2006, and are some of the best putting surfaces in Sweden. Every year Särö hosts the 36-hole Short Club Championship, where professionals come to fire at the pin. This is a fun, yet challenging “little” golf course, perfect for a summer evening.

Did You Know?

That Särö Golf club was redesigned in 2006 from plans derived from the 2005 Tiger Woods video game. The pro at the time found that in the game, you could design a golf course that the virtual Tiger would play.

When he had finished his design, the 2,000,000 SEK renovation design was presented to the club's board of directors by having them watch Tiger Woods play their new golf course. You can now play a golf course that Tiger Woods “virtually” designed.

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Ullna GC

In the early 1960s, Swedish hockey legend Sven Tumba was invited to a promotional golf contest. Tumba, a hero to sports-loving Swedes, had never played golf in his life. The promotion called for celebrities to play a par 3 golf hole. Tumba, swinging a club for the first time, parred the hole and started his lifelong love affair with golf.

You could say that Tumba's swing took Swedish golf from being a “posh sport” for the elite class to its current status, where almost 600,000 Swedes play golf. Tumba, a born entrepreneur, decided that the Stockholm area needed a premier golf course that would be picturesque for its members and demanding enough for professional competitions.

With no formal training, Tumba, amazingly, designed and built a golf course on the shores of Lake Ullna that continues to be one of Sweden's best golf locations and challenges.

Did You Know?

The SAS Invitational played at Ullna had Tiger Woods as Captain of the International Team in 1998-2001. In 2004, The HP Open was played at Ullna and the winner was Annika Sörenstam.

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Öresunds GK

Back in the States, this course would be called a public or municipal golf course. Not nearly as famous as Barsebäck, its neighbor next door, I include it for exactly that reason. This is a friendly course for average players. Not so long in yardage, there is a wee bit of water that demands some thought before your shot.

It has a signature hole that is worth a stop on your way to or from Malmö. The par three 4th is an exact replica of the famous island hole at the TPC at Sawgrass in Florida. It's either on the green or wet: there is no in-between. Öresunds is a model place to enjoy a round of golf as it is challenging enough to be interesting and easy enough to enjoy the game as well as your fellow players' company.

Did You Know?

For me, it's hard to believe that there is that much demand for eel, but the clubhouse at Öresund was at one time an indoor eel farm. The squiggly snake-like fish were raised in huge vats as a commercial enterprise. That is until a rare lightning storm recreated the battle of Thor and the Midgard Serpent. A bolt of lightning struck the building and electrocuted the vats containing the eels. According to townspeople, it took days and a major environmental cleanup to eliminate the (literally) cooked eels.

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PHOTO GALLERY

Gene Oberto is the author of The Swedish Golf Experience, a coffee table book that also features stunning photography by Peter Cordén.

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