Since the first Swedish golf club, Gothenburg, was founded in 1902 and quickly followed two years later by Stockholms Golf Klub, the popularity of the sport has grown dramatically. During the 1990’s, the emergence of homegrown talent such as Annika Sorenstam and Jesper Parnevik with his upturned baseball cap, skin-tight Johan Lindeberg trousers and a penchant for eating volcanic dust, really started to raise the profile of Swedish golf. In recent years, players such as Johan Edfors, Niclas Fasth, Fredrik Jacobson, Robert Karlsson, and sunglass-loving Henrik Stenson have continued to raise Swedish golf awareness.
Although plenty of Swedish pros play every week on the PGA and European tours, Sweden is often curiously overlooked as a golfing destination. The season may be short (generally around April to October) but few countries can boast the variety of golfing experiences on offer here. During summer, night owls can tee off at midnight in northern Sweden with most golf courses open round the clock during June and July. Elsewhere in the country teeing off at 7pm and squeezing in 18 holes before dusk is no problem, weather permitting.
A Game For All Ages.
Here, golf is a passion and it’s difficult to meet a Swede that doesn’t play game. With a population of about nine million people, around six percent play the game, the highest percentage in the world. Even more remarkable is that about a third of this figure are female. This is partly due to Svenska Golfförbundet (the Swedish Golf Federation), which has established a number of innovative programs to recruit and assist young players. One of them is ‘Girls & Golf’, aimed at drumming up interest among 7- to 18-year-olds by creating a social atmosphere in which to play and placing less emphasis on competitiveness.
There are also programs for boys, but there is a difference, as the Swedes realise that boys approach the sport differently and it’s important to have special conditions for both genders. In Sweden, as in other countries, golf has undergone a transformation from elitist “country club” game to something for the whole family. Almost without exception, any member of a recognised golf organisation can play at any course in Sweden although there may be local handicap restrictions. Visitors from abroad are warmly received.
Golf in the capital
Sweden has around 480 golf courses with at least 50 of these (which is more than most cities in the world) within an hour’s drive of Stockholm. What’s more, the courses are of a consistently high quality with good value green fees compared to much of Europe. Average green fees are between: SEK 300- 450 (approximately £25 - £35)
Travelling to the golf courses is all part of the Scandinavian golf experience and it doesn’t take you long to leave the capital behind and enter the countryside, where Swedish homes with their distinctive yellow, musk and red facades contrast vividly against the ubiquitous conifer and birch woodlands, farmland and rocky outcrops.
A nice bonus is that traffic is thin on the ground (especially outside of peak working hours), and road directions and golf courses are well signposted with typical Swedish efficiency. Three tips - pack your handicap card if you have one, book tee times in advance and allow plenty of time to get to the course.
Adding to the appeal of a Swedish golf trip is beautiful Stockholm itself. In recent years, “The city that floats on water” has become one of Europe’s liveliest and most varied cities for nightlife, eating and drinking with plenty of classic restaurants, cool bars and groovy cafés.
WHERE TO PLAY (10 of the Best Courses)
Ullna Golf Club: One of the top-rated courses in the Stockholm area, Ullna is situated by the side of beautiful Lake Ullnasjon, with water coming into play in some form on just about every hole. A standout hole is the par-3 third played to a green surrounded by water. www.ullnagolf.se
Haninge Golf Klubb: A highly-regarded course among Stockholm’s golfers, Haninge has a panoramic setting with the 15th century castle - Årsta Slott, an imposing clubhouse where you can enjoy an exclusive lunch or dinner. The first 18-holes are a combination of parkland and forest while the last 9-holes are pure parkland. www.haningegk.se
Täby Golf Klubb: Top-quality woodland/lakeside layout and home course of Jesper Parnevik (club champion in 1982). Picturesque Lake Vallentunasjon is a constant companion on the back nine, with holes 14 to 17 playing right alongside the lake. www.tabygk.se
Kallfors Golf Club: Open woodland layout with large undulating greens. To score well here, you need to carefully negotiate the early Amen Corner through holes 4, 5, 6 (index 5,1 and 3). www.kallfors.com
Botkyrka Golfklubb: A course with a woodland character that typifies the good quality/value (approx 400 SEK for 18 holes) that’s available a short drive from Stockholm. www.botkyrkagk.se
Bro Hof Slott Golf Club: From the moment you drive through the gates of Bro Hof Slott (about a 40-minute drive from Stockholm) and glimpse the white hilltop castle, manicured fairways and glistening Lake Mälaren you know you are at a special course. “Everything is big at Bro Hof. The holes are longer, the greens are bigger, the course has more water and the bunkers are larger and well placed,” says Robert Trent Jones Jr who designed this superb lakeside layout with state-of-the-art facilities. Only open for play since 2007, Bro Hof Slott's Stadium Course is now a world top 100 golf course and has been host to the Nordea Masters European Tour event .www.brohofslott.se
Vidbynäs Golf Club: Boasts two courses, the South Course and North Course. Each layout takes advantage of natural lakes, mature vegetation, native grasses and rock outcroppings with top quality greens. www.vidbynasgolf.se
Brollsta Golf Klub: Has one of the classic holes in Stockholm golf - the 308-metre Par 4 9th . With water all the way to the green, it’s drivable if you hit it like Dustin Johnson but most people take the shorter safer route to the fairway on the right leaving a tricky chip to the green. www.brollstagolf.se
Kungsängen Golf Club: Has two 18-holers, the Queens Course and Kings Course that feature tree-lined holes with a mix of tight dog-legging par 4’s and 5’s that require skillful course management to score well. www.kungsangengc.se
Waxholms Golfklubb: Only 25 minutes by car from Stockholm centre, this is one of the longest courses in Europe (6,706 metres). Close by is the historic port of Vaxholm where a cluster of pretty homes huddle around a picturesque harbour, with creaky old sailing ships moored in the harbour. www.waxgk.se
Breakfast in Style
Opened in 1874, Stockholm’s Grand Hôtel has a long and fascinating history, and for decades has been everybody’s favourite place to spend the night, from Nobel Prize winners to movie stars. Even if you don’t have a room booked, enjoying a leisurely ‘Breakfast at the Grand’ is something dear to the hearts of both discerning Stockholmers and visitors alike. Inside the elegant and stylish Grand Veranda, the breakfast buffet bulges with an assortment of mouth-watering foods; organic cheeses, fresh juices, exotic fruits, grain-topped rolls, breads and smoked salmon.
Cruise the Archipelago
Stockholm itself is built on 14 islands, at the point where the freshwater Lake Mälaren meets the Baltic Sea. The ferry terminal in front of Stockholm’s Grand Hôtel is a launch pad for boat trips to a galaxy of islands, 24,000 of them scattered across the water for 70kms in the direction of Finland. www.stockholmtown.com
Visit the Vasa Museum
The Royal Warship Vasa lay at the bottom of the sea for well over 300 years after it sank on its maiden voyage in 1628. It was finally discovered and salvaged in the 1960s with virtually all its treasures intact, including sailor's pants, carpenter's tools, and nearly a thousand original wooden sculptures. After a careful restoration process, the ship, now the oldest identified and complete ship in the world is the crowning glory of the Vasa Museum. Along with several exhibitions, there’s a fascinating film of the restoration and a guided tour available. www.vasamuseet.se
Explore the Old Town
Medieval Gamla Stan (the Old Town) is the oldest part of Stockholm and a treasure-trove of Swedish architectural art from the 17th century. Take time to wander the network of picturesque streets, narrow lanes, among squares, historic buildings and churches. The area has Stockholm's biggest ranges of restaurants, bars, tourist shops, studios and museums.
Cocktails With A View
One of the best bars in Stockholm, Gondolen has a setting that stuns even the most jaded of locals. Situated some 33-metres above street level in the centre of the landmark lift structure at Slussen, this glass-walled bar has unparalleled views of the Old Town and Lake Mälaren. With over 150 cocktails on offer, Gondolen is a great place to meet, see and be seen. www.eriks.se
Traditional Swedish Cooking
The historic and atmospheric Den Gyldene Freden (The Golden Peace), is a top-end restaurant right in the heart of Gamla Stan that has been open continuously since 1722, A selection of imaginative modern dishes are blended with traditional Swedish cooking (husmanskost), including such classics as husets sill (assorted herring of the house) and viltkötbular med gräddsås och lingon (meatballs of game with cream sauce and lingon).
www.gyldenefreden.se Ice Cool Drinking
For one of the coolest places in town head for the Ice Bar in the lobby of the Nordic C Hotel. Dressed in the provided clothing of boots, mittens and a warm silver fur-lined poncho you feel like an extra in a Star Wars movie entering a frozen world of –5 degrees Celsius. The entire interior is constructed of ice from the frozen waters of the Torne River in Lapland: walls, bar counter, tables, works of art and even the glasses that the vodkas are served in are made of ice. www.nordicchotel.se/icebar/
Article by Andrew Marshall
Photos by Paul Marshall