Golfing brothers Andrew & Paul Marshall visit Scandinavia's oldest capital for a four-day sight-seeing golf break...
When it comes to golf travel, there's a growing trend towards golf trips to capital cities and enjoying the off-course attractions and activities on offer before or after a round. And as an added bonus, many of a country's best courses are situated within close proximity of the capital. For those golfers looking for a golf break away from the tried and tested haunts, then the relatively new and undiscovered golf destination of Norway, and in particular its capital Oslo, is well worth considering.
“Norway has around 175 golf courses and around 35 are within an hour's drive of Oslo,” says Tom Gundersen, Head of Communication of the Norwegian Golf Federation. “An average green fee is about 50 euros (400 Norwegian Krone) but most courses have different prices depending on when you play. A couple of tips; pack your handicap card if you have one and be sure to book tee times in advance by sending an email or calling the club.”
Adding to the appeal of a Norwegian golf trip is beautiful Oslo itself which was founded in 1049 by Harald Hardråda, making it the oldest Scandinavian capital. With its many historical and cultural sites, world-class museums and galleries, a cosmopolitan ambiance, cutting-edge city style plus affordable flights from Europe, it's an excellent destination for a mini golf break, particularly during the warmer, longer days of early May to late September.
It's a sunny morning in early August and we get our four-day Oslo golf break underway by driving to Miklagard Golf, only 10 minutes from Gardermoen International Airport. From the welcoming clubhouse (constructed of dense beams of dark timber and featuring a grassed roof in traditional Viking style), to the superb practice facilities, well-stocked pro shop and lovely views from the terrace, it's easy to see why this is one of Norway's premier courses.
“Our intention with Miklagard was to create the first Championship course in Norway, capable of hosting tournaments. So we drafted in Robert Trent Jones Jnr. to design it, which all came about, believe it or not, because Tore Harald Mjøen, who wanted to build the country's first championship course, rescued Trent Jones from drowning while on vacation in Hawaii in 1997,” says General Manager Tore Waagø, as we enjoy some coffee before our round. “It's a big, brash course that we can lengthen to over 7,000 metres, so it's good for European Tour events like the Norwegian Challenge that begins tomorrow. “
Whereas most courses in Norway are forest layouts, Miklagard bucks the trend. Its open parkland-style design is laid out on hilly terrain within a lovely farming landscape where lush green fairways contrast with waving grasses, burnished yellow by the northern summer sun. Miklagard's Viking theme continues with each hole named after Norse monarchs and deities, and the course derives its name from the moniker given by the Vikings to present-day Istanbul, where Europe and Asia meet.
Paul and I are lucky enough to tee-off in the pro-am, the day before the main Norwegian Challenge event, and we can only raise our putters in admiration, as we watch tour pros such as Johan Edfors, Richard McEvoy and eventual winner Benjamin Hebert (with a total of -15), play from the back tees and handle the elevation changes, water hazards and fast, multi-tiered greens with aplomb. Where we are happy to achieve a green in regulation, the pros regularly hit their shots to precise areas to give themselves the best chance of holing putts.
After our opening round at Miklagard, we check in for two nights at the Thon Hotel Opera conveniently located in the heart of Oslo next to the central train station. The hotel offers great views of Oslo Fjord and the magnificent new Opera House (be sure to include a walk up onto the roof), and is the perfect base for shopping, restaurants, bars and sight seeing. Some of best attractions include the Royal Palace, Akershus Slott (a medieval castle dating from 1300AD), Nobel Peace Centre, Norsk Museum of Cultural History, Munch Museum and the National Gallery, home to more of Edvard Munch's best-known works, including The Scream.
If you have time, take the short ferry trip from Radhusbrygge Quay to the Bygdøy Peninsula and visit the Polar Ship Fram Museum and the magnificent Viking Ship Museum whose exhibits include the 24-metre long Gokstad, the world's finest example of a longship. To sample local cuisine (such as wild salmon, reindeer, mussels, Arctic char, Lofoten lamb or Akerselva trout) head to the Grand Café or Englebert Café (Norway's oldest restaurant), both places oozing with ambiance, history and tradition.
“Welcome to Oslo Golf Club,” says Head Professional Stephen Newey, as we enter the pro-shop at Norway's oldest course, beautifully situated around the alpine waters of Lake Bogstad, only 8 km north-west of the city centre. Stephen is an Englishman from Sheffield who has worked at the club for longer than he can remember. He's a bit of a character and before we tee off, he entertains us with some of his stories, especially the time he had his photo taken with Seve Ballesteros which he proudly shows us.
“The first golf shots at Oslo Golf Club were hit one autumn day in 1924 and except for the 2nd World War period, when people grew potatoes and other vegetables on the course, golf has been played here ever since,” says Niels Vik, the General Manager. “After many years of wear and tear the golf course was worn down, and between 2007-2009, it was totally revamped by American designer Steve Forrest, including the construction of greens, tees, fairways and state-of-the-art drainage systems according to USGA specifications.”
The result is a championship quality par-71 design of 6340 metres, that along with Miklagard, vies for Norway's top golf spot. It's a thoroughly enjoyable test featuring many elevation changes with water coming into play on several holes, particularly the signature stretch from thirteen to sixteen close to the lake. The course is a regular venue for the Norwegian Masters, a Ladies European Tour event, and plans are currently in place to launch a bid to host the biennial Solheim Cup in 2019, which can only be helped by the club's most famous member - LPGA tour player Suzann Pettersen.
After lunch on our return journey to Oslo, we visit one of Norway's top tourist attractions. The Holmenkollen National Arena is a skiing and biathlon venue that host World Cup Nordic skiing events every winter. The centrepiece is the impressive Holmenkollbaken ski jump and from the viewing deck you can enjoy 360 degree panoramic views of the city, fjord and hinterland. Underneath the ski jump is the world's oldest ski museum (with 4,000 years of skiing history on display) and a ski simulator with a totally unique and realistic feel.
In the evening we meet Stine L.Borgersen, General Manager of Akevittruten (The Norwegian Aquavit Trail), that offers tailor-made excursions to old distilleries to learn the secrets behind the making of Norway's national dram – Aquavit. On a tour at the Arcus distillery on the outskirts of Oslo, we learn that Aquavit was originally used as a medicine and the spirit was said to cure all diseases and be an elixir or life.
The following morning it doesn’t take us long to leave Oslo behind and enter the countryside, where Norwegian homes with their distinctive mustard, red and summer green facades contrast vividly against the ubiquitous conifer and birch woodlands, farmland and rocky outcrops. We head north along the shores of Lake Mjøsa (Norway’s largest lake) to play Atlungstad Golf Club, situated a few kilometres south of Hamar town.
Atlungstad is a lovely mix of forest style holes on the front nine and parkland style holes on the back nine with Lake Mjøsa always in view. There are several memorable holes but a special mention must go to the closing trio near the lake shore. The picturesque par-3 16th is guarded by a lone, twisted fir tree in front of the lake side green and the signature 17th is a classic par-4 that requires a risk or reward tee shot across a corner of the lake to reach the fairway. On the par-5 18th, local knowledge suggests using the Atlungstad Brenneri (Norway's only historical aquavit distillery where guided tours are available), just beyond the clubhouse as a marker for your second shot, to leave a short iron third over water to the flag.
After a cold refreshing beer at Atlungstad's 19th hole, we drive to our home for the night at nearby Staur Gård, an historic farmstead/guest house situated within a gently rolling arable landscape of wheat fields and mature trees by the banks of Lake Mjøsa. A poplar-lined pathway leads through the geometric designed garden with seats for contemplation, and down to the lake where you can take a swim. Staur Gård has one of the most tranquil atmospheres imaginable, and the only sounds to be heard are buzzing insects and the calls of swifts and swallows on the wing.
In the late afternoon we drive back to Hamar and board the beautiful DS Skibladner for a boat trip across Lake Mjøsa. Skibladner has been carrying passengers across the lake since 1856 and is today the world's oldest paddle steamer still providing this type of service. An impeccably dressed head waiter greets us and shows us to the vessel's unique interior with its plush mahogany, brass ceiling lights and gilded mirrors, reminiscent of a bygone age when gentlemen arrived in top hats and ladies came dressed in layers of skirts.
Back at Staur Gård, we enjoy a gorgeous evening meal starting with smoked trout with rocket salad and horseradish sauce, a main course of tender beef loin (from the farm), baked onions and asparagus with potato cake, and for dessert it's a deliciously soft chocolate pudding with ice cream and strawberries made from a time-honoured recipe by a local lady called Marit. To round off our meal we head outside to the veranda to enjoy some Aquavit and chat about the day's events.
On our last day we journey back south to Losby Golf & Country Club (Losby Gods) situated in gorgeous wooded countryside about 20 km from Oslo and 44 km from Gardermoen International Airport. Dedicated mainly to the timber trade, Losby Gods' history as a large estate originates in the mid-19th century, when the present manor house was built and the estate earned a reputation for its generous hospitality, attracting royalty and landed gentry for hunts and parties. Maintaining the estate's hospitality tradition, today Losby Gods is one of the country's premier golf resorts and proud member of 'The Historic Hotels of Norway.'
Losby's star attraction is the Østmork 18-hole championship course designed by reputed Swedish golf architect Peter Nordwall. The challenging layout is routed around both sides of the meandering Losbyelven River which runs through the valley and comes into play on several holes especially on the back nine. A few of our favourites include the par-4 4th, where the second shot is played though a rocky ravine to a large amphitheatre green surrounded on all sides by steep forested slopes, and the tenth is a terrific long par-3 played from an elevated tee with water protecting the green.
More water comes into play on the par-4 12th and 15th holes which both require strategic tee shots to fairways surrounded on both sides by water with second shots over more water to the greens. A true recognition of Losby's quality is the fact it hosted the 2007 SAS Masters, an event on the European LPGA tour won by Suzann Pettersen. Losby also features the fun, pay-and-play 9-hole Vestmork course with par-3 and par-4 holes, a 72-bay floodlit range, golf academy, an excellent pro shop, two putting greens, a short game area and golf simulators. All in all it's a worthy addition to any Oslo golf break. Have fun and take plenty of balls...
Where To Stay
Thon Hotel Opera: www.thonhotels.com/hotels/countrys/norway/oslo/thon-hotel-opera/
Staur Gård: www.staur.no
Losby Golf & Country Club (Losby Gods): www.losbygods.no
Where To Play
Miklagard Golf: www.miklagardgolf.no
Oslo Golfklubb: www.oslogk.no
Atlungstad Golf: www.atlungstadgolf.com
Losby Golfklubb: www.losby.no
The Norwegian Aquavit Trail (Akevittruten): www.akevittruten.no
Atlungstad Brenneri: www.atlungstadbrenneri.no
Boat Trips DS Skibladner for a boat trip across Lake Mjøsa. Sailing across are from late June to mid-August Check the website for details. www.skibladner.no
Oslo Pass The Oslo Pass offers offers free admission to more than 30 museums and attractions in addition to free public transport (bus,train,metro and ferryboat) and free parking in municipal car parks. Cards are valid for 24, 48 and 72-hour periods and can be purchased at Tourist Information Offices and most hotels.
Further Information: www.visitoslo.com