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Golf and Gastronomy in Sweden
Charles Briscoe-Knight

Getting to Sweden’s second city the day after an English Bank Holiday seemed like it might be a travel nightmare, with airports at the mercy of overload. Nothing could have been further removed from my fears. A scheduled two-hour drive to Fjallbacka on the road to Oslo north of Goteborg (which is the Swedish spelling for Gothenburg) turned out to be only an hour and a half. The Swedish roads are the best I’ve driven on in years: low-traffic levels and smooth surfaces.

Bliss. Pity then, that when we arrived at the harbourside Stora Hotellet, the isobars had tightened and the drizzle, wind and ambient temperature had combined to no good effect. Even so, if ever there was a picture-postcard venue typifying West Sweden, this was it. This fact was soon confirmed by our hosts, who told of Ingrid Bergman’s holiday home on a nearby island.

No time for us to visit there, though. Dinner beckoned at the delightfully rustic dining room beneath our individualistic Roald Amundsen bedroom (all rooms are named after famous sons and daughters of Scandinavia). As we were in a fishing town, fish was served, accompanied by horseradish shavings (camouflaged to look like rice) that caused a near-nuclear explosion in my head.

So close is the course at FJALLBACKA to the Norwegian border, and so keen are those natives on the game, that they invade the closest club to their country in droves. I saw at first-hand on the first tee why it is said that their golf market is ready to explode. Hordes of them were waiting to tee off behind us, and some wanted to start early. However, off we went down a bland opening hole that belied the later ones.

With a linksy/riverside feel to it, and a super-teasing layout played through pre- Cambrian granite terrain, this was a charming venue. You have to pay attention with your second shot at the 7th, with water left and long, and if you’ve ever played Ireland’s 2006 Ryder Cup venue, the K Club, you’ll have a fit of déja vu on the 14th, where the river runs all the way down the left and the green is perilously close to it as well.

One joy of this part of the world is that when people tell you it takes 40 minutes to get somewhere, it’s usually a conservative estimate. Thanks to some magical navigation by my partner, we ended up next in Lyckorna, near Ljungskile, about 40 miles from

Goteborg, some 10 minutes early. The elite of Goteborg business and society have built their summer retreats here, alongside the Hake Fjord inlet. The village is a haven away from the bustle of city life. With its hilly parkland golf course that tests all levels of player, the area is a joy to behold on a late summer evening.

Not wishing to check in too soon at our new digs, the Villa Sjotorp, the sight of an exquisite little shortgame practice area was very appealing as a means of improving that department of my game. With the sun dropping below the horizon, though, it was eventually time to check in. Imagine my surprise when, turning into its approach road, we saw a bunch of Harley Davidsons heading the same way – all towards my hotel. They turned out to be a contingent from the French Harley Davidson club, celebrating the manufacturers centenary in Sweden rather than in Milwaukee. Very nice, but so noisy.

Dinner had been much vaunted by the brochures. Gourmet dining comes in many styles, but I quite like those places where options are taken away from you and the Chef’s Choice it is. So if you’re faddish or a vegetarian, perhaps this is not the place for you, because here we had just that. Perfection. Five stars from this hack.

After arranging a late check-out and consuming a standard Swedish breakfast of cheese, jam, yoghurt, hams and eggs, we arrived at the LYCKORNA course ready to do battle. Four at the first and standing on the 2nd tee feeling grand in the silvery morning light, I thought this could be my day. Wallop, bosh and there’s the thing in the ditch on the right. Wallop, bosh and there it is in a pond. Bosh, wallop and there it is over the back.

As we progressed things did get better and several holes inspired the competitive juices, notably the 449-yard par-four 7th, with its high tee overlooking what seemed like the whole course. We got on the road and, again thanks to some judicious map-reading, we found our way to Bjertorp Slott (“slott” means castle), an impressive pile of granite in farmland next to the Vara-Bjertorp Golf Club – near Vara, east of Trollhattan, if that helps at all.

To say I was alarmed on entering the theatrically styled reception area is perhaps too strong, but to be greeted by a stuffed Russian Bear proffering the guest register was to say the least a bit different. However, the palatial nature of our new accommodation was plain to see and it was matched by the cuisine. Again there was no choice and this superb meal was rounded off by hot chocolate cherry cake with pistachio and apple custard.

The practice I’d had at Lyckorna paid off here, as my swing got nicely on plane and I hit the flagstick from the tee on two of the par-threes and made two very tasty birdies. VARA-BJERTOP is a shot-maker’s course (I would say that now, wouldn’t I?) and a lovely experience. Flat for the feet, with greens to flatter the putter, it’s otherwise no pushover at 6,969 yards.

Thorskogs Slott is much publicised as a fairy-tale castle, but to this eye it’s more a Swedish version of a French chateau. Built in 1898 off a minor road about 25 miles north of Goteborg, trying to find it is a game that the owner relishes. His desire to be exclusive and to have no passing trade keeps the castle quiet. While conferences and weddings are popular here, mere mortal guests, like us golfers, are well catered for, too. A short par-three course in the grounds provides handy practice, with archery, boules, fishing, claypigeon shooting and a sauna in the hilly area above the castle.

The local golf course, Lysegardens, is five minutes down the road. To say the inside of the slott is refined is to understate the historic and antique nature of the main decor. Wonderful gilded furniture and paintings adorn the rooms. Regulars at the Tate and Christie’s would be well at home. A roam around the lower areas reveals a substantial appeal to the lovers of the good life: cosy smoking rooms, dungeon bars, snooker and darts, a TV/video lounge and a dining/wine-tasting room. Across the lake, beyond the resident Peking ducks, a stunning banqueting hall awaits the movieindustry location hunters!. “Fine Dining” is an expression much used across the Atlantic and it’s certainly to be found in this location.

Talking with the proprietor, Tommy Jonsson, we heard and saw plans to build a 9-hole course around the property and expand it to 18 holes soon after they buy the farm across the road. Excellent news. This is a place I could stay at for quite a while.

At LYSEGARDENS, we were told we were at Niclas Fasth’s home club. A reaction promptly set in...we started playing slowly. Mind you, when they later talked of Carin Koch’s attachment here, my pace quickened substantially.

With a terrific practice ground (it was gladdening to see the volume of youngsters out there, compared to the UK) and a second 9-hole course, this venue was very attractive. But a word of warning for those of you with a dicky heart. Take your time walking up the hill from the 9th green to the 10th tee and also up the 18th fairway. The 16th at Coombe Hill is notoriously bad enough but this is a nightmare.

Driving in Goteborg is pretty easy, but as in Amsterdam, trams abound and you have to keep your wits about you. Hitting a 30-ton piece of transport is a definite no-no. What it does show, though, is that a good tram service with little waiting between arrivals makes for a less congested city.

It was on to our last night, at the Gothia Towers Hotel. This was, if anything, a let-down by the standards we’d grown accustomed to on previous days. A glitzy modern hotel it surely is, but being right on top of the city’s convention centre and conference halls, I was just waiting to see a delegation from Volvo or the UN, or maybe an appearance by the new Abba. If you’re into football, IFK Goteborg’s ground is just around the corner and Liseberg Amusement Park, Sweden’s largest tourist attraction (three million visitors a year) is bang opposite. All was rendered wonderful again after a stroll and dinner on The Avenue – Goteborg’s famous equivalent of Barcelona’s Ramblas. This must be the cleanest city I have visited. The people seem to take a real pride in their civic duties and have great respect for their surroundings. And come to think of it, I didn’t even see a tee-peg lying anywhere, waiting to be chewed up by the greenkeeper’s mower.

One last round was arranged for us to at OIJARES GOLF CLUB, a splendid but isolated club about 30 minutes drive out of town towards Stockholm. We were to play with the club’s vice-president, Christer Torner. We nearly missed the clubhouse on our arrival because it’s been constructed underground – very environmentally, if not directionally, friendly. It was here that Europe’s recently victorious Solheim Cup captain, Catrin Nilsmark, grew up and developed her game. Unusually, two clubs run their affairs and competitions (on separate courses) out of the same clubhouse. Within the one complex there are there courses and a 9-hole practice course. Not surprisingly, this is the biggest golf development in Sweden.

A trip to the western region of Sweden climaxed with a frustratingly slow drive to the airport behind an old Saab on a road where I wished I’d had a Porsche. But my overall impressions of the place? Tranquillity. Friendliness. Cleanliness. And with all that beautiful food, how do those Swedes stay so slim?

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