Golf and Gastronomy in Sweden
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
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
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?