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Spotlight on Golf in Sweden: One of the Best Values for an American Tourist

By Henrik Berezin, Contributor

SWEDEN - When most Americans go on golfing vacations, the destinations most commonly traveled to are Myrtle Beach, Palm Beach, Pebble Beach.... your typical "beaches". Some may take the opportunity to go abroad, in which case Great Britain and Ireland are among the most popular.

Not too many would consider Sweden as a possible Destination, but the fact is, in the last few months, Sweden has become one of the best values for an American tourist. The US dollar-Swedish krona exchange rate reached an all time high in June with nearly 11 kroner to a dollar.

By comparison, in the late 1980's, the dollar was only worth a little over 5 kroner. Granted, many goods and services are more expensive in Sweden than in the U.S., but golf has always been a bargain, and as of late with the increasing value of the dollar versus the krona, almost too good to be true for an American traveling over seas.

Basically, every course in Sweden will charge between 20 and 40 dollars for green fees during the golf season, stretching from April to October in most parts of the country. The farther north you travel, the shorter the season gets. It's definitely recommended that you visit the country anytime during June-August to ensure yourself of good golfing weather. In all honesty, the weather in Sweden is not very dependable at any time of the year, but these three summer months with average high temperatures of about 70 degrees, are definitely your best bet.

The good part about green fees in this country is that there is no peak season. The fees will generally be the same whether you play in the middle of July, which is the busiest time for play, or any other time between April and October. A lot of courses don't even have higher rates for weekends and holidays, and those who do, charge only a fraction more. What's more, if you travel with your kids and they're under 22 years of age, they generally only pay half of what the normal rates are.

Ok, so we've established that Sweden has become a good value for an American golf tourist. Many of you might still think that golf in Sweden can't be nearly as good as on the British Isles with their famous British Open courses like St. Andrews, Prestwick, Carnoustie etc. This, of course, is not true.

Sweden may not have as many famous and prestigious tournaments on the European tour as England and Germany, but that's more due to lack of sponsors and big budgets than lack of great courses. Currently there is only one, the Scandinavian Masters, played the first week of August. It rotates between three different courses, out of which Barseback Golf Course in the southern part of Sweden, is by far the best.

The tournament, which has one of the biggest purses on tour, usually draws a pretty good field despite being held the week before a major, the USPGA championship, which the top Europeans prioritize.

Sweden will never host a major championship and never get Tiger Woods to play here in a tour event since no budget will ever allow the two million dollar appearance fee that, for example, Deutsche Bank in Germany provided. However, the world's number one was actually here a few years ago and played in an invitational tournament with a few other Americans in a match against the top Scandinavian pros. It was sponsored by SAS (Scandinavian Airline) and played on Ullna Golf Course outside Stockholm. Nobody really cares to remember how the match ended, but I think Jesper Parnevik beat Tiger in an individual match. Not that it matters. It was an exhibition, just for show, but if it helped by putting Sweden on the golf map it was a win-win situation.

While Barseback Golf Course is the best in the Scandinavian Masters rotation and well worth a visit, it is still not the best Sweden has to offer. The number one course in the country is located on the West Coast about an hour south of Gothenburg, just outside the city of Halmstad, in the village of Tylosand. Halmstad Golf Klubb, established in 1930, has two great courses, the first one built in 1938. Prior to 1938, a temporary course was used for play while the new one was under construction.

In 1967 an additional nine holes were built. These nine, in conjunction with the back nine of the original 18, would make up what is now known as the North Course. In 1975 another nine holes were completed and joined by the front nine of the original course from 1938, and now constitute what is known as the South Course.... Still following?

The North course is an old style traditional course right near the ocean among high pine trees lining each fairway and big undulating greens. It is not only the best course in the country but also the best conditioned and one of the most challenging. The course's proximity to the ocean makes for a great turf that drains easily and thus provides excellent playing conditions even during the rainy seasons, like early spring and late fall. Unfortunately, a big event like the Scandinavian Masters will probably never be held here due to the lack of space for spectators on the course. Parking could also become somewhat of a problem.

While the North Course is mostly what makes Halmstad worth a visit, playing The South course is certainly not a bad way to spend an afternoon. It's a par 72 but plays much shorter, a lot of fun to play and also in terrific condition.

"Most members actually prefer the South Course", says Henrik Staff, the Head Pro at Halmstad. "While shorter, It demands a little bit more accuracy especially off the tee and a little bit more strategic thinking."

Both courses are, for obvious reasons, very popular in Sweden and have a tremendous amount of play, especially in the summertime. To use an example, in July of last year, Halmstad G.K. accumulated nearly 150,000 dollars for green fees. This, despite some restrictions on guest play, a policy that varies from year to year. I strongly recommended calling at least a week in advance if you wish to get a tee time in the busy summer months. Late summer and early fall is the time I would most recommend paying Sweden a visit. The weather is still nice and the courses much more accessible.

Finding a place to stay while visiting Halmstad is easy. There are plenty of hotels in the area, especially downtown. But if you want the maximum experience out of your visit, you should try to get a room at Hotel Tylosand, located right on the ocean just a few hundred yards from the courses. A single room costs 100-130 dollars and a double room 120-160 dollars. The differences in prices depend on the location of the rooms in the hotel. The hotel features a fitness room and spa to relax sore muscles after a round of golf.

There are plenty of things to do besides play golf in this area, and in case you crave even more golf, plenty of other courses. While not quite as good as Halmstad (it's hard to beat number 1) there is especially one that is worth a visit. Varberg Golf Klubb is about half an hour north, right in between Halmstad and Gothenburg off highway E6. It features 36 holes and one of them, the West Course, is as challenging as you will find.

Barseback G.C. can also be found along the highway E6 about one and a half-hours south of Halmstad. This is another great 36-hole club, with one of its courses ranked by many as the second best course in Sweden.

When you get too fed up with playing and just want to relax, the beach, which is located just below Hotel Tylosand, is, weather permitting, a popular choice. If you find the ocean too cold to swim in, there's always the heated indoor pool at the hotel.

Halmstad Golf Klubb
302 73 Halmstad
Phone: 035-176800 (if calling from the U.S.:
Web: www.hgk.se

Green fees: North Course: 45 dollars
South Course: 30 dollars

How to get there: From highway E6 take exit "Halmstad" and follow signs to Tylosand. After about 6 miles, take left at sign "golfbana". Keep following signs for golfbana (means golf course in Swedish).

Hotel Tylosand
Box 643
301 16 Halmstad
Phone: 035-30500 (from U.S. 01146-35-30500)
Web: www.tylosand.se

Henrik Berezin, Contributor

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