One For The Ages

Just a few miles away from Royal Troon, on October 17, 1860, eight professionals assembled at Prestwick for a tournament to determine who would be the Champion golfer.  The competitors played three rounds on the then 12-hole links, with Willie Park Sr beating Old Tom Morris by two shots. A year later, Prestwick announced that the tournament “shall be open to all the world.”

imagesWith all the world watching, with all the pre-tournament noise, the 146th British Open came down to two men. The rest of the field played this Open like a weekend gathering of golfers that you and I would enjoy.

Just a few miles from Prestwick, where the Open’s time began, two golfers played four rounds of golf for the Ages. One golfer stood on the 18th fairway of Royal Troon, six under par for his day, and was two strokes behind his fellow competitor.

The golf course, the weather and Phil Mickelson threw everything they had at the winner from Sweden, Henrik Stenson. He didn’t just overcame those deterrents, he dominated them, playing better and better each day. On Sunday’s final round, normally a knee knocking, nerve rattling day for anyone in contention, Henrik Stenson fired 1o birdies at the Royal Troon links.
In 2002, Henrik Stenson ranked 336th in the golf world. As late as 2011, Stenson was ranked #211. Watching Stenson play was not a matter of if he would melt down but when. That same year, Stenson had not qualified to play in the PGA Championship, so he opted to play for his club championship at Sweden’s Barseback Golf Club. He lost, finishing second to Henrik Hilford Brander.
2011 is just five years ago, but it is light years away from the man who raised the claret jug this day. How good was Henrik? Let the man who battled him for four days explain. Tell us Phil:

“I thought we played pretty good golf. I hit a lot of good shots and Henrik made 10 birdies. He and I have been friends for quite some time and I really like and respect him. I’m really happy for him, as much as I’m disappointed with the outcome. He’s a class act and he played phenomenal. He hit the ball so solid yesterday and today especially. What a great champion. He just played some incredible golf. I threw as much at him as I could and he didn’t make any mistakes. Just incredible play. What a great champion he is.”

Not only has the weight of not winning a major been lifted off of Stenson’s back but that weight is off the country of Sweden, as well. Sweden delivered major winners in woman’s golf but, until today, never a man.

In one round of golf, Swedish golf is now, itself, a major.

 

 


Creating Value for Your Members

Unknown

Johan Hinton, Hintons Golf AB photo thanks to golf.se

images-1Unknown-1When Swedish sports star Sven Tumba picked up a golf club in the mid-60s, golf in Sweden took off like a Saturn rocket with boosters. Almost overnight, golf in Sweden went from a dalliance of the posh to a sport for the middle class.

Golf became so popular that over 500 golf clubs were started and golf players grew to almost 600,000 in four decades. The sport was so in demand that there were waiting lists for membership at many clubs. As club members became share holders in the club, like in any bull market share (membership) prices went through the roof.

Around 2005, golf in Sweden had something happen that never happened before. The Golf Federation of Sweden saw membership and rounds of golf drop for the first time since the Tumba effect. Forty years of meteoric growth came to a screeching halt.

A variety of reasons were given and still are given ten years later: too expensive, too long to play, too hard to learn and the explosion of internet and video games sabatoged people from playing golf. There were panels, discussion groups and consultants discussing the problem, but no solution has been found. Sweden finally was part of the world wide problem of fewer golfers playing.

Golf clubs in Sweden, for years insulated from this global slowdown, now saw themselves in a dilemma. While costs of operations grew, income from membership fees and daily green fees was shrinking. Many clubs opted to get out of the membership share holding formula and looked for other ways to increase income. One common way was to cut back on costs, including course upkeep.

Another idea was to offer low membership fees that gave golfers their necessary SGF membership. These “mail order” clubs increased membership (some to a couple of thousand ) to raise the golf club’s gross.

Around 2010, if my memory serves me, there began loose associations of local golf courses uniting to offer members of one club the opportunity to play at another for a limited amount of rounds. Then, club packaging began where, under one membership fee, you had membership privliges at the sister clubs involved.

In 2014, a group was formed in Stockholm that took the multiple golf course membership to a new level. Calling itself, Unipeg (“peg”is Swedish for tee) the company has a vertical marketing plan. The plan is that a Unipeg member would be able to, for instance, purchase clothing and equipment, book golfing trips, or lessons within Unipeg. To make this plan work they needed members so they began to take over operations of golf courses in the Stockholm area at a furious rate. This rapid growth gave Unipeg over 22 000 active members and players. In addition to games on 17 courses in the Stockholm area.

At about the same time, the Kalfors GK, a very successful family run golf operation in the area just south of Stockholm, had a slightly different approach. Because of their success, Kalfors needed more golf holes to meet the increasing demand. In a mutual decision, there was a merger between the two clubs, forming the group, Golf South STHLM. Members from each separate club are now members of this new union, giving the players 72 golf holes to play. The bonus is that these golf courses are the #1 & 2 golf courses rated for the area.

Last month, another family operator, the Rönnebäck Golf Club, acquired the floundering Malmö City golf club. They will operate under the banner of Hintons Golf AB.

Well, how has this trend worked for these organizations? We asked Pelle Sättare, CEO of Golf South STHLM and Johan Hinton of Hinton Golf about that.

Golf South, in acquiring Vidbynäs GK, helped a successful company get better. Golf South was quick to point out that there would be no acquisitions after Vidbynäs as the Unipeg model was not what they are after. Sättare explains, “Golf South Stockholm is the result of a vision that created southern Stockholm’s best and most affordable golf experience. We decided to allow our members access to all that Kallfors and Vidbynäs offer, all for a single membership fee. We now offer 72 holes on the region’s two highest ranked courses, Vidbynäs South Course (#1) and Kallfors 18-hole course (#2).”

So, how’s that working out for you? “Very well,” said Pelle. ” Membership increased by a net 25%. Rounds played went up by 32%. While income from daily fees remained fairly flat, membership rounds played was increased.” The operation side of the golf courses was merged under the Golf South umbrella but, for the time being, maintenance is being handled by the individual golf courses.

Johan Hinton, from Hintons AB just made the merger with Malmö City, so we asked him what was his reasoning for making the move? “It started this past March. We contacted Malmö City and they were open to the idea. It wasn’t long before the deal was made.”

So, are you aiming to become the Unipeg of the Malmö area? “That’s my goal,” said Johan, “It just made a better economic picture for both clubs, members and golfers of the area.”

Hinton continued, “We feel we can now offer a better product at Malmö and Ronneback. A better product means more golfers and more golfers means an increase in capital. Is it a risk? Sure, but it’s one that makes sense to me.”

Hintons Golf will now offer three courses for one membership fee. In the immediate works are to improve the clubhouse, parking lot and driving range at Malmö City. “By doing this, it will have a positive effect on Malmö’s members. All our members now get more golf for their money.” Hintons Golf AB oversees the management of both clubs, while each club still supports its own men and women players clubs.

As for Unipeg, after a whirlwind pre-season, they’ve been quietly instituting and ironing out the mechanics of getting 17 different clubs on the same page. They closed the downtown retail store for the summer. However, on September 3, 2015, they are hosting a day long event with golf for their business and supplier friends. I can only guess, but I would think there will be some important information about their direction coming out of that gathering.


Christian Lundin – Turning Dreams Into Golf Courses

Players designing golf courses started from the game’s earliest years. I mean, who else would have taken land only fit for sheep and turn it into a golf course? Only people who loved the game, like Christian Lundin, golf course designer.

Christian Lundin picture thanks to golf.seWhen Bobby Jones gave his thoughts to Allistir MacKenzie could be the beginning of the player/course designer relationship. Later, Jack, Arnie and Gary started their own golf design companies, riding on the name recognition of their playing accomplishments. All of those icons hired designers to execute their ideas.

It’s now commonplace for professional players to translate their playing experiences into golf courses. While the trophies gather dust on the shelves, to design a golf facility that people will enjoy for decades is very appealing. Faldo, Seve, Sorenstam and Woods all have designs in place around the world.

The latest player to enter this enterprise is the Swedish professional , Henrik Stenson. Following in the footsteps of fellow Swede and Ryder Cup player, Pierre Fulke, Stenson wants to design golf courses highlighting his experiences as a player into vision. Stenson wants to incorporate risk and reward into his golf courses, something he likes as a player. Not surprisingly, Henrik wants a simple design, yet each hole to have its own character. It must be enjoyable for all levels of golfers. While the better golfer can challenge the risk to get his reward, the higher handicap player has a safer route to the hole that would only drop a shot to par.

Does the professional golfer put down his clubs and take up a protractor? He could if he has some degrees in architectural design. So, he finds a designer who is a kindred spirit, someone who believes in the same vision for golf courses as he does. In Henrik’s case, he turned to the Swedish designer, Christian Lundin, of the firm reGolf.

Growing up in the Swedish area known as Småland, Christian Lundin was devoted to soccer, as are most boys in Sweden. He loved to play all sports but soccer was his favorite and he became pretty good, despite his dislike of practice. A serious injury forced him to hang up his soccer boots. His doctor suggested he take up golf, saying it was a game Christian could play for the rest of his life.

Christian took to golf but his dislike of practice remained. However, he began to take interest in other aspects of golf. Scoring became less important as Christian began to understand the strategy and how landscaping of the golf courses helped form that strategy. The deeper he delved into this side of golf the more he became interested.

Christian speaks his English with an Irish lilt reflecting the years of study in Ireland for golf course design. Christian has over twelve years experience in the golf business, working as a greenskeeper prior to finding his calling as a designer. Christian studied the great links of Ireland while with Jeff Howes Golf Design. Christian returned to his native Sweden, to help evolve the face of Scandinavian golf. Lundin is an Associate Member of the European Institute of
Golf Course Architects.

Like any artist, Christian has his influences. Masters like MacKenzie, Ross and H.S. Colt. Lundin is particularly influenced by Tom Simpson, who was an eccentric character, almost certainly a little crazy. Simpson was one of the breed of gentleman amateur architects as opposed to a golf professional turned designer. He was a fervent believer that golf should be an intellectual battle and not a physical one.

Christian was impressed early by a particular quote by Simpson. Simpson said that in designing a course, “The green is the star and the fairway is the comet’s tail.” Christian recalled, “That struck a chord with me and I find myself designing golf holes from the green back to the tee.”

Some of Christian’s favorite courses are, to no surprise, the links courses of Ireland. Some of those courses are County Louth near Dublin, Ballybunion near Kerry and Carne, located in a wild dune area on the tip of the Mullet Peninsula in County Mayo.

The question is, how did Christian meet Henrik Stenson? It seems that Christian went to the PGA Show in Orlando. I’ll let Christian take it from here: “I went with a friend who was a good friend of Stenson. My friend called Henrik to say hello and Henrik invited the both of us over to his house. The conversation wandered all over the subject of golf, but when we talked about golf courses we liked and their designs, Henrik and I were pretty much in sync. As we left, he said let’s get together again.”

Linden didn’t here from Stenson for the rest of the golf season. One day the phone rang and Henrik was on the other end saying that he would like to see Christian. “We met again and agreed we should do something together.”

Christian had put in a bid to rebuild some bunkers at Österåkers GK, outside of Stockholm. Then, the club changed course and decided for a complete redeisgn. Another designer nearly received the contract when Henrik and Christian asked if they might bid? After a meeting with Österåkers principles, the duo were awarded the contract.

From now until 2021, when the final phase will be complete at Österåkers, Henrik Stenson Design will be working on the modernization of already one of Stockholm’s premier golf clubs. While Henrik Stenson himself will be deeply involved with the project, it will be Christian Lundin that will turn Henrik Stenson’s ideas into a golf course.

Maybe I should reserve a tee time, you think?


Swedish Golf’s Day for Women

Did you know that Sweden has a day dedicated to woman golfers throughout the country? Nationell Damdag is, year in and year out, one of the most successful golf events of the entire Swedish golf season. Over 160,000 women play golf in Sweden.

imagesA recent assignment took me to the Bavaria area of Germany and, in a conversation with one golf club general manager, the topic of how his club goes about developing golf for its future. The general manager talked about their junior program, the mantra of golf associations around the world, including Sweden. He also offered that whenever his golf federation has a general meeting and the topic of improving amateur youth teams for European competitions, Sweden is used as the model.

Indeed, during the 2015 British Open, the Golf Channel mentioned that one of the reasons that Sweden produces many excellent professional golfers is that the country maintains golf as an open sport. Club membership is, comparatively,  inexpensive allowing more people to play the game.

National Women’s Dag (National Damsdag) in Sweden is a once a year event that all golf clubs participate in. The particulars are that Swedish Women golfers have the ability to travel to any club and play for half green fees. The concept is to introduce women golfers to travel, meet other golfers like themselves, and build a personal network of golfing friends. Some clubs, additionlly  have competitions that require an entry fee, but that is to cover the prizes and lunch.

Rules of the Swedish Golf Federation for Tournament play are used. Women have to be 18 years of age to play in the tournament, the golfer must have a established handicap and local rules apply.

The day’s participation level grows every year and it’s not unusual for clubs to be drawing over 100+ golfers for the day’s activities. I’m just guessing but it seems that the extra jolt of golfers on a week day to the pro shop and restaurant must off set the reduced green fee.

This is just another way that Sweden looks to include all of its golfers in its golfing activities. Sure, Sweden does very well in international competition. It does better in its inclusion of all its citizens in golf or any other sport, for that matter.


Wishes Can Come True

It was at the 2010 Scandinavian Masters, at Bro Hof Golf Club, just outside of Stockholm. It was held the week after the British Open hoping that some stars would spend two weeks in North Europe and play the Swedish event. Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open Champion, did play that year. He already made the commitment.

David Lingmerth presented the Memorial winners trophy by founder, Jack Nicklaus.It was late in the afternoon on Tuesday of the championship week. The course was getting quiet and the fairways had cleared of fans watching the players practicing. The players were returning to their accommodations to rest up for Wednesday’s long day of the Pro/Am.

I was cutting over fairways to get back to the clubhouse when a lone player and his caddy came walking down the first fairway. Most players play with friends during practice rounds but David Lingmerth and a buddy carrying his bag, were by themselves.

I met David a few weeks before when he was competing for Sweden in the European Team Championship. Sweden had made it to the finals, but ran out of gas on the final day and came in second to the team from England.

Lingmerth didn’t have his best weekend, finishing at four over. Watching him on that final day, I saw a young man determined to finish the best that he could. With his jaw set and a physique built for hockey (which he played), if he had been wearing a helmet, he would have pulled the chin strap tighter and stepped it up a notch.

Last week, I was talking about David with a colleague. The colleague offered that David was the most “Americanized” of the Swedish professional golfers. Coming from the small Swedish town of Tranås, David was probably introduced to the USA by his uncle, Goran Lingmerth.

Goran was the place kicker for the Northern Arizona University football team. He still holds the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision record for single-game field goals (8) and points scored in a game (24). Goran was placed into the NAU Athletics Hall of Fame in 1996.

Goran Lingmerth got to know members of the Solheim Family, who owned PING. It resulted in a job offer and a life in golf to this day.

Because of his career in the golf industry, Lingmerth had the opportunity to instill the game of golf in his young nephew, David. They would play golf during summer trips to Sweden and, as Goran was the PING rep to the LPGA, hit balls at Florida country clubs with LPGA golfers on trips to the states.

“You could tell he had it going mentally at an early age,” said Lingmerth of his 10-year old nephew. “He was mentally tough and had a beautiful swing.”

David’s game developed over the years. He played for the Swedish National Team and played in the President’s Cup. When it came time to seek out opportunities in college, Goran helped David get a scholarship at the University of West Florida, where he was an All-American and won a tournament as a freshman. His breakout season led to a transfer to Arkansas, a runner-up NCAA finish, and, three years later, a chance at a pro career.

David played on the Nationwide Tour in 2011 and just missed his PGA TOUR card by one stroke at the Nationwide Championship. In 2012, he made progress by winning his first event and earning a PGA Tour card by his position on the money list.

David, in his second career start on the PGA Tour, finished as a joint runner-up at the Humana Challenge after losing in a three-man playoff. Shooting a 10-under-par round of 62 in the final round to get into the playoff, he was eliminated at the first extra hole after finding the water with his second shot. At the 2013 Players Championship, David led in the third round, finishing T2, two strokes behind Tiger Woods. A sign of Lingmerth’s mental toughness was at the 2015 Memorial Tournament. Again, David was in a playoff to win Jack Nicklaus’ prestigious event. David beat Justin Rose in the third playoff hole to earn his first PGA Tour win.

On that fairway in 2010, David and I said a few friendly words to one another and I wished him luck in the Scandinavian Open and he walked away to continue his practice round. I watched them stride off alone thinking, maybe, my good luck wish really was for David in his attempt to be a professional golfer. I knew it would be hard for the rookie. No tour friends, no sponsors and a formidable road ahead. We all know that many have tried but few have succeeded.

This weekend, in winning the 2015 Memorial, it seems my good luck wish for David is coming true.


More on Mr. Linde

Sune Linde (R)Today I received a very nice e-mail from another noted Swedish golf course designer, Peter Nordwall.

A Nordic golf course architect, Peter Nordwall is best known for his Swedish courses Bro-Balsta and Svartinge which both have their fans and elements to admire.

Bro-Balsta is the club where Annika Sorenstam learned to play golf and its main course is a surprisingly attractive layout that occupies rolling countryside thick with pine and birch.  Most of the putting targets are very large and built with tiers, shelves or swales – the moguls on the 9th are crazy!

This is a popular club, however, as the facilities are excellent and the turf conditions generally quite good. The 12th hole, modeled on the 16th at Augusta National, is also an attraction for those in Sweden who haven’t seen the original.

With a layout kept in great condition, Svartinge Golf Club is a very private club with only a few hundred members. These fortunate golfers enjoy games on pristine playing surfaces and also get to test their skills against one of the regions most attractive designs. Svartinge is a good golf course, and the club resembles The Grand in Australia for the setting and nature of the establishment.

We asked Peter to give us some of his thoughts on Sune Linde.

“I found Sune Linde to be an extremely friendly, soft-spoken, low profile man, who had a smile on his face almost all the time.”

Asked if he had any stories from their encounters, Peter said,  “Sadly enough, no.  We got together for a chat all too seldom, although I made it a habit during my years as president of the FSGA to spend some time on the phone with Sune just before or after the organization’s two annual meetings.”

Was he an influence for you? “Not really. Although he was 15 years older than me, we happened to start our course architect career almost at the same time and I had then already formed my design philosophy,” he said.

Your thoughts of his designs…any example holes or courses? Peter’s answer was, “I would say that one of Sune’s typical design trade marks was his “bottle-neck bunkering” for the tee shot on par 4 and 5 holes – i.e. one bunker left at 200 m + one right at 230 m (or vice versa).”

Do you have a favorite course of Sune Linde? “Several of his around 50 courses, especially Frösåker and Kallfors,” replied Peter


Sune Linde – 1924 – 2015

One of Sweden’s leading course architects, Sune Linde, died of complications following surgery last week. Mr. Linde was 90 years old.

Sune Linde in 2005 Photo: K-G Z FougstedtSune Linde was one of Sweden’s great course architects, designing fifty Swedish golf courses. His designs are some of Sweden’s best golf courses, Frösåkers GK, Forsgårdens GK, Arlandastad Golf Club and his home club, Nyköping GK. He designed over 50 of Sweden’s golf courses and, today, thousands of Swedish golfers enjoy playing on his visions.

In the early 50s, Sune Linde met architect Nils Skold and he designed his first golf course, Ärila, with Skold. The Ärila club changed its name to Nyköping GK. Nyköping was Linde’s home course, where the Club hosts an annual event named the Sune Linde Cup.

” Sune was a great Nykoping figure and one of Sweden’s major architects. He will be missed at the club. He was very active right until a few years ago because of problems with his eyes,” said Nyköping Club Manager, Gary Cosford.

Sune Linde’s architectural signature is following the natural terrain and using low-key, subtle brush strokes on Nature’s palette. His golf courses seem undisturbed, looking as a natural extension of their environment. I wrote in the Swedish Golf Experience that the courses in Sweden “…look like the wind, snow and ice designed the golf courses over eons and the designer would put the green into the only location he could.”

In 1978, Sune Linde received the Swedish Golf Federation Silver Award given to a “… person who performed or are still performing work for Swedish golf in their district and or club facility. ”

Swedish Golf Online contacted some of Sweden’s leading golf architects to get their thoughts on Sune Linde, the man and his designs.

Tommy Nordstrom designed the “new” course (built in 1989) at Båstad and one of my favorites, the feral Degeberga-Widtsköfle GK. He was a colleague of Sune. “We have been members in the FSGA (Society of Swedish Golf Course Architects) since 1988. From 1985 to 1995, when many courses were built in Sweden, we had a lot of meetings and made many study trips to the fine courses in Great Britain, Ireland, Spain and France. We have the same favorite courses in Scotland, Muirfield and the Old Course.”

As to Sune the man, Tommy remembered, “I found Sune a very nice man, a gentleman who always took part in discussions about golf course architecture. It was very interesting to talk with Sune. He belonged to the classic designers, as most of the Swedish designers are, where nature is important. He believed the golf course should be created in a way that it looked like it had been there forever.”

Tommy continued, “I remember that I was very impressed by his first design, Ärila, in Nyköping, We played it during a meeting there in 1985. It was very natural and is an interesting course to play. He also did a very fine job with Söderslätts Golf Course. From a totally flat and dull farmland he created a very fine course, well adapted to the farmland landscape, a good job. He made many fine courses, I think his own favorite was Kallfors GK that I also like very much. Another course, which I think many tour golfers like, is Frösåker. He designed one course, Kungsbacka, where they have played European Tour event.”

Pierre Fulke played fifteen years on the European professional tours and was a member of the winning European Ryder Cup team in 2002. Since his retirement he has been busy designing golf courses. Three of Sweden’s best golf courses, Ombergs (his first), Grönhögens and Visby have all been shaped by Pierre.

Pierre met with Sune only a few times, but when he did he found the man, “…funny, witty, just a fun guy to be around. I really enjoyed him as a person.” To illustrate what he meant, Pierre told a story of he and Sune driving around on one of Sune’s golf courses in a golf cart. They came to one hole where the green is perched on a hill, all but hidden from the fairway.

Pierre tells the story. ” We began the climb up the hill in the golf cart and as we go up, the hill gets steeper. It get to such a state that now I’m wondering if the cart is going to reach the top. Finally, we reach the top and I’m looking at a tiny green. I say to myself this is a really poorly designed hole. I couldn’t believe that Sune had done this. So, I ask him, “Sune, what is with this hole. What were you thinking?”

With a twinkle in his eye, Sure says to me, “Pierre, I always want to have one hole on a course that people will talk about-even if it’s a bad hole.”

We will have more recollections from fellow architects in the next edition.


Feast Your Eyes On This…

In 1995, I began a collaboration with Peter Cordén, when we worked on our book, “The Swedish Golf Experience.” In 1997, we published our work and you may be able to find an odd copy on an on-line book seller, maybe not. The picture on SGO’s home page is by Peter. He took it at almost midnight at Bjorkliden GK 250 kilometers above the Arctic Circle.

GolfiliciousAmazingly, after working together for two years, we still remain close friends and trade off services between ourselves and dream about The Swedish Golf Experience 2.0. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the yeoman’s work that my girl, Eva Waitzfelder, did keeping the train on the tracks and the two of us from drifting away.

On May 6, I had the pleasure of being a part of Peter’s latest book release. In the main room of the UniPeg Golf store in downtown Stockholm, a good gathering of friends and family gathered to celebrate with a few drinks and good cheer.

The book is called, “Golfilicious,” a collection of great memories from some of Sweden’s top golf professionals as well as anecdotes from other Swedish celebrity golfers. Included are recipes from Sweden’s brightest golf restaurateurs and chefs. While turning the pages, your eyes can rest on photos from some of Sweden’s fantastic golf courses.

Peter’s partner in Golfilicious is Jenny Olsson, an independent freelance journalist writing everything from editorials and personal portraits to press releases and shorter news items. Jenny is experienced from the daily press, monthly magazines, customer magazines and the web.

As I said I have worked with Peter for many years and, IMHO, he has a wonderful eye for the nuance of golf courses he brings to his photos. He belongs in the elite of, certainly, Swedish golf photographers. He is constantly on the move between jobs in Sweden and the world. He gathers his work under the tent he calls “Golf is Art.” I think, turning the pages in “Golfilicious,” you will get the same impact that I get. As I tell people, Peter could make a runway at Arlanda look like a pristine fairway.

Available only in Swedish, the book is called “Golfilicious” and you can get a copy here. Don’t worry about the language, like they say, one picture is worth a thousand words.


Happy Days Are Here, Again? Maybe…

images-4For the first time in a decade, golfers in Sweden increased in membership in 2014. As reported by Karin Klarstrom on Golf.se (in Swedish) golf in 2014 plugged the steady leak of club memberships in Sweden.

“It is incredibly important and gratifying,” says Bo Bengtsson, Assistant Secretary General of the Swedish Golf Federation.
After a hundred years of uninterrupted increases, in 2005 the number of golf memberships suddenly declined. The word “crisis” became the opening of any discussion about the state of golf in Sweden. In 2004-05, nearly 10,000 golfers left the ranks of membership. For the following years, 9,000 golfers left each year on average.

Up to now.

This past year, 2014, showed an increase of 980 memberships, bringing active membership in Swedish golf to 474,777. You might think that the addition of less than a thousand members is not a big deal. After years of decline it has a symbolic importance for everyone working in the industry.

As CEO of the SGF Golf System, that is the hub of memberships and golf rounds played here in Sweden, Bo Bengtsson has the unique position of knowing the exact numbers of Swedish golfers.

“It’s great that it’s finally showing plus (numbers) and it’s important for the sport that the trend is broken. It means that we can now talk about golf in positive terms again. People feel that they are part of something that feels right,” says Bengtsson. This means that the number of active golfers has almost recovered to the level of 2000. Golf has leveled off and found a stable position, believes Bengtsson.

In 2014 there were 52,000 new members of the country’s golf clubs. Though the number of members leaving is almost the same,it landed on the plus this time. What factors donated to the increase. One is that golf clubs are becoming better at offering different types of golfers with different membership packages, depending on the golfer’s situation. One example would be the new entrant, Unipeg. Having 11 different golf courses under their management, the company offers not only with play on several different courses, but booking club or individual trips and clothing and equipment sales.

“Then we also (have the)Stenson (Top 10 professional golfer Henrik Stenson) affect. This is particularly noticeable among men in the younger age groups, which increased astonishingly,” says Bo Bengtsson.

One demographic was not effected by the Stinson factor was women. Women membership continued its decline. That is something the Swedish Golf Federation has started to eradicate and reverse. Earlier this spring, a comprehensive program was established, Vision 50/50, with the goal of getting more women into decision-making posts in the Swedish Golf Federation.It is hoped that by taking this initiative it will make golf more attractive to female players. The work has just begun, and this fall a project manager will be added, as well as a gender researcher to be associated with the project.

“While women always give highest grades and are most pleased with golf in various studies, there are those who leave,” says Bengtsson. You can see that in the statistics. 13,000 women became members by 2013 but left their membership in 2014.” Why?
Bengtsson continued, “Obviously, recruitment is great, but it’s clear that many women do not stick with golf and leave. The high average handicap is proof of this. The steps from beginner to get a handicap and feel comfortable on the course is likely too long. It may be about not having friends to play with. It’s hard to put in the time necessary. We will be working with these issues in the Vision 50/50.”

In addition, the number of rounds booked increased in 2014 compared with past years. Early spring brought an early start to the season. March and April offered an increase of over 700,000 rounds over the same months in 2013. However, bookings for July and August were down by 190,000 compared with 2013.

“It was a fantastic summer with terrific weather, so it’s a little surprising,” says Bengtsson. It might be that golfers played from the start of the season and then spent time on other things during the holidays.” Fall was mild, meaning the late months of 2014 should show an upswing in plays compared to 2013.

Bengtsson was asked what the most important factor we can take away with this turnaround? Bo Bengtsson was quick to answer.
“That we can talk about golf in positive terms again.”


There’s a New Beer in Town-Beer Drinkers Rejoice

Is there such a thing as coincidence? I’m not sure about that. You’ll have to judge that for yourself. Yesterday, Patrik Waxan, on his Facebook page, commented about a new product about “GolfBeer.” I didn’t think much about it because, come on, ANY beer goes great with golf.

10734143_358463277648504_7742843269824922927_nBut then, Golf Channel.com had a story about three pro golfers getting together to brew a new beer called, yup, GolfBeer. The three pros involved are Keegan Bradley, Graeme McDowell  and Freddie Jacobson from Sweden.

The beer has three distinctive textures and taste, reflecting the individual pro’s preference. All have a lower alcohol content, ideal for consumption during a round on a hot day without disrupting your game.

Let’s put a pint in our fists and raise our glasses to the success of GolfBeer.

Thanks to the Golf Channel, we can have Freddie Jac tell us himself.