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.

 


Recollections of Ryder

On his way to the 2014 Ryder Cup, Sweden’s Pierre Fulke remembers the 2002 Ryder Cup.

Pierre Fulke was a member of the 2002 European Ryder Cup team. That year he and two other Swedes, Niclas Fasth and Jesper Parnevik, helped to win the Cup for Europe, 15½ to 12½.

Pierre Fulke Fulke Golf DesignPierre won three times on the European Tour. In 1999, he won the Lancome Trophy. His most successful season was 2000, when he won the Scottish PGA Championship and the Volvo Masters. That year he was #12 on the Order of Merit.

I was lucky to get a hold of the busy Mr. Fulke just before his leaving for Gleneagles. Talking to Pierre is a real pleasure and I’m happy to share his memories with you.

I asked Pierre how was he contacted about making the European team? He said, in actuality, he knew a year before the matches. Readers will remember that the Twin Towers attack on 9/11 was just two weeks before that year’s Ryder Cup. They postponed the 2001 event and it was re-scheduled for 2002.

There is one special memory that Pierre keeps from the 2002 Ryder Cup. “Sam Torrance was my Captain for that Cup. One day I received a letter from Sam. It was a handwritten note from him welcoming me to the team. I was so moved by Sam’s gesture that I framed the note and it hangs on my wall. I usually don’t have thoughts of the Cup but I do look at that note at least once a week.”

The 2002 European Team had a great cast of characters: Thomas Bjørn (On the 2014 team)
Darren Clarke
Sergio Garcia (On the 2014 team)
Padrig Harrington (2014 Vice Captain)
Bernard Langer
Paul McGinley (the 2014 European Captain)
Colin Montgomerie
Phillip Price and Lee Westwood (On the 2014 team).
Add three Swedes named Niclas Fasth, Pierre Fulke and Jesper Parnevik. I wondered what the locker room and team meetings were like?

“Well, both Sam and Mark James (VC) were from the old school of players and were as coaches, as well. Sam worked on our hearts and emotions. Sam didn’t talk tactics with us. He said we need to go out there and play the best we ever played.”

Pierre teamed with Phillip Price of Wales. What was he like as a playing partner? “Phil was…not unsure…but a shy guy. We didn’t play the first day but would be the first off for Saturday’s Foursomes. We were going against Mickelson and David Toms. The night before I said to Phil we should form a plan for the game, you know, like who should tee off first on hole #1? Price speaks up and says, ‘Pierre, there will be no way that I will tee off first tomorrow.’ That’s why it was me first off in that match.

Pierre paused a bit, then said, “During the match, Phil was asking my opinion on almost all his shots. I said to him, ‘Phil, look, I trust you. You don’t have to ask me about shots all the time.’ But it was obvious that it helped him, so I just gave my thoughts when he asked.”

“We lost that match, 2 and 1. Phillip Price was nothing if not a fierce competitor. I think the way he went out on Sunday and beat Mickelson (3 and 2 in singles) gives you a good indicator of how tough he was.”

The story of Price and the first tee led me to ask Pierre about how he felt walking to the first tee of his first match in a Ryder Cup?

“Sam Torrance did something that was thoughtful as well as smart. He would walk us to the first tee. He helped to keep our heads focused on the match. That walk was the best and at the same time scariest walks I have ever taken on a golf course. The intensity of the emotional energy is almost tangible. You’re so nervous, it’s a wonder you can get it off the tee. Luckily for me, I hit it straight down the middle. I made a tough putt on 18 on Sunday to get a half against Davis Love. They were the first and last best shots of my life.”

Was there someone you would have liked to partner with that weekend? “I would have liked to play with Colin Montgomery. He’s one of the best Ryder Cup players ever, of course. During the season, he would always come up to me and ask how things were going and if I needed anything. He was making sure I knew that we were on the same team. That’s not a well known side of Colin. He sometimes gives the wrong perception to the fans.”

The 2002 Ryder Cup was the first after the Battle of Brookline. It was at Brookline that Justin Leonard sank that remarkable putt. It caused a spontaneous celebration of the American players.

Unfortunately, José María Olazábel still had a chance to halve the hole. He missed the putt after a long delay. It tainted the final win by the American team with cries of unsportsmanlike play. I asked Pierre if there was any extra tension between the teams because of that celebration?

“I don’t remember any hard feelings, but I wasn’t at Brookline. It’s possible that the players who were there had some resentment, but it was not noticeable. It was a different feeling then because the Europeans played the European Tour and the Americans played the PGA tour. We didn’t see each other too much. Now, many Europeans live in the States and they play on the American tour. Now every one knows each other and the rivalry is not as definitive as it once was.”

Asked if he had any thoughts on the outcome of this Ryder Cup, Pierre had no hesitation in answering. “I have no idea,” he said. “What I do know is that there will be fantastic golf no matter what team wins. It will be close on Sunday after almost three days of outstanding matches. The cliché is true. In match play, anything can happen.”

So, Pierre, what are you up to now? “In 2007 I retired from competitive golf. I was proud of my career, but I just felt that I wasn’t treating golf the same. I hung up my clubs and haven’t touched them since.”

“I started doing the TV commentating. It was daunting at first, but now I do about 12 to 15 matches a year. I’ll be doing this year’s Ryder Cup. I would like to pursue the TV work more in the future.”

Pierre also has a golf course design company. His philosophy is to develop courses that are playable and interesting. He looks to design courses that have no Fulke signature. He looks to adapt his courses to the terrain. “When you walk off my courses, you should have no idea who designed the golf course.” After chatting on the concepts of Donald Ross and Allister MacKenzie, I said thanks and goodbye to Pierre.

Like I said earlier, Pierre is quite the storyteller. For a guy who says he “…rarely thinks about the experience,” he sure remembered a lot.

Pierre Fulke will be bringing you commentary live from Gleneagles for the entire 2014 Ryder Cup on the Golf Channel. Check local listing for times and channel.


Barsebäck GK

Bars_18_travelcaddie.jpgBarsebäck Golf Club is a 36-hole golf resort. Barsebäck has hosted the Solheim Cup, the Scandinavian Masters and Annika Sörenstam’s Scandinavian TPC. It has two championship golf courses, the Masters and the Donald Steel, each with a different disposition.

The Donald Steel Course emphasizes Steel’s philosophy of minimal earth movement. He allows the golfer to wind through the natural surroundings. This course is not just pleasant to play, though. Steel compliments his designs with the shape of his greens. It is the subtle undulation that makes the Donald Ross greens so interesting. And frustrating.

The Masters Course is the course that has hosted all the competitions written of earlier. This unusual layout starts in the forest turns and drops to four holes of seaside golf with all the attributes of links play.

After the beach holes, you then climb back up to the forest. The back nine offers you the par four number 17, with its wind swept trees behind the green framing the view of the sea. You might want to have your camera ready to capture the Master Course’s signature hole.

The final hole makes for an exciting finish with its enticing risk versus reward decision. Can you carry the trees on the right to cut the dogleg? Only you will be able to decide. Back in his day, Jack Nicklaus called Barsebäck one of his favorite places to play.

 


Sommaro GK

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It is not uncommon to see golfers walking or riding their bikes to play golf at Sommaro GK. Located about five minutes from downtown Karlstad, Sommaro is a true Swedish public golf course in Sweden. Sommaro began as a driving range. Sommaro then added an executive course. It now boasts a twelve-hole links style course with all the character and challenge of Scotland without the firth. It is a rare course in Sweden as you do not need a tee time to play. At Sommaro, you go at the next available opening. You can choose your course based on your schedule. Don’t have time for 18? Play 9 or the executive course or bang balls on the driving range. Sommaro’s concept is that everyone should be able to play golf when and how they want. Not quite the way it’s done in Sweden usually.

Did You Know?
Sommaro Golf Club sits on the former land of the Karlstad Airport. A new airport moved further away from the city. The property went from plans to be a Jack Nicklaus designed golf course or a housing tract to, finally, a business park. None of those plans came to fruition and the land lay empty for years. The tarmacs still remain and this is the only golf course in Sweden that has an airport control tower on top of its clubhouse. One of the owners has a vacation house in South Africa, near the town of George. George is famous for its links style golf course. Designed by PGA Hall of Fame golfer, Gary Player, it is also built on land that was a former airport.


Mölle GK

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Mölle Golf Club sits on the peninsula that forms Sweden’s westernmost point. Located inside the Kullenbergs Natural Preserve, theMölle Golf Club began in 1943. With war ships cruising back and forth below it’s cliffs, twenty five golfers began playing at Mölle. It is the highlight of Sweden’s neutality policy or the craziness of golfers.

The scarcity of land and a its classic design, Mölle is a riot of tight fairways and small greens. Because of its location you never seem to have a flat lie at Mölle. When you reach the #8 tee, walk to the back of the tee box. You will see a panorama of the Öresund and Denmark that will make you wish you brought the camera.

Did You Know?
That you can walk to the brightest lighthouse in Sweden from the parking lot of the golf course. The lighthouse sits 78.5 meters above sea level. The light reaches 50 kilometers away. The Kullegårdens Wardhus is a great place to stay and is only 50 meters from the first tee. If you can’t stay, at least enjoy this classic Swedish reastaurant. It may also be the only golf club I had to pay to enter to pay to play. There is an entry fee to enter the Kullabergs Natural Preserve.


Halmstad GK (North Course)

halmstadAbout three blocks from the dazzling sunsets of the Tylösand beach in a quiet neighborhood, lay 36 holes of golf at Halmstad. The South Course is a good test and picturesque. The legendary North Course is the most honored course in Sweden, suitable for the world’s elite golfers. Halmstad (North) hosted the 2007 Solheim Cup. This golf course only gets better the more you play it. You will appreciate the classic English style of design. Winding through the woods and streams of the seaside, the North Course stands out as Sweden’s example of Swedish golf at its best.


Did You Know?

The Tylösand Hotel is co-owned by Halmstad native son, Per Gessle of Roxette. In Bettans Bar, the hotel bar closest to the beach, there is loads of Roxette’s memorabilia lining the walls.


Bro Hof Slott

Bro Hof Slott

If crushed marble in the sand traps sounds a little indulgent for a regular golf course, you would be right. Bro Hof Slott is no ordinary golf course. Owner Björn Öras went to golf course designers, top players and course caretakers around the world. He asked one question, “If you could build your ideal golf course, what features would you add?” After collecting his answers, he didn’t agonize over choices. He added them all into his original design. Bro Hof Slott is world class in every aspect. It’s playability, challenge, design, scenic beauty, and cultural and environmental preservation are excellent. In comparison with its peers in Europe and the United States, Bro Hof Slott is a world-class bargain. Golf Digest rates this the #1 course in Sweden.

Did You Know?

Bro Hof traded 35 hectares of meadows for the community nature sanctuary for access the Lake Mälaren shoreline. It also restored and maintains the area. The Rococo restoration of the castle at Bro Hof returned the namesake to its former spleandor.


Falsterbo GK

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A perennial favorite on Swedish golf’s Top 10 lists. The genius of Falsterbo is in its simplicity. A wonderful links course that sits on the point of Skåne where the North Sea and Öresund meet. I have been there when it was hot and sunny or with a howling gale coming in off the sea, and that was all before reaching the #17 tee. Falsterbo has not changed much in over 80 years. It looks simple, but believe me, bring your “A” game.

 

Did You Know 

The course is located in a natural preservation area and is frequently visited by bird watchers since the Falsterbo peninsula is the last stop for many migratory birds. Golfers must halt their game to allow the non-golfers to pass.


Björklidens GK

Situated 250 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle, Björklidens GK is just about as exotic as golfing in Sweden gets. Nestled between Sweden’s northern mountains and surrounded by breathtaking views over Lake Torneträsk.

bjorklidenFor five weeks a year the Arctic landscape, the magic of the midnight sun and golf collide at Björklidens Golf Club. It is a treat that all golfers should experience. The course design makes as little environmental intrusion as possible. Hand carts and motor carts are unavailable and balls hit off the fairway can not recovered.

Björklidens is short, the fairways are narrow and the greens are small. That does not mean the course is easier or less interesting than other golf courses. There are two sets of tees on every hole for 18 holes to not repeat. The fairway and the green placements allow the player enjoy the dramatic scenery. The fifth, sixth and seventh holes are definitely among the most scenic in the world.

Björklidens is not easy to get to and a robust challenge to play. But every golfer owes it to his self to tee off at midnight under the broad daylight of the midnight sun.

Did You Know?
Once, travelers between North America and Scandinavia would arrive by boat to Narvik, Norway. Narvik has an ice-free harbor in the winter. The train from Narvik to Stockholm stopped at Björkliden along the way. The travelers would get out to stretch their legs and the native Lapps would sell the trainfolk native handcrafts. One favorite item was to have a souvenir photo taken swinging a golf club with a Laplander in full costume posing as a caddy. As the Americans would pay for their items in American currency, the locals dubbed the train the “Dollar Train”.