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Sweden: The Best Kept Secret of Golf in the World

Swedish golf is like the Swedes--almost too nice to believe. The speed of most greens won't shatter your nerves. Though wind is central to much Swedish golf, you can find courses where the breeze will barely be a whisper. Even on Ullna and Barsèbäck, where the wind on a half-dozen holes will rip your hat off, the rest of the course has a peaceful, inland feel. From the back tees, the best layouts measure 6,600 to 6,900 yards, a bit shorter than most American prestige courses. Yet, though a tad merciful, any of the five Swedish beauties mentioned earlier would waltz into a list of top U.S. courses if located there.

Few golfers have heard of Falsterbo. But it may be a more blissful seaside links--pure, remote, windblown, like nothing but itself--than any in America. And in Sweden, one superb course is always a neighbor to any number of fine ones. If you're in Falsterbo, don't miss Flommens or Ljunghusens; if you were in Carmel, would you neglect Cypress Point?(That is, of couse, if you could get a tee time Happily, in Sweden snobbery hasn't arrived.)

The North course at Tylosand (which is what the Swedes call Halmstad) might remind you of Pinehurst No. 2, but you'd probably like Tylosand better because of its variety. On the back nine, there's surprise around each dogleg, as though the Carolina pine woods had developed a split personality and taken on the steep hillsides and deep-woods streams you'd expect in Pennsylvania.

Most golfers couldn't pick the continent on which to find Barsèbäck. Yet the top woman pro in the world, Sweden's Annika Sorenstam, compares it with the best U.S. courses on the LPGA Tour. Barsèbäck is a lush parkland layout with gnarled, ancient woods and barely a breeze; it is a raw, barren links with nothing taller than ocean grasses as you look across the sea to Copenhagen. No, Barsèbäck is actually both. And on some holes, both in one. On the seventeenth of the New course, you tee off inland then hit your approach shot through a channel in the woods to a links green where the sea spray gets in your eyes and your hair blows sideways.

This is just the start. We'll get to Jesper Parnevik's favorite course--Ullna, tucked at the edge of a huge lake outside Stockholm. And to Bästad, where the fairways are as emerald green and the greens as slick as those at Augusta--and the blood is bluer. Before we go further, however, we need to get our bearings.

The Swedes hate to say that anything, any person, any course, any town, any hotel, is better than anything else of its type. Everything in Sweden is good enough for anybody and everybody. Distinctions are invidious. "The Swedes love wonderful, beautiful things as much as anyone else," says Debbie Siebert, wife of the former U.S. ambassador. "But it's like pulling teeth getting them to tell you where the best places are. It's considered bad form." Ask them about golf and they tend to accent the eccentric rather than the excellent. Swedish journalists love to tout a weird nine-hole course that's above the Arctic Circle, above the tree line and can be played at midnight because of its northern latitude. You want to scream "Do I have hooves, antlers and a red lightbulb for a nose?I'm not going to Björkliden even if it is the northernmost course in the world. And I don't care about the course where you hit from Sweden into Finland either. Where are the best courses?" They won't tell you. They're vain about their modesty. That's why you need me. I've beaten the truth out of them.

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