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Sweden: The Best Kept Secret of Golf in the World

There are two prime areas for golf in Sweden--Stockholm and the southwest coast from Halmstad down to Trelleborg (called the Swedish Riviera). Swedes would rather swallow a poison pill and die at your feet before boiling it down this simply. Not me. If you want the absolute Grade A, one-to-two-week-knock-your-socks-off tour, this is it.

First, fly to Stockholm, one of the most breathtaking cities in the world, a web of fourteen islands, waterways, cathedrals, palaces, promontories and sudden vistas paralleled in America by only one city: San Francisco. Is Stockholm as wonderful as Venice or Paris? Maybe not. But it's a fair question.

Driving in Stockholm, known as the "city among the bridges," can be Sweden's greatest danger. Not because of other cars; the problem is you. The scenery, especially as you drive out of the city to the south, is so spectacular and yet so quickly shifting that you find your head spinning and your car straying. The best way to see this most water-laced city is by boat tour on Lake Mälaren.

The only problem with Stockholm is that it's easy to forget to play golf. The Gold Room in the Museum of National Antiquities displays two thousand items in gold and silver from the Bronze Age, Viking era and Middle Ages. King Tut, eat your heart out. If you loved the movie Titanic, then see the Vasa Museum near the Grand Hotel. Sweden had its own Titanic--the enormous sixty-four-cannon Vasa, flagship of the fleet--which sank in the harbor on its maiden voyage in 1628 before it had sailed one mile. A mere 333 years later, the Swedes dragged the Vasa back up--virtually intact because the worms that would normally eat the wood cannot survive in the brackish water of the Baltic Sea. It's the ultimate shipwreck.

To blend golf and sightseeing, drive to Drottningholm Castle, built in 1662 and since become the permanent residence of the royal family. Its vast gardens and obscene opulence--sorry, French Baroque-inspired majesty--are pleasure enough. But a mile away is Drottning.holm Golf Club, the site of several European pro events and a not-too-tough, thoroughly lovely introduction to Swedish golf. If you play toward evening, the slowly setting summer sun reflects off an enormous golden church dome behind the fifth green. The tee shot to this par three is an easy mid-iron, unless you're in the throes of a conversion experience.

Drottningholm also illustrates the Swedish preference to leave nature alone when possible. The American era of overdesigned signature courses hasn't arrived. You see the hand of God, not railroad ties. Occasionally, extreme swales, berms and mounds in greens break the unwritten rules of U.S. golf. Swedish course designers--Sven Tumbo, a former hockey player, may be the best known--have a sense of fun and caprice, rather than a fear that some expert will pass judgment. Swedes also aren't afraid to have the occasional semi-easy or slightly goofy hole, as well as heroically difficult ones. Even the average golfer is encouraged to make a birdie once in a while. Probably a socialist idea.

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