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Sweden: The Best Kept Secret of Golf in the World

On the southwest coast, you're going to face this choice again. You can pick small village bed-and-breakfasts that are inexpensive, charming and, in some cases, perched near the sea in jewel-perfect towns. Or opt for the major towns of Halmstad and Malmö. In either case, you'll need a northern and then a southern base of operations. The Swedish Riviera is just too extensive to do easily from one central point.

The best courses in the north are Tylosand, Bästad, Torekov, Mölle and Rya, with the thirty-six holes at Tylosand perhaps the most enjoyable in all of Sweden. The back nine of Tylosand North is the prize. Starting at the twelfth, you can hardly play the game for gawking at the holes. First the hanging beech, which weep like willow, start mixing with the pine woods. The landscape starts to roll. You've suddenly gone someplace unexpected and unique. Creeks with stone fronts start tracing through the intimate course, where each hole is carved from the woods, isolated from every other. On the forest walks between holes, you come upon hidden pools that look like Japanese photo ops.

Maybe it's all preparation for the 188-yard sixteenth hole, a par three. The shot from an elevated tee looks impossible. Too many trees--everywhere. A creek strangling the green. From the gnarled cedar that practically touch your shoulder on the tee to the orange holly berry mixed with the beech, there hardly seems enough space to transport a golf ball from tee to green. Yet, unlike tough holes that seem merely ridiculous, this one beckons you to hit your best shot. Because it would be just good enough.

Of the choice Swedish courses, Bästad is the best manicured, the most lush and sprawling, with its fairways full of knobs and knolls. But it's also the most open and, perhaps, not quite the visual treat that Sweden spoils you into expecting. Nearby Torekov is unpretentious and, like many of Sweden's older courses, dates back to the 1920s; yet stunning holes like the par-three thirteenth and the reachable, intricate par-five fifteenth evoke a bit of Big Sur. The village of Torekov sits, like a child's toy fantasy, on a promontory above the waves in the distance. It's heresy, but consider playing Torekov before Bästad.

Also in the vicinity is the classic links at Rya, which claim the best opening holes in Sweden. A short drive away is Mölle, which may have been the One That Got Away on my visit. It's built on the steep bluffs of the Bjare peninsula and boasts sea views and holes nestled between cliffs. On this chunk of your journey, stay in downtown Halmstad, perhaps at the Grand, near the bustling train station and café district, or else try tiny Torekov. One day at Bästad, a burly middle-aged American with a tattoo on one arm and a handlebar mustache sang the praises of the village of Torekov. "Looks like Carmel," I agreed.

"The hell with Carmel," said Erik de Lambert, the president of San Francisco Golf Enterprises. "I could be at Carmel right now. I'm here."

As you work your way down the coast through the province of Skäne in short, scenic drives--Tylosand to Bästad to Torekov to Mölle to Rya--you sense that a wonderful surprise is being saved for last. First comes the elegant old city of Malmö. Then at the absolute southernmost extremity of Sweden sit the hamlets of Skanor and Falsterbo, each gazing across the sea at its antiself: gritty, grungy, sex-drugs-and-rock-'n'-roll Copenhagen.

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