Swe­den's Num­ber 1

Chris Ber­tram heads north of Stockholm to as­sess the mer­its of Swe­den’s Bro Hof Slott

Golf Asia (Malaysia) - - CONTENTS -

Ry­der Cups in Europe were rou­tinely staged on high-cal­i­bre cour­ses up to 1981, when Wal­ton Heath was the last clas­sic course to host the bi­en­nial matches.

Royal Lytham, Gan­ton, Royal Birk­dale and Muir­field are just four of the stel­lar venues that held the matches. Since then, the cal­i­bre of venue has not reached those heights, and we all know com­mer­cial con­sid­er­a­tions mean that trend is un­likely to change.

Had de­ci­sions tilted in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion in 2010 (or in­deed 2014) though, the venue for next year’s matches could ar­guably have been the most spec­tac­u­lar in the event’s 90-year his­tory. Not the finest golf course, per­haps, but the one with the most breath­tak­ing set­ting.

Swe­den made an ini­tial bid for the 2018 matches and while its can­di­date course, Bro Hof Slott (Sta­dium), has in com­mon with the win­ning bid, Le Golf Na­tional, an enor­mous amount of wa­ter fea­tures, it dif­fers markedly in aes­thetic ap­peal.

Lo­ca­tions rarely get more mes­meric than this. It is lo­cated on the edge of

Lake Mälaran, a huge fjord 40 min­utes north-west of Stockholm that pro­vides pure drink­ing wa­ter for the city.

When the sun is glis­ten­ing off the still, turquoise ex­panse you could eas­ily be­lieve you were in Mau­ri­tius rather than Scan­di­navia.

The care­fully-re­stored white me­dieval cas­tle, which now serves as Bro Hof’s stately club­house, that sits on the hill­top with a view of the course from al­most ev­ery hole, adds to this fairy­tale scene. You can even ar­rive to this spell­bind­ing set­ting in the mu­nic­i­pal­ity of Up­p­lands-Bro by boat.

It is land with pedi­gree too, be­ing

es­tab­lished as a royal farm in the mid­dle ages (known then as the Brog­ard), be­fore the cas­tle was re­built in the

1880s in the dis­tinc­tive baroque style that was then in vogue.

Such a re­mark­able site had, un­sur­pris­ingly, ex­ten­sive en­vi­ron­men­tal merit. So while de­signer Robert Trent Jones Jnr might have said of the site that “Mother Earth must have cre­ated this area for a golf course – all I had to do was to walk around and see where the holes would fit”, it re­quired fi­nan­cial mus­cle and un­flinch­ing de­ter­mi­na­tion from busi­ness­man Björn Örås – who pur­chased the crum­bling es­tate in 2002 – to trans­form it into a golf course.

In­deed, the bare statis­tics be­hind the birth of Bro Hof Slott – ranked by Golf World as the No.1 in Swe­den and No.16 in Con­ti­nen­tal Europe – are as star­tling as its lo­ca­tion.

The con­struc­tion data com­prises the fol­low­ing mind-blow­ing fig­ures: the course was cov­ered with a 25cm layer of sand to make it vi­able, at a cost of £180,000; over 1.5m² of ma­te­rial was moved – equiv­a­lent to 200,000 lorry loads – in the shap­ing process; 600,000m² of earth was ex­ca­vated to cre­ate fur­ther wa­ter fea­tures (for drainage, vis­ual ap­peal and chal­lenge) in ad­di­tion to Lake Mälaran.

All that bull­dozer work – and it was clearly very well built – has pre­dictably given a rather brawny hue to the stroke­saver and scorecard.

Wa­ter is a fac­tor on 15 of the holes whether a lake or a stream - in­clud­ing ev­ery hole on the back nine. Off the back tees it stretches to over 8,000 yards and the short­est par 4 off the tips is 410 yards, with a cou­ple touching 500 yards. Off the yel­low tees, it is close to 6,500 yards, and has only three par 4s un­der 400. Off those tees, the only reach­able par 5 for the av­er­age golfer is the 12th.

The rout­ing is spa­cious – there are walks from most greens to tees, some up to 150 yards – on what is an enor­mous site, a sce­nario that would per­mit the 17th and 18th holes alone to ac­com­mo­date up to 70,000 spec­ta­tors.

All these num­bers, of course, speak to owner Örås’ ea­ger­ness to host the Ry­der Cup (or the Sol­heim of 2019, awarded to Gle­nea­gles). So far, only the Scan­di­na­vian Masters has ar­rived and one can­not help but won­der at the im­pact the pur­suit of these ma­jor events had on the style and rout­ing of the course – events that would con­sti­tute a tiny frac­tion of play on the Sta­dium.

Nev­er­the­less, it is an im­pres­sive venue if you en­joy a sinewy but scenic ex­am­i­na­tion of your game. Those seek­ing a more gen­tle,

‘‘The greens are flaw­less, quick and larger than av­er­age and Bro Hof’s tough fi­nal ex­am­i­na­tion’’

flair ex­am­i­na­tion will pre­fer the Sta­dium’s sis­ter course the Cas­tle.

In­deed, no-one should visit Bro Hof and not find time for the Cas­tle, which flows nicely over more un­du­lat­ing land that heads in­land away from the lake.

It’s fun, playable (6,200 off the yel­lows) and strate­gic as it slith­ers be­tween trees, sandy waste­land and rocky out­crops to­wards cosy green com­plexes. It has six par 3s, 4s and 5s and the em­pha­sis is on plac­ing tee shots to give the ‘cor­rect’ an­gle from which to ap­proach the greens. The front nine is su­perb with high­lights at 6 and 8. The par 3s are all ex­cel­lent and if you yearn for some wa­ter drama, it is pro­vided by the last two.

In con­trast, you are al­most never not fac­tor­ing wa­ter into the equa­tion on the Sta­dium. This is a beau­ti­ful beast of a course, one that soothes in its im­pec­ca­bly con­di­tion­ing and breath­tak­ing set­ting, but re­lent­lessly asks dif­fi­cult ques­tions of your men­tal and phys­i­cal prow­ess.

Opened in 2007, three years be­fore the Cas­tle, it is a brawny ex­pe­ri­ence off even the yel­lows. Against which, it must be said that the play­ing cor­ri­dors off the for­ward tees are wide, there is no knee-high rough any­where and the trees on the front nine are set back from the fair­ways. So un­less your ball finds wa­ter or is pro­pelled se­ri­ously wide, you should have no trou­ble lo­cat­ing it.

That said, there are lots of eye-catch­ing large Amer­i­can-style bunkers full of sand so blind­ingly white you have to look care­fully for your ball in it.

Af­ter the open­ing drive, there are few notably el­e­vated tees on a site of in­signif­i­cant el­e­va­tion change, and nei­ther are the greens notably perched. They are notably ex­act­ing though. Flaw­less, quick and usu­ally larger than av­er­age, they are the fi­nal, of­ten frus­trat­ing piece in the Bro Hof ex­am­i­na­tion pa­per.

Only the most deft of put­ters will not be fre­quently mys­ti­fied by the slopes and bor­rows; long putting here is cat­e­gor­i­cally a game in it­self. In­deed, there is of­ten

‘‘Bro Hof’s owner bought 300 ex­tra hectares of land around Lake Mälaren to get the holes closer to the wa­ter’’

merit in safely plot­ting be­tween the wa­ter haz­ards with shorter clubs (there are few long car­ries) and then pitch­ing on in the ex­pec­ta­tion of no more than a two-putt.

The test be­gins with a rel­a­tively gen­tle par 5, a straight hole af­ter an el­e­vated tee shot that of­fers the chance of a solid start. The 2nd, in con­trast, is best played as par 5 for all but the strongest ama­teurs. Over 450 yards, it has one of the Sta­dium’s nar­row­est tee shots and you will have plenty of club in your hand for an ap­proach to a green hard to a pond on the left.

Turn­ing round, the next is one of the few here that re­quires fi­nesse over brawn, turn­ing right to left around a jig­saw bunker with a pre­mium on a con­trolled ap­proach from the right to a sporty green.

Un­like on the short holes later in the round, the par-3 4th has no wa­ter to worry about; here it is the ridge that runs up the spine of the green and re­sults in three­p­utts with­out any­thing vaguely clumsy. A stream cuts across the tough 5th – whose green is con­nected by short grass to that of the 12th – and af­ter the hard work of the up­hill 6th comes the start in earnest of the wa­ter haz­ards.

A pond runs up the en­tire left of this short hole, and with the slen­der green set at an an­gle and bunkers on the right side, only solid con­tact (ide­ally with a soft draw) and as­tute club se­lec­tion will keep your ball above ground.

The next has no wa­ter but does have one of the most in­ter­est­ing shapes on and around the green, and in any case, you are im­me­di­ately back to ag­o­nis­ing over wa­ter-in­duced lay-up and carry cal­cu­la­tions on the 9th. Those cal­cu­la­tions con­tinue from here on in, to a greater (the 15th and 17th) or lesser (12th and 14th) ex­tent.

The course now acts as a path­way around Lake Mälaren. In fact, so ea­ger were Robert Trent Jones and Örås to cre­ate lake­side holes that the owner bought ad­di­tional land (70 hectares and 300 hectares of wa­ter – 20 times what was used for the golf course) that could be des­ig­nated as ‘pro­tected’ to en­able

them to get close to the wa­ter’s edge.

This is wit­nessed most promi­nently on the 15th (see panel, pre­vi­ous page) – a risk/re­ward par 5 that hugs the lake for its en­tirety – and the par 3 that fol­lows. The 16th is played to­wards an in­fin­ity green with the lake also on the left.

If that sounds nervy, it is straight­for­ward com­pared to the 17th, played to a tiny green that is an is­land but for the 2ft wide path that con­nects it to the land. Matches will turn very quickly on these three holes, and also on the 18th, a rel­a­tively short par 4 round the edge of one of Bro Hof’s 10 lakes. Those need­ing a birdie can cut off the cor­ner and leave noth­ing more than a sand wedge for their sec­ond; those pro­tect­ing a lead will likely bail out left and face a daunt­ing ap­proach with wa­ter to the right.

Bro Hof’s Sta­dium course may not ex­cite purists, but these four holes would un­doubt­edly have made for an ex­cit­ing cli­max to Ry­der/Sol­heim Cup matches. We may never be treated to that prospect, but we can en­joy try­ing to mas­ter one of Europe’s most spec­tac­u­lar cour­ses.

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