Sweden's Number 1
Chris Bertram heads north of Stockholm to assess the merits of Sweden’s Bro Hof Slott
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.