Frank Pennink’s 1974 design at Hamra outside Kungsbacka on Sweden’s west coast just south of Gothenburg (the country’s second city) is one of the most diverse layouts in Sweden. The club’s Old course (Gamla Banan) starts in a parkland setting with a par three playing to a raised green and continues in classic parkland fashion for the first five holes.
On the 6th the player catches a glimpse of the North Sea for the first time and holes 7 through 11 (opened a few years later in 1978) would not feel out of place on any seaside course. The course turns back inland on the 12th, but holes 13 to 16 are tricky with significant elevation changes laid out in the hilly coastal forest before the course finishes on parkland with a downhill par three on the 18th.
In 1990, a further nine holes opened, designed by Tommy Nordström, known today as the Nya Banan (the New Course). The club also has a nine-hole par three course and a full array of practice facilities close by the clubhouse.
Perhaps this one of the reasons why the club has fostered three successful tour players, all born in the 1970s: Sophie Gustafsson, Johan Edfors and Freddie Jacobsson, the latter regarded as one of the best putters ever on the PGA tour.
Sophie Gustafsson’s career is perhaps the most remarkable. She has a severe stutter, which made her terrified of the speech the winner traditionally has to make. After getting professional help, she recorded 14 wins on the LET and four on the LPGA tour, including the Women’s (British) Open in 2000, before that tournament was given major status. She also represented Europe in Solheim Cup on no less than eight occasions, last in 2011, when she spent eight hours to pre-record a three-minute speech.
Fence-sitting rarely produces good commentary. Still, it will have to be the basis of my review of Kungsbacka's Old course.
1. The routing
Parkland, then seaside, then woodland and finally parkland again. You have as much variety in a round here as you would get playing at least three different courses elsewhere. On the other hand, I felt that the course would have been more harmonious if the woodland section (13-14-15) could have been replaced with more conventional holes.
2. Start and finish
Royal Lytham starts with a par 3 and many good courses finish on one, but starting as well as finishing with a par 3 is perhaps one good thing too many.
3. Short par 4s
I love short par 4s, primarily because they give players of all abilities the option to play a short iron into the green while enticing the best players to hit the green with their tee-shot. When the risk-reward balance is off and the only choice is iron+wedge I think it just becomes tedious. Observing the choices of my three companions (handicaps scratch, 4 and 15) on holes 14 and 15 and seeing the difficulties of the highest handicapped player (the only member) on these severely sloped greens, my preliminary conclusion is that these two holes are too one-dimensional. Would love to be proven wrong because they are very pretty and as such not easily forgotten.
Having said all this, the other greens were true and fast and a delight to putt on. No wonder Freddie Jacobsson was once one of the best putters on the PGA Tour....