Vesterby, the first new course designed by Johan Benestam, was a bit of an oddity among Swedish golf courses when it opened in 2006. The built-up greens were fast, rock hard and surrounded by equally firm large run-off areas, which meant that Swedish golfers, used to hitting approaches to the pin on soft, parkland greens and lofted clubs for their rescue shots from sand or rough, had to adjust their game significantly to card a decent score here.
The original Vesterby club was aimed upmarket with an exclusive concept. It did not manage to attract members fast enough and went bankrupt within two years in the financial crisis of 2008. The board of nearby club Landeryd, which already had two 18-hole parkland courses some 15 minutes away from Vesterby, saw the potential, however, and managed to persuade the majority of its 1,000-odd members to acquire Vesterby from the receivers. By paying 22.5 million SEK (€2.2 million) you could argue, at least with hindsight, that they got a bargain.
Today, the greens and indeed the whole course still play firm and fast. This is due to very low water and fertiliser input rather than scalping the greens to get speed. According to Vesterby’s head greenkeeper, Peter Isaksson, the fescue greens are never cut below 4 mm and overall fertiliser input is about a tenth of what normal Swedish parkland courses use, with almost no fertiliser used on the fairways. This puts a major premium on the running game, just like at Vallda south of Gothenburg.
The first nine holes are routed back and forth through an open, rolling landscape while the neighbouring mature woodland gets much closer to the line of play on the second nine, routed in a loop alongside the south-eastern end of the property. The stands of mature oaks inside the back nine are part of a local nature reserve and conservation issues explain the long, but scenic walk between the 13th green and the 14th tee.
Vesterby’s past as a stately home and most recently a vocational college also explain the large ponds on the 10th and the 17th (used as a fish farm at some point) and the fact that the old manor house not only functions as a club house but also doubles as a conference venue. This means that you and your friends can also book in to stay over at the club.
What is enjoyment on a golf course to you?
The vast majority of Swedish golfers are fed a steady diet of target golf and although there is a lot of variety between courses in mainly open country exposed to wind and those with many dogleg holes cut out of dense woodland which are not, it tends to come down to iron approaches through the air aimed at the pin and putting, interspersed with wedge recoveries from sand or (semi)rough.
Vesterby is a very welcome exception to this not so varied diet and lucky are the denizens of the Linköping and wider Östergötland area, who do not have to jump on a plane or travel many hours in the car (there are a few true links and faux-links courses in Skåne in the very south of Sweden) to experience the true joy of playing golf on a firm and fast course designed with the running game in mind.
When I played the course recently (October 2020) it was after a long wet spell which led many courses to close temporarily or for the season, even those blessed with sandy soil. In spite of this, I could not spot a single pitch mark on Vesterby's fescue greens and played nothing but rolling 7- and 8-irons as recovery shots around its greens. The greens were obviously not at their fastest (thank God!) but they still rolled reasonably true.
This is the first review of this course on Top100, so a brief summary of (mainly Swedish-language) reviews elsewhere could perhaps be in order: They tend to sum it up as "either love it or (WTF) hate it". Those in the latter camp tend to dislike the fact that "perfect" approach shots aimed at the pin bounce or roll off and that your recoveries could easily go from one side of the green across to the other as hitting lob wedges perfectly from a rock hard surface is an art not so many golfers master (not me either on an average day, thank you very much!).
However, I can see other more valid reasons for marking it down somewhat:
These are often very far from level and it takes a sunny disposition to enjoy consistently hitting your tee-shots from below and/or above the ball. I understand this is partly a legacy of a tightened budget during the building phase and partly a result of 14 years of subsidence. Anyway, I am hoping that the club will find the money (and/or staff time) to rectify this.
Architect Johan Benestam himself volunteers this point and says that he is still hoping to come back to build more bunkers, particularly where golfers tend to land their drives as well as rebuilding the existing ones. Having sparred against his intelligent bunkering at Royal Drottningholm for nine seasons and only on few occasions without damage on the scorecard, I agree. However, I also hope that most of the new bunkers would be on the fairways rather than around the greens as it is the run-off areas which make Vesterby special.
(3) Forward tees
I am sure Landeryd does not encourage its beginner members to play at Vesterby, but seeing the struggles of my playing companions, two gentlemen in their 60s who had both played with single-figure handicaps in the past, I think that creating a shorter course than today's Yellow (5575 meters) would be highly beneficial for the enjoyment of the course for the vast majority of golfers, as would promoting the existing set of orange tees.
Have yet to play any other courses in the Östergötland area, but they have to be very good to entice me away from another stop here next time I happen to travel nearby.