The Österled (East) course at Österåker opened for play in 1988 as the more forgiving loop and played second fiddle to the club’s championship Västerled (West) course. Built on former agricultural land, the course was never at its best in the earlier part of the season. In the early 2010s it was also clear that the club could not compete in the upscale part of the market against more modern, sand-capped, layouts, including nearby Ullna, which was rebuilt in 2011.
Fortunately, the club owns the land and it is located close to expanding Åkersberga, so it was possible to sell a relatively limited area for a very significant amount (200 million SEK has been mentioned) which provided the resources to engage Henrik Stenson and Christian Lundin to design the new Öster by Stenson track on land formerly occupied by Österled and the 9-hole Hagby loop. The latter was eliminated by the rebuild and the real estate sale, but it was replaced by a new 9-hole short (par 3) course in the middle of the club’s property.
The differences to old Österled are very significant, mainly because of the large water hazards, flanked by palisades of wood. In fact, there is water in play on ten of the holes (3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 13, 15, 16, 17 and 18) so choosing tees wisely and keeping tee shots straight is important to keeping a decent score. In the same vein, the club sensibly restricts play from the Henrik Stenson tees furthest back to those with a handicap below scratch.
The difference also shows in the undulations built into greens and their surrounds as well as the many mounds flanking the fairways, creating separation between the holes, in what is for the rest an open landscape where the wind is a frequent factor shaping play. This was facilitated by the club getting paid for accepting many thousands of lorry loads from road building sites all over the Stockholm region during the construction phase.
It is difficult, and perhaps not important, to know exactly what has been Henrik Stenson’s input into the design and what we should hold Christian Lundin responsible for. Lundin maintains that Stenson was “very involved, but perhaps not when we tested different kinds of sand in the maintenance shed”. Some of the small signs out on the course are however clearly inspired Henrik’s famously dry wit.
In May 2021, the new Öster course hosted the final leg of the European Challenge Tour’s “Swedish Swing”. Frenchman Felix Mory won the Dormy Open to claim his maiden victory.
Öster by Stenson has been the talk of golfing Sweden since it reopened. If you have not played here yet, should you?
Well, that really depends on who you are and what you like.
To be more precise, I think Henrik Stenson and Christian Lundin have managed to create a challenging layout which can be really fun to play for the golfer who can control his trajectory and hit recovery shots from tightly mown lies. But if that is not (yet) in your golfing CV and if lots of water in the line of play fills you with dread rather than anticipation, you should perhaps think twice before teeing up here.
To illustrate this point, I played the course with two members with handicaps in the teens and from the recommended set of tees (no 4). They are members who play here regularly and they still lost between five and ten balls in the water!
Style-wise, I really like the tight lies on the sand-capped fairways and the use of undulations and run-off areas in addition to bunkers to defend the greens, but as my experience demonstrates I am less sure about the almost excessive use of water in the line of play. Also, I wish fine-grained native sand had been used rather than the white crushed marble which always has me reaching for my sunglasses even on overcast days.
Finally, the wet state of some of the low points in the run-off areas during one of the driest spells ever worried me. Hopefully, it was a temporary problem rather than a mismatch between design and maintenance requirements of the kind Bro Hof has wrestled with on their Castle Course.
In spite of these misgivings, the pure quality of design and maintenance will ensure that this course will rise from its current position on Top100 (no 40 nationally at this time). The question is how far?
As always, partly a question of personal taste, but if we limit the comparsion to similarly designed courses in the Stockholm region, Öster by Stenson will likely still have Bro Hof Stadium and Ullna ahead of it.
If you prefer a drier, more understated version of firm and fast, perhaps you will also have Royal Drottningholm ahead on your list. On the other hand, I am not sure the majority will have Frösåker, Vidbynäs, Kallfors or Upsala in front.