Vasatorps Golfklubb has been holding championship events ever since the late 1970s. The original course – built by Ulf Widerström, former head of the Skanska construction company – was ready for play in 1974 and within six years, it had produced Scandinavian Enterprise Open champions such as Seve Ballesteros, Sandy Lyle and Greg Norman.
After a relatively dormant period, the club is again gearing up to host more European Tour events and a measure of its ambition was the unveiling in 2008 of a new 18-hole TC (Tournament Course) designed by Americans Arthur Hills and Steve Forrest.
In actual fact, the new TC (Tournament Course) is not entirely new as it consists of nine remodeled and nine original holes – within a golf complex that now extends to 54 holes – where the old nine holes are characterised by stands of beautiful mature oak and pine trees and the new nine holes have been laid out on open ground with spectator mounding separating the fairways.
Two of the best holes on the Hills/Forrest course are found at the short par four 8th and the tough par four 13th. The former is routed towards a tempting two-tiered green positioned at the end of a lake that runs the full left side of the fairway and the latter plays like a short, double doglegged par five with water protecting the left side of the green.
Vasatorps Golfklubb’s Tournament course is a pretty unusual design, and several times during my round did I stop and wondered about the solutions the architects used to make it more technical and interesting. In the end I felt ready to go straight for another round though!
You find some parkland holes where trees may catch your ball, some farmland holes, some links-feeling ones (and the rough and hillocks to go with the style). Risky spots are generated by several water hazards (coming into play on 6 holes), a few waste areas (affecting 8 holes), clusters of sand traps here and there, and you encounter a number of big, low, dry stone walls around, or across the fairways (in play on 5 holes). I was told that these boulder walls (the stones are much larger in average than what I have seen around Europe until now) were made from stones lying on the surface of the property and used to serve as boundary markers for the various farmers who owned the land on which the golf course was built, and they are now protected against any dismantling or relocating. Last but not least, the greens are quite contoured and have many slopes so a good reading is essential.
The course is built on mostly flat land so I guess Messrs. Hill and Forrest just used every trick to generate fun and danger for golfers. The result might be a bit puzzling, but it is very pleasurable nonetheless, and the condition of the course is impeccable from tee to green.
Certainly the 13th is rated as the toughest hole on the course, a long par-four going around a big lake with several bunkers threatening to swallow the ball of the long driver who tried to stay safely out of the water, and more lurking just short and right of the somewhat narrow green. I think my favorite was the 5th, a par-four with a drive over water toward a dune-like elevation, and then a second shot to a small, very narrow green protected front and right by a river, and left by overhanging trees. The trick to this hole is that if you drive safely to the right side of the fairway trying not to take on too much of a carry over water, you may well have a blind second shot due to the “dune”. This makes the approach quite risky because of the deep ditch where the river flows.
The 18th hole is also somewhat unusual. It is a long par-four, with a waste area right in front of the tee boxes but not really in play. However, there is also a first stone wall which can come in play if your drive is not very long or down the middle of the fairway. Then the fairway tapers to a thin band before the green, and the surroundings of the green are hidden by a hillock on the left and trees on the right. The only safe place is the long but narrow green itself, as landing left or right will make for a delicate chip from deep dips. The green itself has several slopes to make the pin placement a different puzzle to solve every day.
My personal feeling was that after so much variety, I had the impression that maybe the course lacks a strong identity. However, it was definitely a lot of fun to play, and that is what really counts, isn’t it?
The Tournament Course at Vasatorps Golfklubb was, for me, a very mixed bag. It gets off to a great start at the 1st, where a demanding tee shot is played up and over a low stone wall before the fairway veers slightly right towards what turns out to be a lovely long Biarritz green. A short par three comes next, with a two-tiered green positioned behind a small pond, followed by a good par five, where the fairway narrows as another low wall cuts diagonally across in front of the green, a wee bit like the 13th at North Berwick.
Then, it all goes wrong for me for a while, with long, intrusive sandy waste areas imposing themselves alongside the fairways at four of the remaining six holes on the front nine. Such hazards might work in a different environment, with a more suitable climate, but I don’t really think they quite fit in with the landscape in this part of Northern Europe.
The (stroke index 2) 5th is a cracking hole in the midst of this desert-style mayhem, mind you, with water down the left of the narrow fairway veering across in front of the green to aquatically challenge the approach shot. The short par four 8th is similarly threatened by water down the left side of the hole, its roller coaster fairway playing to a very tricky two-tiered green.
The back nine is more open, with a very linksy feel to many of the fairways and green surrounds. I especially liked the run of three holes starting at the par five 12th (where the fairway splits in front of the green) through the par four 13th (with bunkers punishing overly cautious play to the left of the fairway and to the right of the green) to the par three 14th, which plays a lot longer over water than might at first appear off the tee.
There are further sandy waste areas to contend with at holes 15, 16 and 18 before the home green is reached in a rather curious end to the round with the fairway narrowing dramatically as mounding encroaches to the left and a low stone wall juts in at the right side of the putting surface. It certainly felt like an unconventional way to conclude a game on the TC course but, the more I think back, it was probably a fitting way to finish on a course that has more than a touch of the unorthodox about it.