A taste of golf in Norway
Our Editor visits the Land of the Midnight Sun
14 August 2014
At Top 100 Golf Courses, we think we have Norwegian golf pretty well covered, thanks mainly to our man on the ground, Jan Nordstrom, who has been our eyes and ears in the region for some time now and who was instrumental in establishing a national Top 20 chart for the country. Last year, we featured a story of Jan completing his quest to play every 18-hole course in the country (click here) so he’s the ideal person to have as our correspondent in Norway.
Despite Jan’s respected and reputable presence in Norway, as soon as the European Golf and Travel Media Association extended an invitation for us to visit the country to sample the golfing product at first hand, there was absolutely no way we could refuse, especially as we feel the Top 100 Golf Courses website has benefited in recent times from attending similar instructive media trips around Europe, for example: Belgium, Portugal and Germany.
Where else to start in Norway but at the very top? Miklagard, the country's number 1 course, was playing host to the Norwegian Challenge event on the European Challenge Tour so it was a great opportunity for the Norwegian Golf Federation to show off the nation’s top track to the visiting EGTMA delegates. A Robert Trent Jones Jnr. design, Miklagard is an enormous stadium course that was purpose built to hold national and international tournaments and it occupies a commendable position in our latest Continental Europe Top 100 chart at number 92. The club has around 950 members, with juniors under the age of 19 given free membership – now there’s a rather novel means of promoting golf to youngsters!
Before the start of the Norwegian Challenge pro-am, Tom Gundersen, NGF Head of Communications, gave a briefing on the current state of golf in Norway. At the moment, there are around 104,000 golfers attached to 180 clubs but there’s been an uncomfortable decline in numbers over the last five years. The plan now is to encourage greater participation in the sport - especially among female players - and help existing golfers to realise their full potential with the aid of a team of volunteer “trainers” who are supporting pros around the country. It’s been a fantastic achievement for the NGF to have nurtured an internationally recognised golfing superstar and role model like Suzann Pettersen but the development of more golfers like her has become a top priority.
Following a night’s rest in the very comfortable Thon Opera Hotel, situated opposite the ultra-modern Oslo Opera House in the centre of the capital city, the next stop on the schedule was Oslo Golfklubb, the oldest golf club in Norway. It was on the lakeside estate at Bogstad that founding members first set out a 9-hole course back in 1924. Ninety years later, the same site is still in use but - following an extensive renovation by Steve Forrest in 2008, when the entire 120-acre property was sand capped - today’s upgraded course bears very little resemblance to the rudimentary original layout. Currently rated the number 2 course in Norway, Oslo also lies within our Continental Europe Top 100 chart at number 96. We also understand the course will become the venue for the 2019 Solheim Cup if a hosting bid by Norway is successful.
Once the golfing activities were completed at Oslo, it was time to undertake a couple of visits to local attractions. First up, it was a climb up to the recently rebuilt ski jump at nearby Holmenkollbakken, where the old hill had been used in the 1952 Winter Olympics. If you think that particular sport looks rather scary on the TV then you really have to see the venue close up – competitors must surely have to suppress certain suicidal tendencies in order to compete at that event!
Soon after, Akevittruten rep Stine Borgerson whisked the EGTMA group off to the Arcus Distillery outside Oslo, where a guided tour of the plant was conducted by one of the staff. Delegates were then able to sit down to the serious business of sampling several of the different flavoured spirits that are bottled at the facility. Back in 1807, when five unsold sherry casks of spirit returned unsold from the East Indies, it was found that the flavour of the product had actually been enhanced by the long sea journey, due to the gentle rolling motion of the boat and the fluctuations in temperature and humidity. To this day, boats loaded with casks of "Linie Aquavit" still set sail on a four-month journey from Norway to the Far East and back again to improve the flavour of the spirit before it is bottled.
Next day, it was onto the tortuous E6 road – what a highway that will be when it’s finished – for an hour and a half to get to the next course in the Hamar Region at Atlungstad, located on the shores of Lake Mjøsa. A Dave Thomas design, the course is an eclectic collection of woodland, meadowland and lakeside holes that have been melded together in a very pleasant manner to offer a fine golfing challenge in beautiful surroundings. And when the round is over, there’s a lovely little clubhouse to return to, next to the old restored distillery buildings that backs onto the course. The golf facility has something of a laid back feel to it, both on and off the course; making it the perfect place to unwind, away from the stresses and strains of the city.
After the golf, a quick tour of the old restored distillery next to the clubhouse was arranged, with more Aquavit sampling, of course. Then, probably the après golf highlight of the trip, a teatime sail from Hamar to Gjovik on Skibladner, the world’s oldest paddle steamer that’s still in timetabled service. What a magical couple of hours that turned out to be, sitting in a VIP area at the back of the boat enjoying a restorative local beer or two, whilst the old girl (constructed in 1856) gracefully made her way across the shimmering waters to the other side of the lake.
A wonderful day was then rounded off in fine style with a late evening meal at the Staur Gaard mansion, a fantastic old colonial-style farmhouse manor situated close to the town of Hamar which is operated by the Norwegian Ministry of Agriculture and Food as a 35-room conference hotel set within a 250-acre working farm.
The final day of the Press Trip was spent at the 27-hole Losby Gods resort, to the east of Oslo, playing on the Østmork 18-hole course. This is a layout with no shortage of water-protected holes, particularly on the back nine, where the fairways are set beside the meandering waters of the Losby River. Designed by Swedish architect Peter Nordwall, the course first opened for play in 1999.
By way of a little bonus at the end of the short EGTMA trip to Norway, Jan Norsdstom fixed up an impromptu visit to a course that’s only listed on the Top 100 Golf Courses site as a “Gem” but what a little beauty it turned out to be. To be fair, there are one or two strategically questionable holes at Tyrifjord, but if it’s quintessential Norwegian golf that you’re after, with fantastic panoramic views thrown in for free, then look no further than this little cracker. And that’s what it’s all about at Top 100 Golf Courses; lauding the golfing great and the good, but never forgetting the “hidden gems” that might lack a little lustre but are worth identifying nonetheless if they're worth a play.
Norway will probably never become a destination for the golfing masses but there’s plenty to interest the more discerning golfer, who might just be pleasantly surprised by the quality of what’s available – just don’t come looking to play between November and April.
Sincere thanks to Arne J. Vigstad of 1Golf Travel for a magnificent job hosting the EGTMA visit and to the Norwegian Golf Federation and associated sponsors who made all of the above possible.