Review of the Month August 2019 – Halmstad (Norra)
Halmstad Norra is top on many a Swedish golfer's bucket list, at least on the domestic side, and for good reason. To me, it is also worth a look for the window it provides into Swedish golf course architecture and history.
First, consider the oldest part of the course, holes 1-4 and 14-18, built in the 1930s, presumably without too much heavy machinery. The fairways have that rolling character with small humps and hollows, so typical of sand-based courses. Although some holes appear quite short on the scorecard today, in particular holes 3, 14, 15 and 17, a bogey is never far away if you place your tee shot in the wrong part of the fairway. Greens could have a lot more movement for my taste, but they were likely not rebuilt to their original design. The club likely has the budget to let someone like Johan Benestam loose with a restoration-like brief and judging by what he did at Royal Drottningholm (with a Sundblom/Sköld design), the results could be absolutely spectacular!
Halmstad North course 5th hole - photo courtesy of Halmstad Golfklubb
Second, the middle section, holes 5 to 13 were built slightly deeper into the coastal pine forest in the 1960s. Fairways are flatter, except the glorious 12th of course, and of a design quite typical of Swedish woodland courses built during that time. It is not surprising to learn that the architect, Nils Sköld, was the most prolific Swedish golf architect at the time and that the typical dogleg holes (6, 7, 9 and 10) can also be seen on many other courses he designed. The best example, perhaps, being holes 12-16 at Visby, the longest stretch of original routing in place on that course.
Third, although very likely on perfect sandy soil it is managed like a parkland course. Swedish golf course cognoscenti often look to the British Isles, an excellent example being Golf Digest Sweden's comparison to Sunningdale and Wentworth in the last bit of the course write-up. I think Woburn is a better comparison... at least south of the border, Jim!
Halmstad North course 12th hole - photo courtesy of Halmstad Golfklubb
It is correct, however, that Halmstad Norra could play like Sunningdale if managed to a drier, slightly faster running set-up. However, this would probably mean that the top of the humps on the oldest part of the course would no longer offer perfect playing surfaces and members would risk finding what they think are perfectly good tee shots rolling and bouncing away into the trees.
Maybe this is what the course managers experienced when they had a forced experiment during the 2018 summer drought. Things got so tough that the city of Halmstad sent planes overhead daily with messages to locals and holidaymakers to save water and the golf club sensibly cut irrigation to a minimum, although I understand it has its own water resources.
However, Top 100 is about reviewing courses as they are, rather than what they could be. In 2019, and most years, the course is deep emerald green, also in mid-July (I only ever play it during my annual summer vacation in the region), but it’s never overly soft. It is impossible not to be impressed by the beauty of the site or the quality of the conditioning, time and time again. Halmstad Norra therefore fully deserves its place in anyone's Swedish Top 10.
Best in the region? Absolutely within 100 kms/1-hour drive.
If we look at the whole of the Swedish South and the West Coast, Halmstad Norra would share top honours with Falsterbo, just ahead of Vallda and PGA Links, both of which I would put ahead of Barsebäck and Vasatorp.
Review of the Month August 2019 selected by Editor-in-Chief, Keith Baxter, and sponsored by TaylorMade – click to read EG's full review and more about Halmstad (Norra).