PGA Sweden National, Links

So much has been said and written about the transformation of Kingsbarns in Scotland from ploughed fields into stunning linksland, that the development team at PGA of Sweden National could have identified architect Kyle Phillips with a Google search for ‘turning featureless farmland into great links golf.

However, we can be pretty sure this wasn’t the case, as it was only after Phillips had been engaged that a plot of featureless farmland near Malmo in the south of Sweden was chosen as the site for the PGA’s impressive new golf facility. Identifying an architect early in the development process is an approach that Phillips has championed in a previous edition of Golf Course Architecture (see GCA 2, p52), arguing that the architect’s expertise can be employed for identifying the site’s suitability for development, with a view to saving costs and minimising development time.

Phillips’ Kingsbarns has been one of the success stories of modern golf development. High rankings aside, it is an aesthetic delight. There are few better examples of a course that appears to have been crafted by nature, whereas every contour was in fact the work of architect and construction team.

The Links course at PGA of Sweden National provides the architect with a greater challenge, as it offers neither the dramatic coastline nor the historic setting close to the home of golf that both add to the Kingsbarns experience. With a completely bland site, it’s as close to a blank canvas as one can imagine, aside from a moderate gentle rise in elevation from the clubhouse to the eastern point of the site. Many would consider this an ideal proving ground of an architect’s skill, as the complete absence of redeeming features means that the success of the course is entirely down to their imagination.

So what about the course’s links credentials? With no sea within fifteen kilometres, it’s an inauspicious start. However, the site has been sand-capped and planted with traditional links fescue grasses from tee to green. This gives every opportunity for the firm and fast conditions that suit a bump and run links course. Most of the greens have been left open to allow this approach, and all are large and have plenty of movement, giving the skilled short game golfer an advantage.

Almost entirely exposed, wherever you stand there’s a fair chance you can see most of the rest of the course, and – as was the case on GCA’s visit – a very definite possibility of getting pummelled by wind and rain. Lead shaper Peter Scott has done outstanding work in producing a heavily crumpled terrain, creating muscular contours that define many of the holes.

There are no revetted bunkers, but the steep grass faced bunkers are particularly effective at the greensides where they are fed by heavy slopes. That’s not to say they don’t work well on the fairways, where some are particularly memorable, such as the imposing bunkers clawed into the fairway on the approach to the fourth and from the tee shot of the eighth. The latter shouldn’t come into play, but it’s intimidating enough to put some doubt in the player’s mind.

There isn’t a single tree in play (although plenty in view on the perimeter of the property), just a sea of high fescue which the fairways snake through. It’s a very simple and highly pleasing aesthetic. And with a design masterstroke, a burn comes into play on many of the holes closer to the clubhouse – in my view a far more desirable way to incorporate water hazards on a golf course than the large lakes evident on its in-progress sister course (although for the sake of variety that can be forgiven).

After a reasonably gentle opening hole, the course gains strength with a 541 yard uphill par five that looks alarmingly difficult, albeit with a fair degree of deception. The bunkers that seem peppered throughout the landing area are actually only in play from the tee if the drive is missed left. But if successfully negotiated, a central bunker forty yards short of the green creates indecision for the second. For the approach, all the trouble appears to be at the front of the green, but a swale also brings a rear bunker into play. The next two par fours are equally tough, and one begins to wonder whether it’s going to be a long day. But any such thoughts are soon discarded, as the second set of four holes are among the most enjoyable you’ll experience.

The fifth is a short but beautifully formed par three, with three deep bunkers waiting to collect the results of an underclubbed shot. The long 476 yard par four sixth twists to the right back down the hill, gently falling away to the left when the ideal approach is from the right. The seventh, another one-shotter to a superbly grand Biarritz green that is over 50 yards long, demands careful attention to pin placement in order to avoid three putt territory.

But the par five eighth is probably the cream of the crop, assuming some sadistic tendencies. Those good enough to avoid being psyched out by the large bunker that draws the eye from the tee might need to hold back the adrenaline otherwise they’ll get their first sight of the burn. Most, however, will be happy to have negotiated it safely with their second shot. The hole then climbs back up towards another large green essentially split into two by a grand tier that defines the best angle of approach required.

It’s a fantastic stretch that barely gives the golfer a chance to catch their breath. The adventure doesn’t stop there as the rest of the course, primarily on the lower land nearer the clubhouse, continues to stimulate the golfing senses, where nature itself had little to offer. A steroid-fuelled valley of sin on the par five fifteenth and the demanding par three seventeenth perhaps stand out, and with the final crossing of the burn to the eighteenth green, the tastefully furnished clubhouse will give players a chance to reflect on a very pure golfing experience.

Our recent feature article on golf in Sweden (see GCA issue 15, p42) suggested that its courses were finally beginning to match its golfing talent. The Links course at PGA of Sweden adds another fine feather to the country’s cap.

By Toby Ingleton
Golf Course Architecture


No comments yet.

Leave a Reply