The renovation of Österåkers Golfklubb on the outskirts of Stockholm, Sweden, represents the debut project of Henrik Stenson Golf Design. The 2016 Open champion has teamed up with a fellow Swede, golf course architect Christian Lundin, for the two-course project and more on the horizon.
How did your partnership come about?
Stenson: We met through a friend in common when Christian was in Orlando for the Golf Industry Show a few years ago. I showed them around Lake Nona, and we had dinner, during which we discussed golf for quite some time. It was obvious that not only do we share the same sense of humour, but we also look at golf courses in a similar fashion.
How has the working relationship been, and what do you each bring to projects?
Stenson: I obviously provide the player perspective and Christian is a trained architect. So, we add different things and keep a very good dialogue between each other. From our first time meeting up until now, a great friendship has been created and this builds trust between us. I have seen a huge amount of golf courses all around the globe. Some great and, in all honesty, some very poor courses.
Lundin: It has been great. Henrik comes with a perspective that I don't have, and he shows that he has a fantastic understanding of the amateur golfer as well. I think what makes our relationship so good is that we can both critique each other in the right manner. Also, we have a very strong understanding of what we think is great golf and do not compromise with this. We challenge each other, and this gives our clients a much better product.
For me it was very important that we don't just do the same thing as other signature firms, where a pro puts his name to something but doesn't really spend any time on it. Henrik has proven to me that he really doesn't do that. His commitment is second to none. In my wildest dreams I couldn't have asked for more dedication to create great golf courses. I get asked a lot, 'how involved is Henrik?' And I can honestly say that he is 110 per cent into this. If I was to call him at any time and ask about the slope on the fifteenth green, he would know the percentage. Very impressive, if you ask me!
Tell us a little about your design philosophy - do you have similar views on what makes good golf?
Lundin: Very much so. We both believe in true and honest courses. A Henrik Stenson golf course will be a course where a good shot will be rewarded. Our courses are very unlikely to include gimmicky features for marketing purposes. We believe in the greatness of the game of golf and that a solid golf course will provide the most interest over time for its end users.
Stenson: For us it's also very important to create golf courses that suit our clients' brief. A resort course in the Caribbean and a links course in Scotland need to be approached differently.
I assume Royal Troon is among your favourite golf courses! Which other courses do you each like, and provide inspiration for you?
Stenson: Obviously Royal Troon has a special place in my heart. I really love links golf, it has always attracted me, with the pure ball striking needed and the creativity the courses ask of the golfer to be able to master them. Apart from Troon, my personal favourites on the Open rota are Royal Birkdale and Muirfield. I like TPC Sawgrass, for its look and playability. Pete Dye was very inspired by the links courses, maybe that's why Sawgrass appeals to me. Le Golf National in Paris has the risk and reward element that I find very important.
Are there any golf course features that you particularly like or dislike?
Stenson: Clown faces and windmills…! No, but seriously, neither of us is a big fan of gimmicks.
Lundin: Agreed. Features like logo bunkers and volcano traps won't appear on our courses.
Stenson: As we said, it's about honesty. Take drivable par fours, for example. These are fantastic holes which add interest to a round of golf. But unfortunately, holes like these have lately been tricked up to make them hard for those few of us on major tours. And that makes them completely unplayable for the average golfer.
There was a drivable par four on one of our tournament courses recently where we all could reach it, some even with irons. But there were such severe run-offs at the green that even shots that were almost perfect rolled off the green. We were basically asked to hit a target of the size of a dining table to end up on the green. I would rather reward a good shot, than let holes be so hard that no one wants to go for it.
Can you tell us about your project at Österåkers?
Stenson: It's a great first project for the company. It's in my home country and it's a total revamp of 36 holes. Here we get the chance to showcase two different styles of course at a classic Swedish venue. I am really excited about the opportunity.
Lundin: To be honest, it's a quite boring bit of land, but we have been importing a huge amount of soil - approximately 1.2 million cubic metres - from outside construction sites to generate some movement for the first 18 holes and the practice areas.
Stenson: The first layout is in parkland. It will have very few hidden features and be more 'what you see is what you get' in style. You will need to think strategically, with placement of water features and bunkers impacting your decision-making.
2018 saw us opening the practice range, which is quite unique for the Scandinavian market. It has several greens and surrounds for more realistic practice. We've used artificial grass for all target areas, including the bunkers.
In 2019 we will open the first 18-hole course, the par three course and short game area. We are really looking forward to that.
Lundin: The plan is then to wait a year for the second course to start, as we expect quite a lot of play on the new course and don't want that to be interrupted by work on the second course.
What other projects do you have in progress, or in the pipeline?
Lundin: We have quite a few actually. We are working on the details for a project on a sandy site in the south of Sweden. If all goes well, we might start construction of the golf course in early 2019, but there are a few obstacles to clear yet. Planning is there but we want to ensure 100 per cent funding is in place. The site has potential to be a very special place.
Apart from that, we are bidding for work in Middle East, Caribbean, Latin America, Scotland and Norway. It's quite a good spread but for us it is important to do very few courses at once. Henrik wants to be, and is, heavily involved in the process and we think we only have time for one project in construction and one on the drawing board at any given time.
Aside from Scandinavia, where in the world do you think a Stenson golf course would be particularly well received?
Stenson: Everywhere! Seriously, we believe that we can create courses anywhere in the world. But it is all about working closely with our clients to ensure their vision is accomplished. I think my skills are suitable for a links course. Both me and Christian would take on that challenge very seriously. Also, I have spent a lot of time in the Middle East and I do believe that our brand would do very well in that region.
Lundin: I also think that Henrik's mentality and approach to the game would be very much appreciated in new markets such as Latin and South America. They don't deserve to be cluttered by the same courses as have been done all over the world already. They deserve a new, fresh approach.
I think the same mentality would bring something new to American country clubs. There has been a change in that market the last few years with Gil Hanse and others. I think that is great!
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