Seven thousand yards may no longer be an especially long golf course. But in metric Europe, the 7,000 barrier is a rather more intimidating figure. Given that a metre is a twelfth longer than a yard, a 7,000 metre golf course equates to over 7,600 yards. Even with the help of titanium drivers and high performance balls, that's a lengthy track.
So at 7,750 yards, the newly-opened Hills Golf Club near Gothenburg in Sweden can safely be described as a long course, perhaps one of the longest sea level courses to be found anywhere in the world. Designed by US firm Arthur Hills/Steve Forrest & Associates – who, among many other courses around the world, are the retained architects at Oakland Hills in Detroit, venue of the 2004 Ryder Cup, Hills GC at least offers seven different sets of tees to give normal golfers a satisfying round.
"90 per cent of the property was covered with tall evergreens, such as pines and spruces," says architect Steve Forrest. "And it is a rocking, rolling site, so we looked to take advantage of that in the routing."
"We hired Hills and Forrest because our goal from day one has been to build a traditional tournament course with world class amenities that would provide Sweden with a worthy site to test the skills of the best players on the planet," says owner Martin Sternberg, who hopes to hold the Scandinavian Masters at Hills in the next few years, and in the longer term to compete for international events, perhaps even a Ryder Cup.
Walking the site revealed a large number of interesting natural features such as rockfaces and escarpments, according to Forrest. There were also features that were interesting but not so natural – many large concrete blocks that had been laid down as tank traps during World War II.
"The site had so many interesting features it would have been a crime to go in and take them out, and besides our design philosophy is to avoid major earthmoving wherever possible, which fits in with the Swedish environmental ethic," says Forrest. "We were able to include a rock feature on each hole, and we've built several large-ish lakes. The clubhouse is built on a hilltop to give panoramic views of the site, and there is a three hole 'secret garden' practice loop."
Swedish golf has grown massively in recent years: there are more than ten times as many Swedes playing golf as there were 30 years ago, and with over 600,000 golfers but only around 500 courses, there are often access problems at busy times.
Hills is built on a clay soil, so the fairways have each been capped with 12 inches of sand to improve the drainage – this part of Sweden is quite wet. Fairways are relatively wide, and the bunkering aims to offer the good golfer a range of options on each hole. "We aim to give the golfer an opportunity to recover from his mistakes, but only by playing a very good shot," says Forrest.
This article first appeared in issue 1 of Golf Course Architecture, published in July 2005.