Before Loch Lomond came the Ullna Golf Club, Sweden's equivalent set on the banks of the beautiful Ullna lake north of Stockholm. While it enjoys the beauty of Loch Lomond, the serenity isn't quite to the same level as a busy road runs along the courses perimeter. The design is also not as sophisticated, despite having more lake shoreline than Weiskopf and Morrish in Scotland, designer Sven Tumba struggled to tie his holes strategically with the water and if it weren't for the views it would struggle to hold the interest of most players.
Of greatest concern were the early lake holes, the 4th was terribly over treed spoiling both the view and the hole itself, the cross-lake par three 5th had too much green left of the water and the 6th was spoiled by trees down its left side. The hole could have been a great risk-reward par four with the trees gone, and perhaps the area short of the green cut to entice longer hitters into flirting with the lake to go for the green. Inland things weren't much better, holes having to battle three man-made lakes complete with fountains. The best inland hole was the 18th, which Tumba bunkered well and built with a nasty green.
Tumba was an Ice Hockey legend in Sweden turned national representative golfer, rather than a golf course designer. After his passing the club engaged Nicklaus Design to revamp the course at a cost of around $6million. On a return visit in 2015 we noticed the conditioning had improved noticeably with the site sand capped and wet areas raised above the lake. The greens are also trickier now, and the bunkers pinch some landing areas more noticeably than before.
While the site on the banks of a large Swedish lake is attractive, the dimensions of the golf course don't quite work – a number of landing areas run out of room, forcing decent players to continually lay back on the longer holes. Some of the greens are quite challenging and interesting, such as the backboard bowl on the uphill par four 10th, but there isn't much new here and no question in our minds that to improve Ullna and make it more fun you would need to make it shorter and easier, something unlikely to have been considered by the Nicklaus group.
Holes like the 4th are especially odd, with the hole easier for good players to make 4 on than for poorer players to make 5, given the fairway is cut by the lake and then trees and built with bunkers that make the layup on the first two shots really difficult for the average golfer.
On the positive side, the lake backdrops are gorgeous and the club is run by great people with a nice Swedish atmosphere. As golfers in this part of the world enjoy a difficult test and few surprises in their golf course architecture, this layout is one that appeals to a wide audience.
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