'A piece of Scotland washed up in the wilds of Lofoten'
To have been given the opportunity to work on the course of Lofoten Links has been an honour.
The origins of Lofoten Links for me began with Tor Hov, father of the subsequent motor behind the project, Frode.
A vision of a true links course on this remote location was later endorsed by golf journalist Malcolm Campbell during his visit to the opening of the original six holes in the 1990s.
Malcolm and I discussed the surrealistic qualities of the location and the time warp sensation created by the midnight sun, casting a kaleidoscopic shadow pattern, continually and subtly shifting.
Finally, there is the firm base of underlying sand and the hollow echo when one stamped one’s foot on it: true links terrain.
The course was permitted to develop gradually and organically over a period of 20 years. The nature on site was so delicate and fragile that a speedy construction process would have been inappropriate.
The main challenge was to weld a basically simple course into the wild, rugged and raw terrain of the site.
During the final phase of construction when the course was extended to 18-holes, 10 were entirely new holes, 4 re-built existing holes and 4 existing holes, some with minor improvements.
The main challenge was to weld a basically simple course into the wild, rugged and raw terrain of the site. Things could not be more of a contrast to the manicured, cosmetic courses where ‘effect seeking’ is paramount.
Lofoten Links offers amazing photogenic images thanks to the surroundings. The Swedish Golf Journal (Svensk Golf) described Lofoten Links as ‘a place that changes our concept of what a golf course is’.
That is maybe a little far-fetched, but there is something in it. So long as the total experience and the course are perceived and enjoyed like an epic movie or a gripping theatrical production, then one can be reasonably satisfied.
Difficulties in judging distance, estimating the proximity of bunkers and other obstacles, provides the essence of good golf.
A natural reaction of any golfer playing Lofoten Links for the first time is that the course is subordinate to the visually overwhelming land- and seascape.
Thus, there is imbalance of attention to and between the surroundings and the course. The apparent narrowness of the course can be disconcerting and working out the angles of play, the shaping of shots, does require a high level of focus on the mode of attack and choice of club.
As links golf is usually played at a low level, the fairways and greens frequently present diffuse targets and are, to a certain extent, perceived as optical illusions.
Difficulties in judging distance, estimating the proximity of bunkers and other obstacles, provides the essence of good golf. It is diametrically the opposite to target golf, when everything is obvious and entirely visible.
To select and write about my ‘favourite hole or series of holes’ are not really the terms in which an architect thinks. Instead I would to draw attention to the more anonymous, less spectacular holes that today are the least significant and least memorable.
These holes fall in the shadow of the obvious and fine array of signature holes that Lofoten boasts. These ‘lesser’ holes are those that, in the future, could pose an unexpected challenge and just as severe a threat to a promising score card.
These holes are the relics of the earlier course. They are the 4th, to a certain extent the 5th, the 7th and the 17th.
Much has been written about the more eye-catching seaside holes but the inland hole at the 11th is a true test of driving and iron play.
The upgrading that awaits these holes will heighten their playability and lift their contribution to the 18-hole course in its entirety.
To select one hole at random, we can take the 4th. This hole, as with the others, can be given a lift by a fine tuning and tightening up.
The giant mound on the right edge of the fairway, is screaming for the originally planned gaping bunker. Beyond this, in the ideal line of play (and vision), a crescent of ‘capture bunkers’ are planned on the far left-hand edge of the fairway.
A big drive may easily run out of fairway and a lay-up shot out to the left can leave an alarmingly long approach shot. In other words, a radical re-think from the tee will be required.
The green and green area needs re-shaping and the bunkers re-building and tightening up. This will present a demanding approach to a well-protected green with tricky surrounds.
As I refrain from selecting a favourite hole I will select the 11th from the backbone of the homeward stretch, holes 11-16. This is a long par 4 and, as such, comprises the heart of any significant golf course.
Much has been written about the more eye-catching seaside holes but this inland hole is a true test of driving and iron play.
Over 400 years of golfing tradition encapsulated in a few years work – a piece of Scotland washed up in the wilds of Lofoten!
From the tee a panoramic view over the course and landscape opens up. The fairway is bunkered on the right and left edges, placing a premium on a well-positioned drive.
Depending on wind conditions, one will be left with a mid-to-long iron shot into a green angled right to left. A pair of deep bunkers guard the left edge and a menacing bunker lurks along the right edge.
The green is generous but has several subtle breaks tricky to negotiate for a long putt.
Finally, I round things off with a quote I delivered in the 1990s regarding Lofoten Links: ‘Over 400 years of golfing tradition encapsulated in a few years work – a piece of Scotland washed up in the wilds of Lofoten! A powerful and natural experience of world-class golf’.