Warm summers, first class golf courses and magical 24-hour daylight make Finland an alluring alternative for a golf break.
Gary Firkins heads to Helsinki to experience midnight golf at Finland’s finest resort, Linna Golf.
- Teeing off under the stars
- Post round sauna and an icy plunge
- Feast on reindeer
- Be a culture vulture in Hip Helsinki
As much as I enjoy Europe’s traditional golf holiday destinations – Spain, Portugal and the much underrated France – for me, there is nowhere quite like Scandinavia in the summertime.
The clear northern air warmed by long sunny days is somehow more restorative than the breathless heat of the Mediterranean, while endless miles of coastline and rocky archipelago, giving way to vast forests, generously sprinkled with clearwater lakes, offer the ultimate back-to-nature escapade.
Finland, with its ultra-cool capital, Helsinki – just a two-and-a-half hour flight from London and fast becoming a major travel hub and gateway between Europe and the Far East – has been slower to catch the golf bug than its Scandinavian neighbours. But now, a growing number of international standard courses are beginning to open for play and the idea of a summer golf break in the land better known for Santa Claus and reindeer is highly appealing.
One magical ingredient makes a midsummer golfing trip to Finland special, though – 24-hour daylight and the chance to play midnight golf.
My destination is Linna Golf, opened in 2005 and heralded not only as Finland’s finest golf course, but as one of the best new layouts in Europe. A member of the PGA European Tour Courses Group, Linna Golf, an hour’s drive north of Helsinki, has been designed to host top class professional tournaments while also doubling up as a forgiving and enjoyable resort course for the average player.
What makes this place stand out is Vanajanlinna, Finland’s only country house hotel (Linna is actually the Finnish word for castle), and an exquisite former hunting lodge built in the 1920s for a wealthy industrialist.
The cream of Helsinki society, including the President, were regulars here in Linna’s historic heyday and since becoming a hotel with top class golf, it is the place to be seen in Finland – (Formula 1 racing driver Kimi Raikkonnen is a regular and European Tour professional Mikko Ilonen is attached to the club).
Indeed, a friend of mine happened to be visiting when Linna hosted the finals of the Miss Scandinavia beauty competition. Jealously – a terrible thing.
I’m met at Linna Golf by Petri Keskitalo, Executive Director. “Being in the southern part of Finland, we have 24-hour daylight in midsummer when the weather is good so you really can play golf all night,” he explains.
“For visitors, playing golf at night is a surreal experience – it’s beautiful to see the sun go down, but to finish your round as the sun is rising again is magical.”
To be accurate, there is no midnight sun here, as there is further north in Lapland. The sun is up for 22 hours and, so long as there are clear skies, you can play golf all night long. By mid-July, around 11pm is your limit, although insomniacs can tee off again in the early hours.
Reindeer is a rich, succulent delicacy
Whatever, teeing it up after a day’s shopping and sightseeing in Helsinki, followed by a meal of roast reindeer (don’t tell your kids, but Rudolf produces a delicious, rich, succulent meat) in Vanajanlinna’s renowned wood panelled, chandelier lit restaurant, makes for a unique golf break and, thanks to the bonus daylight, allows you to pack more in.
As for the golf course itself, it is carved out of one of Scandinavia’s finest birch and pine forests and looks like it has been part of the landscape for decades.
The 6,624m (7,244 yard) layout, designed by European Golf Design (whose credits include European Tour venues Carton House, Ireland, and PGA Catalunya Resort, Spain) rides a natural rollercoaster of craggy hills peppered with rocky outcrops, bordering a 7km long lake.
A quick check of the watch – yes, it really is bedtime – and whack, we’re off, the sound of our titanium drives and laughter echoing around the trees! The low sun casts an ethereal light and long, mysterious shadows across the course as we navigate the tree-lined holes of the outward nine.
While forgiving and enjoyable from the members’ tees, you can see Linna Golf would be a serious challenge from the back markers – not only in terms of length, but the angles at which better players and pros have to attack the fairways and greens.
My favourite hole of the outward nine is the par-4 14th, which cuts through the trees and runs along a ridge with a wide fairway encouraging the golfer to open their shoulders give it a whack down the hill from the tee.
We’re so engrossed in our friendly match that midnight almost passes us by.
The sun hasn’t so much set as rolled along the horizon like a putt on an undulating links green, dipping into a hollow and then re-emerging the other side.
Good morning Finland
Before we know it, the rising sun is shining through the trees again – good morning Finland!
The inward nine feels a little like the dawn walk home after an all night party – the surreal quietness of early morning while the rest of the world slumbers.
But not us. We’ve reached the sublime heights of the elevated 9th tee, which we are playing as our 18th.
What a spectacular hole to finish with. The fairway sweeps down the hill like a ski jump to an arena in front of a pond, with the impressive clubhouse forming the backdrop.
A good drive, floated approach, two putts and a shake of hands – we’re done.
The sauna is the 19th hole in Finland
Well, not quite. No round of golf in Finland is complete without a sauna.
Stripping off, grabbing a beer and discussing life’s pressing issues with your similarly naked and sweaty playing partners (saunas are generally not mixed, by the way) does not come naturally to all, it has to be said – especially at three o’clock in the morning. Yet sauna is a way of life for the Finns and, once experienced, it is wholly addictive. At Linna Golf, the sauna is the 19th hole.
As the sun rises above the tops of the pines and begins to sparkle on the lake, we take the walk from the sauna cabin, across the grass and out along the wooden jetty. Towels off – one, two, three, splash! We plunge into the chilled waters of the lake.
Midnight golf at Linna certainly makes a refreshing alternative for a golf break.
Linna Golf Factfile
The golf package at Linna Golf costs €145 (£120) per person per night, based on two people sharing a room, and includes breakfast and 18-hole green fee.
Accommodation is available in the hotel or the luxury suites, with en-suite saunas, in the clubhouse complex. Please call or e-mail for tailored packages, including airport transfers.
Call: +358 600-550 123
Other courses in Southern Finland worth playing…
Kytäjä, a short drive from Linna Golf on the road back to Helsinki, is a highly rated, international standard 36-hole complex designed by Canadian architect Thomas McBroom. Both courses are open to visitors on weekdays before 1pm only.
Green Fee: €80
Call: +358 19 4565 700.
There are two courses at Mastergolf, situated on the banks of the Bodom Lake in Espoo: the championship Master Course on parkland and the enjoyable woodland Forest Course. Visitors are welcome before 2pm on weekdays and weekends after 4pm, and in July any time after midday on weekdays or weekends.
Green fee: €55 before 2pm, €65 after 2pm
Call: +358 9 8492300
Helsinki Golf Club, Tali (Helsingin Golfklubi)
The oldest golf course in Finland, founded in 1932, Helsinki Golf Club has hosted numerous tournaments including the Ladies European Tour Finnair Masters in 2006.
Green fee: €65
Call: +358 9 2252 3710
Flights & tourist information
Linna Golf, near Hämeenlinna, is within easy reach of Helsinki Airport (100km) and Tampere Airport (80km).
From the UK, British Airways, Ryanair, SAS (Scandinavian Airlines Systems) offer regular services, while Finnair and Ryanair also fly direct from Dublin. For more information, go to www.visitfinland.com