THE SWEDES WERE GREAT, THE LINKS WERE GOOD, AND HICKORY GOLFERS ARE NOT CRAZY By Mike Stevens, Level IV member, Tampa, Florida Wrapping up the week was the Swedish Hickory Championship. To say that Sweden is crazy about hickory golf would be an understatement. There were 182 players in the field, and I am told they had over 230 applications. I was in the second-to-last group, teeing off at 3:00 p.m. In spite of the record field, we rarely waited. One of the other things I love about hickory golf – it’s fast. I played very well going out (they said things like that in the old days), turning in 36 strokes. I also hit the ball well coming in, too well, as I flew the ball over several greens, resulting in a string of bogeys. Still I was one shot out of the lead heading down fifteen. Then, I pulled a wedge shot…a wedge shot…mother of mercy, a dumber bogey was nowhere to be found. On seventeen, I three-putted for a double that turned a fourth-place finish into a tie for 7th. The game has no favorites. It’s a battle to the bitter end, requiring constant focus, and mine blurred with the championship staring me in the face. As I trudged downtrodden toward the clubhouse, my playing partner, Adam again, said, “Come on, I’ll buy you a beer.” All was not lost. After a pint and some good conversation, we donned our caps and watched the playoff between Fulke and Per Nyman. Nyman won with a birdie putt on the second hole. All in all, it was a great week with an exciting finish and camaraderie that is always a part of this wonderful game, be it hickory golf or titanium golf. It was a time and place I will not soon forget. Mike Stevens is Southeast Region Director of the USGTF and golf teaching pro at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida. He was the 2005 National Hickory Champion and the 2004 US Golf Teachers Senior Champion. Thus far in 2009 he has finished fourth in the National Hickory Championship, third in the Southern Hickory Four-Ball, seventh in the Swedish Hickory Championship, and second in the USGTF Southeast Regional Championship. He also owns and operates the Mike Stevens On Target Golf School in Tampa and Sarasota.The headline, paraphrasing a popular country song, aptly describes my trip to Sweden to participate in the Hickory Grail matches and the Swedish Hickory Championship. It all began in June, 2008, at White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, where I finished second in the National Hickory Championship. An invitation was proffered to join the United States team that would compete against the European team for the coveted Hickory Grail cup. In the world of hickory golf, this is quite an honor. The matches are held every two years on our soil or in Europe, and this year’s version was played at the Falsterbo Golf Links in, you guessed it, Falsterbo, Sweden. One would think this is an ancient ritual dating back centuries; however, this summer featured only the sixth rendition of Grail matches. It is the brainchild of Ralph Livingston III, who resides in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and historian David Hamilton of St Andrews, Scotland. The purpose, like any such competition, is to foster goodwill among international citizens and to remember and preserve the heritage of our great game. It’s funny how, when traveling to a country for the first time, you have all these visions of exotic things you will encounter, and then you find out everything is pretty much like home. For example, on the train ride from Copenhagen Airport to Malmo, I dozed off, and when I woke, there in front of my eyes was a McDonald’s. It truly is one global economy. My hotel was a short walk from the station, and after settling in to my dwelling for the next week, I was met by two of my Swedish hosts, who invited me to spend the day with them at the SAS Masters tournament. It was a beautiful afternoon as we watched Roberto Gonzalez birdie five of the last six holes to take the title. Getting back to the host hotel, I found congregated in the bar several of my American teammates and European opponents recalling memories of past Grail events. There seemed to be much embellishment involved, which might have had to do with several empty glasses of Sweden’s finest lager. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday were warm-up days as guests of our Swedish hosts. It started with a trip to the Swedish Golf History museum. Just like most ugly Americans, we all joked about what a quick trip it would be. It turns out, however, that there is a rich tradition of golf in Sweden dating back to 1891. The museum was awash with some fantastic artifacts of early golf in the country, right on up to the exploits of Anika Sorenstam and Jespar Parnevik. It was quite impressive. We also played on three wonderful golf courses, my favorite being a nine-hole links course built in 1922 that had some of the quirkiest holes you could ever imagine. Four holes shared the same fairway, and the tee boxes were made of 4×4 plywood covered in that green indoor/outdoor carpet. The greens, however, were some of the purest putting surfaces I have ever played on. It was a hoot, and more fun than you can imagine. With predictions of rain in the forecast, Thursday turned out to be just magnificent as the Europe and US hickory teams paraded in for the opening ceremony. It was quite a site with county flags unfurled in the breeze and national anthems playing in the background. After a few words from each captain, the matches began. I was first up, along with longtime hickory golf friend Randy Jensen, seven-time US national champion, against Pierre Fulke (yes, the Ryder Cup Fulke) and Adam Mednick, former European Tour player. It was a close match, but Adam ran in a 60-foot putt on the 15th green to put us three down, securing the first point for Team Europe. Unfortunately, it would not get any better, as the Europeans had an answer for everything we threw at them that day, and the next, over the windy links. The Grail was lost. My only consolation was that several of the young Swedish boys and girls wanted my autograph before, during, and after play. The whole experience was great fun, however, and to the victors I must tip my hat. They were as gracious in victory as one would expect from gentlemen golfers.