Oct 19th, 2017

Finland: Hey Hey, We're The Punkees!!

Golf? In Finland? Hell yeah!!!!

Finland: Hey Hey, We're The Punkees!!

Above:

Aland Golfklubb's HILF.

The 10th, 450 yards of pure filth.

 

"Hey Hey, we’re the Punkees

And people say we Punkee around

But we’re too busy golfin’

To put anybody down

We’re just trying to be friendly

So come and say ‘Hey hey’,

We’re the Punkees

And people say we Punkee around,

But we’re too busy golfin’

To put anybody down!"

Everyone says "Hey hey" in Finland. And I mean everyone. "Hey hey!" they say when you walk into a hotel reception. "Hey hey!" when you walk into a bar.

"Hey hey!" when you meet the golf course marshall.

"Hey hey".

As a journalist I’ve been to a lot of places around the world and met lots of great people. The people in the far flung mountains of Mexico were great. The people in Austria were super. But no place on earth greets you like Finland.

The first time someone says "Hey hey!" you have to do a double take. Surely they’ve mixed you up with someone else — like their best friend they haven’t seen for a while and are really happy to see them again. But they haven’t mixed you up. This is what they’re like. Nice people who make strangers feel instantly appreciated with nothing more than a "Hey hey!".

I’ve wanted to go to Finland ever since I was a kid. Don’t ask me why, I just have. When we were young, my pals and me used to fill out imaginary magazine questionnaires, the kind of thing you used to get in Shoot magazine.

Favourite pop star? Suzi Quatro.

Favourite biscuit? Jammy Dodger.

Person you’d most like to meet? The Queen at Wembley.

Place you’d most like to go on holiday? Finland.

“Finland?” my pals would mock. “Why do you want to go to Finland?!”

Dunno, I just do. It sounds nice.

Well, let’s park that one now. It is nice. And the people are nice. According to the charity State of the World’s Mothers Report, Scandinavian countries make up four of the five best places in the world in which to become a new parent, with Finland coming top. But that’s none of my business. What is my business is finding out what’s going on golf-wise here.

Finland: Hey Hey, We're The Punkees!!Alands Kungsbannan GC

Gatwick to Stockholm is a mere one hour and 49 minutes. Then we had another half hour flight transfer to Aland. Between Stockholm and Aland lies an incredible archipelago of over 6,500 little islands and skerries. Flying over this stretch of water is an amazing experience on a clear day. Apparently. It was cloudy when we flew over it. But we would have our archipelago experience yet.

For now we were checking in at the Hotel Arkipelag in the heart of Mariehamn, Aland’s only city. That’s when the "Hey heys" started.

Like most things in Aland, the hotel is situated on the sea and our rooms looked out across the harbor. Sipping cocktails on the balcony in the late Spring sunshine you truly felt you were a million miles from anywhere. If you’re looking for peace and tranquility this is the place to come.

Finland is bordered by Sweden to the west, Norway to the north and Russia to the east, while Estonia lies to the south across the Gulf of Finland.  With neighbours like that overlooking you, it’s no wonder Finland’s got such a good senses of humour.

For a country with a population of just over 5 million you might think there’s not much in the way of golf but they have — at the last count — 126 courses across this green and pleasant land (when it’s not snowing).

 

Aland itself is something of an enigma in Finland and has autonomy from Finland’s main government and legislature. Representing only 0.49% of its land mass and just 0.5% of the whole Finland population, Aland is the smallest region in all of Finland. So the Feds up there on Capitol Hill, Helsinki, give Aland a free pass. Which means they can pretty much make up stuff as the go along.

Hang on a minute: 0.5% of you… three of us… sunshine and friendly blonde ladies on tap?... It must be golf o’clock.

P 1/22 N

We roll into Aland Golf Club the next morning full of Nordic joy and are promptly met in the Clubhouse by none other than Leonard Rossiter. Except, of course, the genius actor-comedian Rossiter is long since deceased, gone to nuisance Miss Jones in the great big two up-two down in the sky. This is Chris Waldron and he looks a lot like Leonard Rossiter. Dressed head-to-toe in Bunker Mentality gear, Chris is quite a character and the banter is constant round the The Kungsbannan (Kings) Course.

On the HILF hole (see video) we have quite a tussle and this hole reveals the course at its best: The tee is elevated some 150 feet above the bunker lined fairway and water threatens your approach. It’s an absolute corker.

Alands Golfklub boasts two courses, and The Kungsbannan and the The Slottsbannan Castle courses, and both provide an excellent challenge and fantastic views. The greens were in tip top condition and we even managed a couple of pars here and there.

Being island courses there is of course a links feel here, which when the Nordic winds get going can make you feel as unsteady as an octopus on a skateboard. Today it’s sunny, and a gentle (albeit occasionally cool) wind strokes our forelocks with Baltic mercy.

Both courses are designed to keep a low handicapper focused, whilst not driving a higher handicapper to total despair. The backdrop of the old castle and the Baltic Sea make for a stunning couple of days of golf no matter which of the two courses you decide to take on. The looming presence of the sea is always there on Slottbanna and it really feels quite linksy.

Many of the holes on The Kungsbannan — more of a parkland course — are very narrow, bordered by towering pine trees, instantly taking you a world away from the challenges thrown up by The Slotsbannan, which is far more open to the elements.

In the afternoon we drive across Aland to its other golf course and arrive to find a large field with flags in, pretending to be a golf course. Nonetheless we staunchly go about our business before hightailing it to the Stallhagen Micro Brewery.

The brewery is the brainchild of Jan Wennstrom who greets us at the entrance with the heartiest "Hey hey" I’ve heard yet.

Once inside Jan tells us all about his diving exploits. The Aland archipelago has claimed over 500 known shipwrecks over the years and so is a diver’s paradise. In July 2010, Jan and his pals discovered a previously unknown shipwreck in the southern part of Aland’s outer archipelago, located in the Baltic Sea between Finland and Sweden. What they found was the world’s oldest preserved beers and what is believed to be the oldest Veuve Clicquot and Heidsieck champagne ever found. Jan shows us pictures of the dive and the triumphant crew with the loot on deck.

“My dream is to recreate the beer that we found,” enthuses Jan. “The bottles we found date back to the early 1800s and they have been immaculately preserved in the ship wreck all this time. We are calling it Stallhagen, after this brewery and it will be available to purchase in 2014...”

Getting very thirsty here, Jan…

“When you pour a cold beer from Stallhagen into a frosty glass,” continues Jan licking his lips and adopting something of a longing stare.

Drooling now…

“You can see how the small bubbles form a dense and creamy foam that preserves the flavors while enjoying the beer. Here, if you hold the bottle up to the light…”

Good god, man… would you give a starving dog a rubber bone?!!

“You can see just how cold and refreshing it will be…”

Yes? Yes?!

“And so tasty that you...”

Just let us at it,… pleeeaase!!!

“Ha ha, what am I thinking,” says Jan. “Please, begin to taste.”

Some time later we find ourselves on a ship ourselves, crossing the Aland archipelago back to the mainland. It’s an awesome journey as the ship weaves through these funky little islands, some no bigger than a car, some 1,000 feet square.

We arrive in Turku on the Finnish mainland and head to the golf resort of Kulturanta. Whereas Aland was very rustic and old school, the Kultaranta resort is one of these new and fancy ‘We know how to do golf here in Finland, y'know!’ types.

A great big hotel looks out over a great big 18-hole links course and there are two separate nine hole training courses, plus a range. So no excuses.

When you’re not being battered and bruised by the sea breeze as you foozle round the links, you can sort yourself out with a pampering session — face masks, shower caps, cucumbers over the eyes, the lot.

The resort provides a wide range of different accommodation options, ranging from suites, to apartments, to being able to just pitch-up in your yacht or your sail-boat. So if sailing's your bag then this latter option could provide yet another dimension to your stay.

After our round we went for a sauna. It all threatened to get a bit Girl With The Dragon Tattoo at once stage, however, when a chap called Wennerstrom started shouting and hitting himself with a twig so we made our excuses and headed out with one of the local "Hey heys" who said she had a surprise for us.

A short drive away is the small town of Naantali. We walk across a long wooden bridge and there it is — Moomin Land. For the uninitiated, Moomin Land is a celebration of the books and animated cartoons created by Naantali resident and Finland legend Tove Jansson. Jansson started writing these stories in the 1930s and they are the thing of legend in Finland and one of the country’s biggest exports. The Moomins were big white, errm, hippo-type things – trolls really. But don’t be put off, they’re a decent bunch when you get to know them. My neighbour’s wife Laura actually calls her husband Chris ‘Moomin’ as a mark of affection so they must be alright. Moomin Land has rides, big statues of the characters and, well, you get the picture — it’s a theme park for Moomin freaks, most of whom come over from Japan on a pilgrimage to this fantasy land. Well, we moomin’d like good-uns in the couple of hours we had before heading back to Kulturanta for one more beer before heading home.

We’d played some great golf here and I’d fulfilled a lifetime ambition of visiting my dream location.

“Hey, hey, Finland” we say as we toast the ocean from the clubhouse bar. “Hey hey, indeed.”

 

Related to this story:

Hell Hole Saunton Sands 14th

Hell Hole Estonia Golf & Country Club

HILF (Holes I'd Like To Frequent) Emerald Reef Bahamas 4th Hole

HILF (Holes I'd Like To Frequent) St Mellion 11th

HILF Monta Da Quinta 15th


The Courses

TAGS: Asland Island golf, Finland golf, Alands Golf Klub, The Moomins, Kings Course Slottsbannan