Every time you cross the border during a round, bomb-sniffing dogs snuffle your bag for exploding golf balls, while stern customs officials ask how long you plan to stay on the 9th green. Or so I assumed would be the case when I saw the course's border-patrol house, with its imposing gate. But alas, the house was empty, the gate raised. In these days of European union, a passport isn't required at the Green Zone. "Golfers are allowed to go freely in and out of Sweden on the course," said an 11-handicap Finn named Seppo Rantamaula when Bob and I joined his foursome as spectators. "Your greens fee is like your passport here."
Nevertheless, if you want to smuggle a controlled substance into or out of Finland and call it divot mix, the Green Zone is the place to do it. "Oh, we've never had any problems," said Marja-Leena Laitinen, president of the club. Golfers, she pointed out, are an honorable lot.
"Why isn't there a flagstick on the 6th green?" I inquired casually.
"Somebody stole it last night," she said.
Fair enough. After all, the 6th hole is the Green Zone's most famous. The tee box on this 126-yard par-3 hole in Sweden, as is the front of the green. The back of the green is in Finland, and it is there that the green-keeper usually places the pin, when there is a pin. "You can putt for one hour and three seconds' time on this green," Seppo told me.
"I can do that on any green," I told him.
"But not with one putt," countered Seppo, who had a point. Because Sweden is one time zone west of Finland, a successful six-footer that leaves your putter at precisely midnight in Sweden drops into the cup shortly after 1 a.m. in Finland. In fact, if you tee off on the 6th hole between 11:00 and 11:59 on Saturday night, you can drive the ball into next week. Similarly, if you tee off shortly after midnight Sunday on the 10th hole, which runs west from Finland into Sweden, you can drive the ball into last week. But expect a slow-play warning.
Actually, it's impossible to play too slowly in the Green Zone. Twelve holes were flooded when we arrived—melting snow from an unusually heavy winter in northern Sweden and Norway had overwhelmed the Tornio River—so a round consisted of playing the six dry holes three times each. Green Zoners thus "made the turn" twice in a round, dutifully popping into the clubhouse every six holes to shoot the breeze over bottles of Lapin Kulta (The Golden Beer of Lapland). As a result, rounds required six hours to complete—which is not a problem in a place where it doesn't get dark for two months, where sunlight is oppressive and inescapable, where you feel (after two nights in a hotel whose curtains cover only half the window) as if you've undergone an eyelidectomy.
As midnight tolled in the Green Zone, the sun hit the horizon and bounced back up, like an orange Titleist off a cart path. The club was hosting an overnight scramble that wouldn't conclude until 5 a.m., and I didn't wonder why. At the second turn, Seppo and Matti Rantamaula (no relation) repaired to the clubhouse for a full sit-down meal of salmon soup and Lapin Kultas. I asked Matti if he played golf in the winter.
"Ice golf," he said, nodding in the affirmative. A course is laid out on the frozen Tornio River, he explained, and for one full month before play begins a "snow scooter" rides across the layout several times a day, packing down the snow on the ice until it is as hard as tarmac. This enables tee shots to roll for miles. "The longest club you will ever hit in ice golf is a five-iron," said Matti, a fortysomething corporate chairman in plaid pants. "We use red and orange balls. The holes are dug into the ice, and we call the greens 'whites.' "