"But did you ever see a reindeer there?" I asked, and at the word reindeer, all three golfers snickered, amused by my crude cultural stereotype. "Yeah, I saw a reindeer there once," Ville said, sucking sardonically on a cigarette. "Well, now it is time for a few beers." And off they went.
That night was the Midsummer holiday, a celebration of the summer solstice. At midnight I descended to a bank of the river, where Bob photographed the sun "setting." The orange tie-dyed sky was also captured on camcorder by 13 chain-smoking Japanese golf tourists in blue blazers and rep ties, who then turned their cameras on Bob and took pictures of him taking pictures of them.
But lord, it was picturesque, and I couldn't help but wonder what Rovaniemi is like at the winter solstice, when the sun has not appeared for a full month and won't show its face for another month to come. Quite magical, to hear the locals tell it. At about 3 p.m. on mid-December days, a fissure of antifreeze-colored light appears across the horizon. "Around here," Santa told me wistfully, "people call it 'the moment of mystical blue.' "
The number 1 tee box on the golf course in Katinkulta, Finland, was built on top of a rustic sauna. I had a sudden impulse to go there and have a shvitz. When somebody hit his tee shot fat, I would pop out of the sauna, towel around my waist, and shout at him to keep it down up there. But, alas, "The sauna is no longer working," an official at the course said over the phone. "And we haven't used that tee box for two years." Well, what an absolute gyp.
So Bob and I drove instead to Sweden, where one in 20 citizens plays golf. Annika Sorenstam, Jesper Parnevik, Liselotte Neumann, Per-Ulrik Johansson, Helen Alfredsson and Anders Forsband have replaced Bjorn Borg, Stefan Edberg, Mats Wilander and the rest of the nation's tennis players as the stars in the sports firmament. There are 400 courses in Sweden, but I was interested in only one: little nine-hole Björkliden Golf Club.
So we drove and drove and drove, past tidy red cottages on idyllic glass lakes. We drove north for hours and hours and still remained light-years from Björkliden. In the town of Gallivare-Malmberget, we finally admitted we were hopelessly lost. Then, up ahead on the shimmering roadside in this impossibly lonely locale, we saw a man walking along peacefully. In a sweatshirt that read PEBBLE BEACH. With a golf bag slung over his shoulder.
"Excuse me," I said, hoping he spoke English. "Is there a golf course nearby?"
"Yes, up this road," he said, and I yanked him into the car as if with a vaudeville hook. The victim of this golfnapping identified himself as Christer Andersson, an 11 handicap from Halmstad, in southern Sweden. I asked him if he had ever played Pebble.
"I have been two times to Pebble Beach," he said, "but I have never played there." His brow furrowed. "I should have played," he said, suddenly fretful. "I don't know why I didn't. It is a dream of mine to do so."
At Christer's direction we drove 200 yards up the road and then turned off into a dense pine forest. Around a bend appeared a twee red clubhouse with green shutters and white-framed windows. It looked out on an 18-hole championship course fringed in snow. VALKOMMEN TILL GALLIVARE-MALMBERGETS GOLFKLUBB read a sign. We were 40 miles north of the Arctic Circle. I was introduced to Märith Mattsson, a club member whose son is the club pro and whose husband is the green-keeper. "Yes," she said triumphantly. "This is the northernmost 18."