Her son, Peter, stood at her side, unconcerned that his white Ping cap was black with bloody mozzies. This was a common sight in Scandinavia. Nobody seemed to mind them. The course was full at 4:30 on a Sunday afternoon, when the temperature was in the 50s.
I asked Christer why Swedes are such good and avid golfers. "It is our parents," he said. "They keep us out of doors when we are young. First, everyone played tennis—Borg started by hitting balls against a wall. Then, when people turned 30, they started moving to the golf course. Now everyone is playing golf."
"In Sweden," said Märith, "golf is not for the rich people, but for all the people. Here, miners and doctors play together."
"Miners come from Kiruna, 130 miles north of here," said Christer. "They finish work on Friday and play until four in the morning. Imagine that."
I didn't have to. That evening, on the way north to Björkliden, Bob and I drove through Kiruna, the northernmost city of any size in Sweden, built atop a terraced layer of coal. We repaired for dinner to a restaurant decorated entirely in Borje Salming memorabilia. (Salming, the former Toronto Maple Leafs star, grew up in Kiruna.) "They dug a new shaft at the coal mine that goes one mile down," a high school English and Swedish teacher told me over dinner. "For the miners, it is a 20-minute trip straight down every day." Makes sense, doesn't it? A man spends his days being chased down a hole, he naturally does the same to a small white ball on the weekends.
After dinner we drove north, endlessly, the odometer spinning like fruit in a slot machine. We drove literally to the end of the earth. In the distance, reindeer grazed in the middle of the road. Mountains sprang up, fjords appeared, waterfalls plunged down steep cliffs. AVALANCHE ZONE, warned a sign on the highway. MAINTAIN AT LEAST 60 KM PER HOUR. Evidently you can outrun an avalanche, I remarked. Which is when Bob said, somewhat vacantly, that you cannot outrun a swarm of bees.
He was losing it. Clouds of mozzies filled the car. He had been driving all day, all week. Indeed, we had driven a greater distance than from London to Rome. The license plate on our Vectra was illegible beneath a paste of mosquitoes. Then we pulled into Björkliden, with its leafless trees, its pipe-cleaner pines, its brilliant sun and its low clouds, like the cotton in an aspirin bottle.
Speaking of bottles, we went immediately to a subterranean bar, where we drank Spendrup's beer with the manic energy ordinarily associated with pie-eating contests. For the first time in six days we had escaped the relentless sun, still blazing at 2 a.m.
I arose at the crack of 4 p.m. and headed for the Björkliden Golf Club. Marja-Leena once visited Björkliden at this time of year, the final week of June, and found the course snowed under and closed. "They said to come back in a month," she said. "Even then, when the course is open, all shots must be hit off of tees or mats."
That prospect actually excited me. A caddie on the Old Course at St. Andrews once told me that he had carried the bag of a Texan tourist in the weeks leading up to the 1995 British Open. Then, too, all shots had to be hit from mats, to protect the Royal & Ancient's fairways. "How did you like hitting from the mats?" a local television reporter asked the Texan.