"They're real helpful," he replied, "when you're hittin' out of sand traps."
As it happened, we didn't have to hit off mats or tees when playing Björkliden, though some modifications in our games were required. Märit Andersson, the marketing director at the club, handed me a leaflet upon our arrival. "Because Björkliden is situated so far to the north," the notice began, "we've found it necessary to add a few extra rules to the book."
The first such supplement to the age-old Rules of Golf read, "If a reindeer moves your ball on fairway, it can be replaced without penalty." Why anyone would want to replace a reindeer without penalty, Märit could not say, but the point was: This course seemed to promise plenty of them. "If a reindeer eats your ball," began the next rule, "drop a new one where the incident occurred." In other words, do not wait for the reindeer to "take a drop." (Given its metabolism, that could take days.)
Finally: "If your ball lands in the snow, play it from where it lands." This rule, it quickly emerged, was the most critical. With July a week away, the 9th green was still guarded by eight-foot snowdrifts, and the 2nd fairway lay entirely beneath a blanket of white, into which plows had cut a series of wedding-cake terraces. "This is so the snow melts faster," explained Märit, but the plowing also gave the fairway an otherworldly aesthetic appeal.
"It looks exactly like the Church Pews at Oakmont," Bob remarked. "Only white."
There were other rules that didn't make Märit's leaflet. For instance, never mind Softspikes at Björkliden. Or hard spikes, for that matter. Wear crampons.
The course was still closed to the masses. "Last year, we opened six holes on July 7," Märit said. "But this winter we had six meters of snow. Fortunately, it melts quickly, and the grass grows fast during 24 hours of sunlight." We climbed ever higher, corkscrewing our way up the mountain and onto the course, seeing no reindeer, or reindeer caddies. (You got me good, Swedish Tourist Board.) A greenkeeper drilled a hole in the 6th green, which was free of snow, and allowed me to plant a flag-stick and practice chipping. She likewise planted markers at the cliffside 7th tee box and let me drive balls into the ether.
It was a breathtaking hole: A 132-yard par-3 with a 100-yard drop from mountaintop tee to snow-covered green. I could see all the way to Norway: jagged mountains jutting from the marbled fjords. Out of the water rose a serpentine line of stones that resembled a dinosaur's tail. "Sweden's Loch Ness Monster," I muttered.
"No," said Märit. "Sweden's Loch Ness Monster is called Storsjöodjuret. It lives 1,000 kilometers from here. They say it is a relative of Scotland's Loch Ness Monster."
But there were only grainy photographs of Nessie, I remarked—whereas Bob and I had not only discovered the northernmost golf course on earth but also had sharp photographs to prove it, including one of me beneath the holy grail, the sign on the 1st tee that read, "Björkliden Arctic Golf Club, the most northerly in the world."