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Korby's Connections: Playing a round in Finland

Often, I’ve dreamed of playing golf on new courses or maybe even on the turf of foreign countries. My Korby grandparents were born in Finland. Could I ever play close to where they grew up, farmed and trekked? This June, my spouse’s family, also Finns, planned a vacation to southwestern Finland/Suomi on the Baltic Sea. They took me along. Their Finnish cousins we visited are both avid golfers. When they golfed — which was nearly every other day — they took me along.

Outi and Timo Paukkio, the cousins, are established members of the Kultaranta Golf Club in Naantali, Finland. The course is on a large island near Finnish president Sauli Niinistö’s summer home. The golf links have plenty of trees, rock outcroppings, sand and water — it felt very similar to northeastern Minnesota.

Prior to our trip, Outi had asked for our American golf handicaps and birth dates. She made arrangements with the club to give us membership privileges for the month, so we didn’t need to pay daily green fees. Another great treat, Outi and Timo worked with the course golf professional, Mr. Ville Rintala, to fill up two golf bags with clubs for my brother-in-law Tony, of Oklahoma, and me to borrow while on the trip. They also supplied us with golf balls and tees.

The first day — after we paid our membership dues — Outi introduced us to the owner of the facility. It opened for golf in 2007, and was a former farm. Everything was top of the line. Designed by Swedish golf architect Jari Sederholmin, it was a superb challenge.

Checking in with the pro shop, we rented a cart and confirmed our tee time. When interpretation was necessary (rarely), Outi and Timo both spoke Finnish and English. Timo’s handicap was similar to mine (except that he is a better player than I am) and Outi had recently finished third in the Women's club championship. Both are accomplished golfers and have also together played in Spain, Sweden and France. They obviously love the game.

It was the time of the summer solstice and Finnish festivals and celebrations. The days were very long with sunrise before 4 a.m. and sunset after 11 p.m. Our latitude was equivalent to being in Anchorage, Alaska. It never got very dark.

Naantali, with the president’s summer home, held a tremendous outdoor music festival in the presidential gardens, which our extended family all attended (and we caught a glimpse of Niinistö, who was also there). Because the Finns have such a short summer, they were extremely industrious and tried to utilize the minutes of each adventurous day. I had trouble keeping up with our hosts.

To fit in, I tried to brush up on some Finnish golf terms with the Paukkios. I asked, “How do you say ‘golf’ in Finnish?” “Golf,” they told me. How about “birdie”? “Birdie.” How about “bogey”? “Bogey.” How about ”green”? “Green or vihrea.” It felt good to be fluent in Finn (ha, ha).

Both of the Paukkios, at about my age, were in tremendous physical condition. Since April, Outi has swum in the Baltic Sea once or twice daily both at home and at their summer cottage. Watching Timo warm up on the practice range is like a contortionist prepping when the circus is in town. He played and coached hockey and soccer for many years and showed me some soccer hip stretches. He then put his hands on both ends of a club and stretched his arms above his head. He then somehow put his arms backwards and over his head and shoulders. Looked like it would hurt, but was fun to watch.

Finally, we were ready and approached the first tee. There is a stainless steel cup containing four little golf clubs numbered 1-4 by the ball washer. Players choose one little club to determine their playing order on the first hole. I brought along my yardage range finder from home, which was helpful, because all holes were measured in meters rather than yards. First hole is one of the hardest holes on the Kultaranta course with water both left and right. At least my first shot off the tee didn’t find water, but my second shot did. Both Timo and Outi beat me on the front nine … and it wasn’t the last time.

One afternoon, just Timo and I were playing the back nine together. We were flying around on his Ferrari cart and eventually caught up with the group in front of us on the 18th tee. When the group behind us also caught up, we decided to play together on 18. The group included the pro, Ville Rintala, and two people along for lessons.

The hole was a dogleg left, a little over 300 yards. After spraying the ball all over the course on the back nine, I finally hit one straight on 18. Timo hit a beauty as well, down the middle of the fairway. Appeared as though Ville hit some kind of hybrid club off the tee, and his ball just landed to the left of the green, about pin high. I actually hit the ball onto the green in regulation but the Finnish golf pro chipped inside of me. I missed and Ville made his birdie. “Well, looks like Finland beat the U.S.A,” I said. His quick response was. “Again!”

Exceeding all of my expectations, the trip to Finland was extraordinary, and golfing was thrilling, rating right up there with seeing the Finnish president. Thanks to all who made the trip possible and taking me along. See you soon at the Cloquet Country Club, Pine Hill and the Rugged Spruce!

Steve Korby’s interest in writing goes back to when he was in fourth grade and editor of the Scan-Satellite school newspaper in Scanlon. He welcomes ideas for human interest stories and tales regarding Carlton County residents, projects, history, and plans c/o [email protected].

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