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Sven Tumba a Swedish giant
5th July 2012

Organising the Mount Irvine Bay Hotel Pro-Am in Tobago every January during the 1970's I had the pleasure and privilege of meeting Sweden's most charismatic and famous sportsman, Sven Tumba, who was a regular supporter of the event along with his wife Mona and their children.

Mona & Sven Tumba with Barbara & Jack Nicklaus in 2011

Sven died in Stockholm at the age of 80, in October 2011, after a short illness, leaving Mona his wife of 51 years and their 4 children. In his later years he had spent his winters in Palm Beach Florida and the summers in Sweden.

The Mount Irvine Bay Pro-am was hugely popular comprising often more than 36 professionals and their teams of three amateurs taking part - players such as Tony Jacklin, Peter Alliss, Sam Torrance, Brian Barnes and professionals and amateurs not just from GB&I but from Spain, Italy, France, and Scandinavia competing.

The logistics of transporting some 200 golfers and their families to the island is a story in itself, but I want to dedicate this article to Sven Tumba whom I got to know well over the years.

The most highly regarded and honoured sportsman in Sweden he had played football for Sweden but was mainly known for his outstanding prowess as their star ice hockey player. Representing Sweden in 4 Olympic games (silver medal in 1964 and bronze in 1954 - 14 World Cups including at least one gold medal and other national events, Sven was the David Beckham, Stanley Mathews and Henry Cooper of Britain rolled into one giant of a man.

Having retired from active hockey, Sven found himself playing in a Pro-am with Arnold Palmer in almost his first game of golf - he birdied the first hole and thereafter was hooked on the game - "Golf is not a sport, it's a disease," he told Swedish media after discovering his newfound love for the sport. In Tobago he would play a competition round in the morning and then a further 18 or 27 holes until darkness defeated him.

In those days of the late sixties golf was virtually unknown in Sweden and Scandinavia as a whole. It was very much a rich person's game Somehow his immense energy and drive brought the game to the attention of the Swedish public and it is in no small measure of his efforts that today there are four Swedes and one Dane in the top 60 World Rankings.

Not to mention Jesper Parnevik of Sweden and the Dane, Thomas Bjorn who both could, and perhaps should have won the Open Championship.

Sven built an indoor golf driving range, the first of a number; under a huge inflated bubble where golf-hungry players could practise and have coaching during the snowy winter months. Once the Swedes are attracted by something they approach it with a rare passion.

Mona and Sven invited me to stay with them for a weekend to see this facility and to watch a European football Cup match ¼ final between a Swedish team and Bayern Munich being played in Copenhagen where another of our pro-am players Hans Kristofosen, a former Danish footballer and now a golf pro, had tickets.

The football was not memorable the Swedish team were outplayed and lost. The rest of the weekend was amazing a lovely home with a sauna where Sven treated me to the hottest sauna I've ever experienced followed by a plunge into ice cold water.

The indoor range was amazing, huge and air inflated - heated, and with driving booths and practice chipping and putting greens. Five or six golf professionals on duty the range opened around 10am and continued until 8 or 9 at night fully floodlit. Not only very popular but competitions between local clubs were organised throughout the winter. In addition to playing, lessons in golf etiquette and knowledge of the rules were covered in weekly seminars.

As a golf pro, he founded the Scandinavian Enterprise Open, now the Nordea Masters and one of the best attended European Tour events. Tumba designed several courses in Sweden and the first in the Soviet Union, a 10-minute drive from Red Square in Moscow.

"I started thinking seriously about it after taking the Soviet hockey players to my indoor driving range in Stockholm in the late 1960s," Tumba said in an interview with The Associated Press in Moscow a year before the course opened in 1989.

Mike Tyson and Pele were among those attending a crowded ceremony when the driving range opened.

During the Swedish Golf Federation's centennial in 2004, Tumba received an award as the most influential individual in Swedish golf, ahead of Annika Sorenstam, among others.

"They laughed at me in the 1960s when I predicted that golf would become one of the most popular sports in Sweden," Tumba told the AP in the late 1980s. "But I was right. Anyone can play golf in Sweden, not only the wealthy."

Swedish golfer Robert Karlsson told the AP that Tumba leaves a great sports legacy.

"He will be up there with the best of all the Swedish sports people. He definitely has a legendary status," he said. "He was a fantastic person and helped our sport a lot. He will be greatly missed. He was such an inspirational person, full of energy, with huge vision and dreams. He achieved a lot of them."

During his final years, Tumba devoted much of his time to the Sven Tumba Education Fund, a global project using sports to help children develop interests in reading and writing, teamwork, sharing and self-respect. In 2006, the fund was endorsed by FIFA.

From his official obituary the following is recorded

"On the 100th anniversary of the Swedish Golf Federation in 2004, he was named the most influential person in the history of golf in that country, ahead of figures such as all-time women's golf great Annika Sörenstam.

Tumba also officially introduced the game of golf to the former Soviet Union.

As a player:
1970: Winner of the Scandinavian International Match Play of Golf.
1970: Represented Sweden in the Eisenhower Trophy .
1973: Represented Sweden in the World Cup .

Golf projects:
1967: Tumba Golf Centre, the first indoor driving range in Sweden. Founder/Designer.
1969: Founded the Colgate Cup, the largest golf tournament for children
1970: Founder and President (for 15 years) of the Scandinavian Masters , one of the largest tournaments in the European Tour .
1977: Founder and President (for 3 years) of the European Open in the European Tour.
1978: Ullna Golf Club , (host of the Scandinavian Enterprise Open (5 times, 1983-87) and the 1988 Eisenhower Trophy . Designer/Project Leader.
1987: Tumba Golf Club Moscow (now called Moscow City Club) the first golf course in the former Soviet Union, located in central Moscow close to the Swedish Embassy. Founder/Designer.
1988: Österåkers Golf Club, two 18-hole courses (host for the LPGA Compaq Open and Swedish Tour).
1988: Officially introduced the game of golf to the former Soviet Union. 1988: Founded the first golf school in Soviet.
1995: Founded the World Golfers Championship , a yearly amateur golf tournament in many countries, played by thousands of golfers around the world.
1998: Tumba Kävlinge Golf for All , Löddeköpinge. A new way of golf course design and management, with goal to benefit juniors and the general golf mass.
2004: Named as the most influential person in the history of golf in Sweden.
Starting in 1951, Tumba also played hockey for Djurgarden and won eight Swedish championships and three goal-scoring titles. He represented Sweden at 14 world championships and four Winter Olympics. He was honoured as the best forward at the 1957 and 1962 worlds, and top goal-scorer at the 1964 Winter Olympics when Sweden's amateurs finished second behind the Soviet Union's state professionals.

•  In 1957, he helped Sweden win the world title ahead of the Soviet Union before an outdoor crowd of 50,000 at Lenin Stadium.

•  The organizers did not have the Swedish national anthem ready for the postgame ceremony, so the Swedish players sang Sweden's most famous schnapps song that was broadcast over the PA system. "

Born Sven Johansson - after his marriage to Mona - he changed his name officially to Tumba the name of the small town where he was born.

During his final years, Tumba devoted much of his time to the Sven Tumba Education Fund, a global project using sport to help children develop in interest in reading and writing, teamwork, sharing and self-respect.

An honour and a privilege to have known such a charismatic and outstanding personality

Stuart Barber
Founding Director and Publisher of




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