When Thomas Björn won his first professional title at Himmerland Golf & Spa Resort 19 years ago, even he could not have predicted the incredible journey both he and Danish golf were about to embark on.
Björn returns to the Aalborg venue for this week’s Made in Denmark - the country’s first top tier tournament in 11 years and a celebration of the country’s accomplishments on the fairways - as a 15-time European Tour winner and within touching distance of making his third Ryder Cup appearance at Gleneagles next month.
The achievements of Denmark’s most successful golfing export on the world stage undoubtedly blazed a trail for the subsequent success of his compatriots, with eight Danes joining him in the record books as European Tour champions, and Søren Hansen also following him as a Ryder Cup player in 2008.
Collectively, Danish players have amassed 29 European Tour titles, with the country now up to joint 14th on the all-time list – a quite remarkable statistic for a nation with a comparatively tiny population of less than six million people.
It was Björn who got the ball rolling with his - and Danish golf’s - maiden European Tour triumph at the Loch Lomond World Invitational in 1996, a year after he had announced his arrival in golfing circles with victory in the Himmerland Open on the European Challenge Tour, one of three victories on the second tier that year as he finished the 1995 campaign on top of the Rankings.
Now Danish golf’s pioneer returns to the scene of his breakthrough professional victory hoping that Made in Denmark will inspire another new generation of talent, with more than 70,000 of his compatriots expected to turn out to watch their golfing heroes in person.
“It’s been a while since we have had a tournament in Denmark and from all angles it looks like it is going to be a very successful event,” he said.
“The most important thing for all the Danish players is that we can come home and have a celebration of Danish golf. We want to celebrate the success we have had on the golf course, but we also want to show that while we are a small country we have the capability of holding an event at this level. From the start, we have trusted this was going to be a good event and we are now all very excited about the next four days.
“The organisers have done a fantastic job. To actually say a European Tour event has sold out is rare, so it will be a good experience. There is a buzz and an excitement, which we have not had for a long time in the country. For us as players that is a great thing. When you are around the world you sometimes focus on negatives, so it is great to come home to a positive vibe, not just about what we do but about golf in general. It is a popular sport in this country and there are lots of kids interested in the game, so it is an important week for Danish golf.”
Perhaps fittingly for the man affectionately known as the ‘King' of Danish golf, Björn was touch by royalty in the pre-tournament Pro-Am, as he was joined in a fourball by the HRH Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark.
That offers a good indication of just how much the 43 year old’s life has changed since his win at Himmerland Golf & Spa Resort nearly two decades ago, and the course itself is also largely unrecognisable having undergone several major revamps.
“The course has changed completely since I was here in 1995 so it is a different track really,” said Björn. “But I have some nice memories of that win obviously, if I can remember that far back. It’s nice to come back to a place where you have had success before, but that doesn’t always mean anything in golf. It is the game of the week that is important, not the game of yesteryear. You have to go out and do it this week.”
“This is a challenging course. It’s a long golf course and tough. It provides a lot of opportunities as well though. You have to have an all-round game to succeed. It is not a bomber’s paradise but it’s not by any means a tactician’s golf course either. Certain elements of the course will suit one player, and certain elements will suit another. So it is an all-round golf course and you have to been on your game.”
Björn has certainly been on his game so far this season, winning the lucrative Nedbank Golf Challenge in December and accumulating five more top ten finishes, including a share of eighth in the Masters Tournament, to occupy third place on The Race to Dubai.
Back at the place where it all began and with a Ryder Cup return possibly just around the corner, Björn and Denmark’s golfing voyage might just be at the start of another captivating chapter.