Most people have words Swiss Sports and Emmental may spark thoughts about Roger Federer eating cheese.
However, for those familiar with the sprawling countryside and farmland in the heartland of Switzerland where the cheese originated, a traditional game has been synonymous with the region for centuries.
Sending projectiles blasting through the air at 200 miles per hour, all rising—and then deflecting—for Hornussen.
Described as a combination of baseball and golfHornussen sees two teams of 18 take turns hitting and introducing “Nouss,” or “Hornuss,” a goblin named after hornets for its buzzing sound as it whistled through the air. ”
Armed with a 3 meter (9.84 ft) carbon stick called the ‘Traf’, hitters take to an elevated striking ramp in front of the playing area – the ‘Reese’ – about 300 m (980 ft) long and 10 m (32 ft) long. Their job is to hit the disc from the inclined platform, known as a ‘Bock’, as far as they can in the field.
Scoring begins if they reach the 100m line, with an additional point awarded for every 10m after the mark. Crucially, points are only scored if the Nouss goes down, with field players spread out at intervals with the goal of preventing the disc from landing with the bats, or “Schindels.”
The sport’s shape drew comparisons with golf, with some even suggesting that it pioneered the sport’s modern incarnation.
“The similarity is that you are like a ball hitting the puck and hitting it away, but here you want to score some goals, not gaps,” said Michael Kommer, a member of the national championship winning team Hochstetten Hornussen.
“People from other countries call Hornusen ‘farm golf,’ so I think there are some similarities.”
However, while in golf a misshot is likely to pose any danger to others, at Hornussen, putting yourself in harm’s way is an essential part of the game. With zip-up plastic balls flying towards you at speeds similar to a Formula 1 car, stopping them is as tricky a feat as it is difficult. Although players often wear helmets and protective gear, some take to the field without any such protection.
“It’s really dangerous if you don’t see the Nos or if someone hits the bat, and two meters from the face, the Noss change direction,” Comer explained.
“If it goes in the eye or around the head, it’s really dangerous.”
Hornussen grew up in the mid-17th century in the Emmental Valley, and never left Switzerland, save for brief forays into neighboring Germany, with a few bands outside the western central canton of Bern.
The need for vast areas of open grass to compete games is part of the reason the sport is restricted to the rural Emmental region, Kummer explains, adding that adventures in Germany ultimately didn’t work out when teams couldn’t find enough players.
However, for Comer, it is this rooting in Switzerland that makes Hornussen – along with yodelling and Schwingen, a form of wrestling – one of the pillars of the country’s sporting culture.
“With Jodeling and Schwingen, it’s one of the three cultural sports in Switzerland and we love it,” he said.
About 260 teams are active across a multi-league pyramid in Switzerland, with the top teams vying for the Swiss championship.
As the winner of the last five titles, Hochstetten Kommer is very much the Bayern Munich of the world of Hornusen.
With Hochstetten boasting a number of players who are tall and strong, it seems at first glance that physical traits have a huge impact on a team’s performance. However, Comer insists that size only matters up to a point.
“We have some great players, but we also have young guys and that’s one of the great things about this sport,” he said.
“Young players can also play well on the field and can hit Nouss as long as the big players.”
Take, for example, Comer’s teammate, Simon Ernie; Despite his relatively diminutive stature compared to some of his peers, Ernie was the league’s top scorer during his team’s last title campaign.
“It’s Lionel Messi from Hornson, and he’s also a little guy,” said Comer. “He’s one of the youngest members of our team.”