For most people, the words Swiss sport and Emmentaler might make you think of Roger Federer eating cheese.
Yet, for those familiar with the vast countryside and farmlands of the heartland region of Switzerland, where the cheese originated, there is a traditional game that has been synonymous with the region for centuries.
Sending projectiles through the air at 200 miles per hour, all rise – then fall – for Hornussen.
Described as a hybrid of baseball and golf, Hornussen sees two teams of 18 taking turns hitting and fielding the “Nouss” or “Hornuss”, a puck named after hornets for its buzzing sound when it whizzes through the air .
Armed with a 3-metre (9.84 ft) carbon bat called “Träf”, batters head to an elevated batting ramp in front of a playing area – the “Ries” – approximately 300 meters (980 ft) ) long and 10 meters (32 feet) wide. Their task is to hit the puck from the angled platform, known as the “Bock”, as far down the court as they can.
Scoring begins if they reach the 100-yard line, with an additional point awarded for every 10 yards after the marker. Crucially, however, points are only recorded if the Nouss lands, with defenders spread out at intervals looking to keep the puck from landing with bats, or “Schindels.”
The sport’s format has drawn comparisons to golf, with some even suggesting that it was a precursor to the sport’s modern incarnation.
“The similarity is that, like a ball, you hit a puck and you hit it from afar, but here you want to score goals, not holes,” said Michael Kummer, a member of the national championship-winning Hochstetten team. Hornussen.
“People from other countries call Hornussen the ‘Farmer’s Golf’, so I think there are similarities.”
Yet whereas in golf only an errant shot is likely to pose danger to others, in Hornussen putting yourself in harm’s way is an essential part of the game. of those of an F1 car, stopping them is a feat as treacherous as it is delicate. Although players often wear helmets and protective gear, some take to the field without such protection.
“It’s really dangerous if you don’t see the Nouss or if someone hits the bat and two yards before the face the Nouss changes direction,” Kummer explained.
“If it goes in the eyes or around the head, it’s really dangerous.”
Originating in the mid-17th century in the Emmental Valley and, save for brief forays into neighboring Germany, Hornussen never left Switzerland, with few teams existing outside the canton of Bern.
The need for large expanses of open grass to play matches in is part of the reason the sport was restricted to rural Emmental, says Kummer, adding that adventures in Germany ultimately fell through when teams n couldn’t find enough players.
Yet, for Kummer, it is this rootedness in Switzerland that makes Hornussen – alongside yodelling and schwingen, a form of wrestling – a pillar of national sporting culture.
“Along with yodeling and schwingen, it’s one of Switzerland’s three cultural sports and we love it,” he said.
Around 260 teams are active in a multi-league pyramid in Switzerland, with the top teams competing for the Swiss championship.
And as winners of the last five titles, Kummer’s Hochstetten are truly the Bayern Munich of the Hornussen world.
With Hochstetten boasting a number of tall and strong players, at first glance it would seem that physical attributes have a huge influence on a team’s performance. Still, Kummer insists that size only matters up to a point.
“We have big players, but we also have little guys and that’s one of the good things about the sport,” he said.
“The little guys can also make a good play on the court and they can hit the Wess as long as the big ones.”
Take Kumer’s teammate Simon Ernie; although relatively small in stature compared to some of his peers, Ernie was the league’s top scorer in his team’s last title-winning campaign.
“He’s Hornussen’s Lionel Messi, and he’s also a little guy,” Kummer said. “He’s one of the smallest in our team.”