Golf Gives Russian Sports a Kick

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MOSCOW (AP) -- Golf came to Russia a year before McDonald's restaurants, and despite the head start, nine irons and caddie cars haven't caught on as quickly as burgers and fries.
 
But with the European Golf Tour stopping in Russia for the first time for the Russian Open this week, the local golf community hopes the sport's popularity will get a big boost.
 
Considered strictly a pastime of the bourgeoisie during the Soviet era, golf in Russia was born 15 years ago when a nine-hole course opened in Moscow, and is now played by about 3,000 Russians.
 
'The word golf has come from being something that a lot of people had never heard of, to something which interests more and more people, even non-golfers,' said Alexei Nikolov, general secretary of the Russian Golf Association.
 
Nikolov said golf is played mainly by businessmen who can afford membership. At $75 a round and annual fees upward of $2,800, it is not a pastime that the average Russian can easily enjoy.
 
With a prize fund of about $450,000 the Russian Open is being held at the Moscow Country Club in Nakhabino, north of Moscow-- Russia's only 18-hole course -- Aug. 14-18.
 
'Normally we get a good response from new golfers after an event like this,' Yiannis Tsioukanis, director of golf at the country club, said.
 
The key to raising the profile -- and dropping the prices -- of the sport is building more facilities, Tsioukanis said. Besides the 18-hole Moscow course, there are only a smattering of nine-hole courses and driving ranges around the country.
 
According to Nikolov, the Russian Golf Association has ambitious plans to build 500 new golfing facilities around the country in the next 15 years. Jack Nicklaus and Nick Faldo have both designed courses to be built here.
 
'What we are trying to do is get away from the idea that golf is an elitist sport. It is not an elitist sport, it is just supply and demand. Once more golf courses come, suppliers will start setting up and it will become a lot cheaper,' Tsioukanis said.
 
Tsioukanis, a former pro, said a homegrown golfing idol would also help the sport's image in Russia, giving new players someone to look up to. He added that Russian President Vladimir Putin's endorsement of the sport would swell the ranks of Russian golfers.
 
'If the president played golf, you would get a lot more people wanting to play,' he said.
 
Tsioukanis said up to 20,000 spectators could be expected at the event, weather permitting. If recent heavy rains continue, that number would shrink.
 
'Russians tend not to like wet weather,' he warned.
 
Related Links:
  • BMW Russian Open
  • More European Tour Preview Information
     

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