Director of Equity Financing, FINAM Investment Company, Moscow
Teeing off at the Moscow City Golf Club
During my career here in Moscow, I have come across many American businessmen who were keen to play golf in Russia. In one case, we even cancelled a couple of business meetings in favor of taking our guests to the Moscow City Golf Club.
The question foreigners always ask at first is -- does golf exist in Russia? Does the average Russian know anything about golf? The first answer is yes, it does exist; but the second question is more difficult to answer.
Tiger Who (Kto)? The New York Times Andrew Kramer recently reported about
the new Krasnodar Country Club
In contrast to tennis, which features several famous world-ranked Russian female athletes, Russians do not follow golf very much and play the game even less. This is why I was surprised to discover that within a few steps of my home in Moscow (in what is called "the sleeping area" of the city) mini-golf tournaments have been underway for a couple of years, and a miniature golf course is under development.
The modern history of golf in Russia goes back to the 1970s, when the American tycoon Armand Hammer suggested three things to Communist Party boss Leonid Brezhnev to attract foreign businessmen to the Soviet Union - limousines, a business center, and golf. This was completely foreign to the old Party men, who rejected Mr. Hammer's advice to cater to decadent Western capitalists in this way. Russia would have to wait until the perestroika annum of 1989 to get its first nine-hole course, courtesy of Sven Tumba, a former Swedish hockey star.
Of course, today Moscow is capitalist to the nth degree, and many Russian businessmen are eager to imitate their Western counterparts by taking business partners out for a round of golf. The history of the game in Russia since 2000 is nicely described in this article by Golf Digest magazine.
According to Igor Malyshkov, President of the Moscow Golf Development Federation, golf is rapidly getting in popularity throughout Russia, not just in Russia's two largest cities. In addition to the new courses planned for Moscow and St. Petersburg, developers are hoping to build courses near the regional capitals of Kazan, Tver, and Krasnodar. Two major courses are being built around Moscow's Sheremetyevo international airport - a nine hole, 60 acre course, and the more elaborate Nick Faldo International Golf Club, a 27-hole project designed by the professional British golfer.
President Putin prefers skiing and judo to golf (Photo by: Pravda.ru)
The Moscow City government has approved a special program called "Moscow Golf" to develop infrastructure near these new courses. Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov is reportedly an enthusiastic golfer. Some Russian golf enthusiasts have been trying to get President Vladimir Putin to come out and hit a bucket of balls. The Russian President sponsors a major golf tournament at the Moscow City Club, but Putin has never played at the course or even visited the club. Mr. Putin's preferred sports are judo (you can order an English translation of Putin's book "Judo: Theory and Practice" from Amazon.com) and downhill skiing. The Russian President likes to ski near his villa in Sochi, where visitors can enjoy the year round sub-tropical climate at the Black Sea resort and hit the slopes in the same day. Sochi is being heavily promoted by Russian government and business leaders (including the metals magnate Oleg Deripaska) as a host city for the 2014 Winter Olympics.
The first Russia Open championship was held in Moscow in 2003. A number of golf Russian tournaments are supported by major Western companies that are operating in the country. The Russian Golf Association has ambitious plans to build about 500 golf sites in Russia by 2018. Currently the Moscow Leisure Guide lists five golf clubs in the city:
This year Moscow held its first ever Golf Expo show in Moscow where Russian golf enthusiasts claimed that Russia is currently on the verge of a golfing boom. According to some data, the number of players is expected to grow from 5,000 to 25,000 over the next few years. Currently the Russian Golf Association boasts about 2,000 registered members, and about 5,000 recreational players are unregistered. One of the most visible signs of the game's growing popularity here is that the popular Russian business daily Kommersant occasionally publishes a special mini-magazine simply titled "Golf".
The managers of Russian Golf Association are trying to promote the idea that the game of golf is becoming more and more accessible for the average Russian. In reality, all these country clubs in Moscow remain closed to the general public and are heavily guarded. Even if you have the money, you cannot just come in off the street and play. Perhaps this is for security reasons, but in my personal opinion it has more to do with arrogance and snobbery. This is a high-class version of the famous feis control practiced at Moscow's popular night clubs.
I can personally vouch for the difficulty of establishing a tee time. One year ago I was taking a business partner from the U.S. to the Moscow City Golf Club. It was a real adventure. First of all, you cannot get inside the club unless you know one of the members. To get in that time, we played a trick and were admitted to the club under pretext of buying some golf paraphernalia. The arrogant security staff scrutinized us every minute we were inside the clubhouse. We must have looked like third rate visitors to them when we pulled up in a Nissan - next to all the BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Lexus automobiles in the parking lot.
The funny thing was that my partner bought a towel and a money clip-holder with the label "Made in USA". My friend still proudly shows this souvenir to his golfing buddies on Long Island.
The main obstacle to playing golf in Russia is cost. Memberships at a Moscow club typically go for $75,000 plus annual fees of $5,000. However, in the Krasnodar area the membership is around 50,000 RUR (about $2,000) and the annual fees are only 15,000 RUR (about $ 300). A German JuCard golf cart is about 4,000 Euros. The most advanced golfers may buy a personal E-Way cart for about $ 8,000; while the Russian made "Might" cart is $ 10,800. A complete set of golfing clothes is about $ 1,000 with a new set of golf clubs costing about $5,000.
Despite all this, Russian Golf Association officials insist that golf is gradually shifting from a pastime reserved solely for some Russian elites to a game that may be affordable for middle class Russians to play. A Russian PGA school golf program has been launched to introduce nearly 1,000 school kids to the game. The RGA hopes that one day Russia will produce a few golf prodigies to join Russia's superstars of tennis in the international spotlight.
You can read the original post at Vladimir Kuznetsov's blog, Equity Financing in Russia. The views expressed in this post and on his blog are the personal opinions of Vladimir Kuznetsov, and are reproduced here solely for educational purposes. To read more Russia Blog posts about Russian capital markets, click on the finance section or type www.russiablog.org/finance in your web browser.