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16 Sep, 2010 08:30

Russia returns to European golf map

Some of the world’s top golfers arrived in the Moscow Region this week, ready to show their best swings at the Russian stage of the European Challenge Tour.

The financial crisis has meant that Russia dropped off the major golf tournament map, but now the European Challenge Tour is back after a two-year absence.

The Russian Challenge Cup gets underway on Thursday and is going to be the biggest golf event in the country this season.

Why Moscow is hosting the second tier professional golf tour in Europe is largely down to one man.

Former World No.1 tennis player Evgeny Kafelnikov is currently the vice president of the Russian golf association and it seems his fame in the sporting world still packs a big swing in terms of influence.

“Of course it was extremely hard to get the European Challenge Tour to return. And great work was done to achieve that. We had to persuade all the officials that the course is worth hosting a stage. And I'm very pleased my efforts at lobbying for this tournament helped,” he said.

Over a hundred golf professionals will take part in the lucrative event at the stunning Tseleevo Golf and Polo Club set in the outskirts of the Russian capital.

The course – just two years old – is as spectacular as it is demanding, and will test the golfer's skills to their limits.

“It is actually the best golf course I played in Europe this year. It is long, it is good. The conditions are amazing and it is a privilege to play this tournament here in Russia,” Mark Tullo, World No.10, said.

With big tournaments and good facilities, Russia is still missing one key ingredient in the sport: home-grown golfers with pro rankings able to compete with the world's best players.

However, golf is returning not only in Russia, but also to the Olympics, and will feature at the games in Brazil in 2016.

This will give the sport a huge boost in Russia, where much can depend on Olympic status in the sporting world.

“Golf is still very new. It needs developing, but it needs encouragement from the government to put money into the sport at ground root levels – the younger end of the market. And it needs to be affordable for everybody,” Andrey Coleman, PGA golf pro, said.

The Russian Challenge Cup is a big step forward for golf in Russia. It is the country's second crack to get back to the top levels of the sport and those behind it will be hoping that the greens and fairways of Russia will become a fixture on the schedule of major tournaments.