Never mind the World Cup - what's Russia like for golf?

Russian Flag

The eyes of the world will fall on the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow this afternoon as the 21st FIFA World Cup gets underway in Russia.

Thirty-two teams will battle it out for the right to claim the famous gold trophy. Great for them and for football fans, who can look forward to a month’s worth of near-relentless matches… but what’s Russia like for golfers?

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Despite being the world’s largest country, spanning some 17.1million square kilometres (70 times the size of the UK), Russia is a golfing minnow.

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For the longest time, the sport was the almost exclusive preserve of wealthy diplomats.

Moscow Red Square

Oldest course

The Moscow City Golf Club was the first course to open in Russia, on September 15, 1987. Swedish ice-hockey legend Sven Tumba was the driving force behind the development – he became a household name in Russia in the 1950s, when he led Sweden to gold in the World Hockey Championship at an outdoor rink in Moscow – and he was joined at the ribbon cutting by the likes of Pele and Mike Tyson.

Moscow Country Club

The first 18-hole course opened in 1994 at Moscow Country Club. It was the only championship-standard course in the country for more than a decade. According to an R&A report in 2017, there are currently 21 courses in Russia, with many more under construction.

Registered players

According to the International Golf Federation, of the 144.3 million people in Russia, there are only 1,365 registered golfers. In other words, only 0.0009% of the country plays the game.

Pioneering players

Denis Zherebko and Alexander Strunkin are widely regarded as Russia’s first male professionals. Amongst the women, Svetlana Gounkina was the biggest trailblazer for Russian golf. She was the first Russian woman to play on the LPGA Futures Tour as well as the first to participate in US Women’s Open qualifying.

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Vladimir Osipov

Current top male golfer

Vladimir Osipov - currently the only Russian male golfer with any world ranking points. He is presently ranked 1,667th on the OWGR.

Nina Pegova

Current top female golfer

Nina Pegova - sitting in 565th spot, she currently is the leading Russian on the Rolex Women’s World Rankings. Maria Verchenova is the only other Russian golfer with a ranking, sitting just outside the top 1,000.

Sofia Anokhina

Rising star

Sofia Anokhina – currently 222nd on the women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking, Anokhina is a three-time winner of the Russian Junior Open Championship and won the Russian Amateur Championship in 2015. She’s currently studying at Northern Arizona University.

Tournament pedigree

Having originally started out as a Challenge Tour event in 1996, the Russian Open became a fully-fledged European Tour event in 2008.

It was contested most recently in 2015, when England’s Lee Slattery pipped Tano Goya to the title by a stroke. However, the bigger story that particular week – from a Russian perspective, at least – was Andrey Pavlov, below, who became the first Russian to make the cut in a European Tour event.

Andrey Pavlov

The Staysure Tour, meanwhile, will visit Moscow Country Club for a tournament in August this year. It will be the first time the Russian Senior Open has been contested since 2014. The winner on that occasion? Colin Montgomerie.

Colin Montgomerie Russian Senior Open

Have you played golf in Russia?

We'd love to hear your experiences. Leave details in our Comments section below.

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