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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Athletic Goodwill on Moscow's Fairways

xChris Greene, 17, a high school junior from Sacramento, California, was playing his usual round of golf Saturday morning. The unusual thing was that he was playing it some 8,000 miles away from home, at the Moscow Golf Club.

Later on that day, Greene and his teammates from the Sacramento Area Youth Golf, or SAY-GOLF, along with their Russian counterparts, took their golf clubs and balls to Red Square for an exhibition in front of hundreds amused Muscovites.

SAY-GOLF has joined forces with the CourseCo, Inc. golf course management and development company, two California golf courses, and the Moscow Golf Club to sponsor the first USA-Russia Junior Golf Exchange, a program designed to promote junior golf and create goodwill between the youth of the two countries. Over the weekend, a Russian youth team played three rounds with the Americans at the Moscow Golf Club; next weekend, the two sides will square off in San Francisco.

"Our objective was not just to play a few rounds of golf thousands miles away from home," said Steven Schwartz, the CourseCo Director of club operations and the group leader, "but to introduce American youth to a unique country with a vast cultural and historical background."

The inaugural United States vs. Russia golf match started on Aug. 25, when a foursome of American junior golfers faced four Russian youths in a Ryder Cup format. Russia won the first day 4-2, much to the surprise of the Americans.

"We are as surprised as our American guests," said Svetlana Kiyko, 20, one of two female players on the Russian team. Kiyko, a current Russian Ladies National Champion, is a product of a youth sports school at the Moscow Golf Club. Kiyko took up golf only recently after her swimming career was over.

"I was too old for swimming, and when one day a guy came to our school, which is located less than a mile away from the golf course, to recruit future golf players, I was glad to give it a try."

Viktor Vysotsky, 60, General Director of the Moscow Golf Club, said that young players were the key to golf's future in Russia. "In our country, we have no senior golfers," he said. "Therefore, even our national team is made up of junior players. Most of them, even our coaches, played some other kind of sport before taking up golf."

Vysotsky, himself a former pro, continued: "We have a long way to go, even to be competitive on the European amateur circuit. Most of our problems are unique, compared to other European nations. Take for example, Sweden. In Sweden, they have 286 courses. We have only two for the entire country."

On Monday afternoon, having completed the first leg of their program on Russian soil, American and Russian junior golfers, along with their coaches, flew to San Francisco. There will be three more rounds of golf in the Bay Area and also time for sightseeing.

"We plan to make this an annual event," said Schwartz, "because we want to help our Russian friends to learn more about golf, about American culture and our way of life. We believe golf will help bring youth of two great nations a bit more close to each other."