. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

European PGA Brings Golf to the Fore in Russia

Professional golf has finally come to Russia.

On Thursday, 126 golfers from 25 countries will tee off at the country's first international tournament -- the Russian Open '96 at the Moscow Country Club.

The $100,000 tournament also makes its debut on the PGA European Challenge Tour with the winner receiving $16,000.

The game, known by only a handful of people in Russia just a few years ago, has arrived in Moscow in grand style, at least judging by the number of luxury automobiles outside the main clubhouse.

"Golf has taken a tremendous step forward in this country in a very short time," said Ferdinand Wieland, managing director of the Russian Open. "The inclusion on the European tour will bring respectability and greatly improve the competitive level of this tournament."

Wieland said one of the major difficulties of maintaining golf courses in Russia is the harsh environment.

"Basically, you can operate a golf course here for only a short time," he said. "And for the most of the year it's not usable because of snow, sleet and rain."

The course has had rave reviews from experts worldwide.

"The golf course in Moscow is one of the top 10 in Europe," said Alain de Soultrait, director of the European Challenge Tour. "The architects who built it did an excellent job with the design of each and every hole on the course. I hope the Russian Open will remain as part of the Tour for the future."

Although, the Russian Open lacks big-name European players, like Nick Faldo, Bernard Langer or Seve Ballesteros, the organizers have managed to attract several major foreign sponsors. Sovereign, the main sponsors, is a British brand of tobacco.

"Personally, I would rather have MOST-Bank as our title sponsor," said Christiaan Mann, director of sales and marketing for the Russian Open.

Local presence is ensured with at least 20 young Russian golfers taking part in the competition.

"It gives me a chance not only to compete side by side with some top European golfers, but also to play at home and get the support from the crowd," said Sergei Talalenko, one of Russia's top players, who finished fifth in last year's Russian Open.