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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

PGA Challenge Brings Top Players to Moscow

A field of more than 150 professional golfers from 24 nations, including nine of the top 10 on the European PGA Challenge Tour, began play in the fifth annual Russian Open on Thursday morning under gray skies at the Moscow Country Club in suburban Nakhabino.

Earlier this week, the unpredictable Moscow weather kept the players and organizers nervous. The organizers were even forced to cancel Wednesday's ce lebrity Pro-Am tournament due to heavy rain that slowed down the golf course.

This year's Russian Open was moved from September to August, to avoid cold and wet weather at the beautiful golf course in Nakhabino, which some experts call one of the best on the continent.

"The golf course in Moscow is one of the top 10 in Europe," said Alain de Soultrait, director of the European Challenge Tour.

The attraction of the course as well as the desire and the effort of local organizers to make the game of golf one of Russia's main sports in the near future, are behind the plan to include the Russian Open on the main European Tour next year.

"Hopefully next year, or if not, then definitely by the year 2000, we'll be part of the big tour," said Ivan Sergeyev, president of the Moscow Country Club.

This year, to attract some of Europe's best golfers, the organizers have increased the tournament's total prize money, which was last year already the largest on the Challenge Tour, to make it pounds 90,000 ($146,987).

Several major sponsors have offered prizes, such as the new 1998 Ford Escort for the hole-in-one prize on the 180-meter eighth hole.

The added incentives have lured to Moscow this year's top two money leaders on the tour, Englishman Warren Bennett and Stephen Gallagher of Scotland. Along with such seasoned European pros, several of Russia's top golfers are trying their luck on a difficult 6,390-meter course, including this country's newest rising star Yevgeny Kovalenko.

Last month the 15-year-old surprised many older players by winning the Russian amateur championship.

To bolster local talent, REN-TV, the tournament's official broadcaster, will award a special prize to the best Russian golfer in the competition.