By Will Pearson, europeantour.com
at Moscow Country Club
Igor Zatravkin, the only native professional in the field, helped get the Russian Open Golf Championship (Senior) under way at Moscow Country Club.
The teaching professional at Royal Kiev Golf Club in Ukraine, Russia’s Zatravkin, decked out all in navy blue with a white cap, hit the opening tee shot in the European Senior Tour’s second visit to Russia and first since 2008, a low driver which found the right hand fairway bunker at the par four first.
Playing alongside Scotland’s Stephen McAllister and South African Bobby Lincoln, sponsor’s invite Zatravkin struck the opening blow under a baby blue sky peppered with hazy white clouds as a weak, autumnal sun filtered through the abundant pines, birch and native Russian forest which encircles the famous Moscow club.
In almost a flat calm with just a ripple of breeze toying with the uppermost boughs of the surrounding woodland, it was a chilly yet pleasant morning that greeted the early starters in Nakhabino, just north-west of the Russian capital.
Zatravkin is just one of fewer than 50 professionals in the Russian Federation, a state undoubtedly still in its golfing infancy.
Moscow Country Club became the country’s first 18-hole golf course when it opened in 1994 and the tree-lined, Robert Trent Jones Jnr layout remains the pinnacle of the sport in Russia.
Ahead of his Senior Tour debut, Zatravkin spoke to europeantour.com and told of his pride at representing his country this week in what he describes as a “dream come true”.
He said: “I only officially turned professional three years ago in 2010 because before that, like everywhere else in the poor Soviet Union countries, you were not officially recognised because there were no PGAs here before that time.
“But now I have my PGA of Russia membership card and so, after many years of actually playing professionally, I am now officially recognised.
“I have some experience still, though, having played four events on the EPD (Satellite) Tour but this is a different level.”
With the likes of Carl Mason, Colin Montgomerie, Sam Torrance and Ian Woosnam in the field this week at the Russian Open (Senior), Zatravkin has found legends of the game at every turn.
“It’s fantastic,” he continued. “To say it’s a dream come true does not even do it justice. To be able to say now that I have done something in my life and in my golfing career, to play with them and be in the same field as these men is an enormous honour.
“I have heard that this tournament will be staged for three years at least so I can hope I will get at least another two chances to compete against these guys but to think I can play to the same level as them is a different matter.
“But, saying that, I will try 150 per cent and enjoy every minute!”
The likeable 53 year old, who was given the honour of raising the Russian flag during the opening ceremony, went on to shoot an 18 over par 90 in the first round.
|1||BROWN, Simon P||ENG||18||-12|
|T4||MARTIN, Miguel Angel||ESP||18||-9|