Golf’s final frontiers: The sport's expansion into Eastern Europe
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Golf’s final frontiers: The sport’s expansion into Eastern Europe

Take a glance at the upper echelons of the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR), and there are certain flags which appear with predictable regularity. Golf’s traditional heartlands – the likes of the USA, Britain and Ireland, South Africa, Australia and Japan – are, of course, well represented. But recently a couple of less familiar nations have started to appear.

Viktor Hovland became the first Norwegian to win on the PGA Tour at the Puerto Rico Open in February 2020, and in November Carlos Ortiz became the first Mexican to taste victory in more than 40 years.

But there are some players travelling an even less well-trod path in an attempt to reach the peak of the men’s game. As a region, Eastern Europe has been almost completely bypassed by golf, with the sport having been virtually banned under Communism. There are only 25 golf courses in the entirety of Russia. For a country with a population of 144.5 million, that means each course theoretically needs to service 5.8 million people. In the US, the 15,000 courses on offer are the equivalent of one per every 23,000 people. But at the end of 2020, there were three Eastern European players within the top 200 in the world. OK, so Rory Sabbatini’s Slovakian citizenship – obtained by virtue of his marriage to a Slovak national – may still raise a few eyebrows, but we’ll cut him some slack for now.

While Sabbatini is 44 and hasn’t won a tournament of note since 2011, there are a couple of other Eastern European names who appear to be on an upward trajectory.

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About the author

David Oakley

David Oakley

David Oakley first fell in love with golf in his native UK, but relocated to Dallas, Texas in 2019. This provides plenty of opportunities for Ryder Cup-based banter, as well as the ability to follow the PGA TOUR more closely. When not writing about golf, he works as an analyst in the automotive industry. Follow him on Twitter @DaveOakley89.

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