This past week, I had the privilege of playing numerous rounds of golf with a Russian man named Alexander. Known as “the orange bag guy” in the Staging Area, Alex made quite an impression with his tattoos, slick shades, and a fluorescent orange golf bag that would surely make Rickie Fowler proud.
Alexander was a fiercely determined golfer. After years of skydiving and heliskiing, Alex decided to forgo his death wish and engage in a more competitive, intellectual activity. Sixteen months ago, he took his first golf lesson in New Zealand. He came to Costa Navarino with a 16 handicap. By the end of his first week at the resort, he was playing about a 10. Today, he shot two over on the back nine.
Aside from the frustration of a brand, spankin’ new golfer beating me on my own course, I absolutely love playing golf with Alexander. He’s not afraid to speak his mind on any topic—from American foreign policy to his Russian Orthodox faith to the horrors that are soft drinks (he even called my Powerade “poison”). Occassionally after a poor golf shot, he’d let out a roar and a spew of harsh Russian words. I started referring to these moments as “waking the Russian bear”.
He had a million interesting facts tucked away in his brain, but one piece of information struck me in particular. We were discussing the state of golf in Russia and he mentioned that there were only five courses in the entire country. I was shocked! I thought Greece had a low count (they have six courses between the mainland and Crete). Can you imagine, in a country that size? Alexander went on to describe just how exclusive these five courses were; it costs a ridiculous amount to play and a fortune to become a member. Yet top Russian execs are dying to learn the game.
“They go crazy for it,” Alex said as we walked up to the green on a par three. He often referred to his countrymen as “crazy” (he also applied this term liberally to himself).
It seems the Russian temperament pays off, though. Alex knocked his putt in for birdie on that hole.
It was so inspiring to watch his game improve over the last two weeks. He practiced or played every single day of his vacation. Yesterday was supposed to be our last round together, as his flight left this afternoon. As we neared the eighteenth hole, however, he proposed that we play nine holes early this morning. I could hardly say no!
Alexander told me time and again that what he really wanted was “the Victory”. I always had to stifle a laugh, as his Russian accent turned this into “the Wictory“. Call him crazy, but I bet you anything he’ll be a scratch golfer within a year or two. I can truly say that he was victorious on the Dunes Course at Costa Navarino.
To end on another Russian note, our head pro, Nicky, likes to tell an entertaining story about another avid player from Moscow. Nicky was giving the man a lesson in our top-of-the-line golf simulator.
The Russian, gazing at the room filled with screens and cameras, asked, “How much?”
“Oh, about 50,000,” Nicky replied.
“I buy,” the Russian said in his halting, but effective English.
Nicky laughed, “I’m not selling.”
The Russian was not to be dissuaded. “You deliver. Moscow loooong winter.”