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Golf as a Life Style
Igor Zatravkin is a tourist company manager and a golf champion who wants to make golf popular in Ukraine.
Mr Zatravkin was interviewed by Yevhen Budko, senior editor of Mizhnarodny Turyzm Magazine.
Mr Zatravkin is a top manager of Ukrainian-Swiss tourist agency Fantazia-Svit (Fantasy-World). In his capacity of a golf player he has won a number of prestigious competitions. His golf ambition is to make golf a truly popular game in Ukraine, and he believes it is an achievable goal.
Mr Zatravkin, could you please say a few words about yourself?
I was born in Moscow, Russia. Upon graduation from the Institute of Foreign Languages, I went to Algiers where I worked as an interpreter in a military school. Later, I moved to Geneva, Switzerland, where I worked as a translator at the European UN Headquarters. While in Geneva, I also studied at the Geneva Commercial College. I attended classes in the evening, after my work. After my contract with the UNO expired, I landed a job at one of the Swiss trade companies. Five years later, I was offered a job of a manager at the Tourist Office in Geneva to manage tourist relations with the countries of Eastern Europe and the countries of the former Soviet Union.
Did it include Ukraine?
Yes, it did. As a representative of the Tourist Office in Geneva I visited Ukraine on business many times. I fell in love with Kyiv and after twenty years that I had spent in Switzerland I realized that I’d rather live among the Slavs in Kyiv.
Was it in Switzerland that you got interested in golf?
Yes, and I think it was one of my major discoveries that I made during my stay in Switzerland. Golf in Ukraine is developing at a steady rate and my golf qualifications are in a growing demand.
You teach playing golf, don’t you?
Yes I do. I’ve got a license of a professional golf instructor. In April 2009 I opened a golf school in Kyiv. Now it functions at the Kyiv Golf Centre and the Royal Kyiv Golf Club.
What about your tourist business?
It remains to be my business occupation. I find that tourism and golf are related in some way — most of the Ukrainians began to learn what was golf about during their tourist trips abroad. The tourist company Fantazia-Svit organizes golf tours to many countries of the world and our company is not the only one doing that.
Do you remember how actually you got involved in golf?
It was a purely accidental introduction — through an electronic game. Quite a few years ago I offered my elder son an electronic game which included golf. Watching my son playing it, I realized that I would want to play it too — and the transition from virtual golf to real one was all but natural. So I joined one of the golf clubs in Geneva.
At that time you were a Soviet citizen, weren’t you? And the Soviets frowned on things like that — a Soviet citizen abroad becoming a member of a golf club with all those “capitalists” around and their pernicious influence was not a move the Soviet authorities would welcome!
I did not advertise my desire to become a member of a golf club. The club I first went to was really a highly prestigious one. To become one, you had to have recommendations from two or three members who represented the local elite. And then you’d have to wait for some time before being admitted as a member. On my first visit I was given a tour of the club – but no membership of course. I joined a less prestigious club where rules of admission to membership were less strict.
Do you really think golf can have a big following in Ukraine?
I do. At the end of 2009 golf was promoted to be an Olympic sport and that will surely give it a great boost, Ukraine included. Ukraine has excellent natural and climatic conditions for golf. There are seven golf clubs in Ukraine at the moment and I’m sure their number will grow, but in order for golf to become a truly popular game people have to get rid of certain stereotypes. One of such stereotypes has it that golf is a boring game for the retired rich. Golf is an exciting game which both young and old enjoy playing.
But isn’t it an expensive sort of game to play?
I’m sure it’s cheaper to play golf than, say, go for mountain skiing. First you have to learn how to hit the golf ball properly, and for that you have to hire an instructor who may charge about 250 hryvnyas (about 30 US dollars at the current exchange) per lesson. Then you’ll have to buy golf equipment — that will cost you about 400 US dollars. A game of golf on a golf course costs about 250 hryvnyas. Such will be your expenses if you do amateur golf.
Going pro will involve much bigger expenses I assume?
Yes, sure. Amateur golf is in fact an accessible game to play. The number of expensive exclusive golf clubs in the world is really small compared to the number of golf clubs which are quite “democratic” and accessible.
You have won some competitions here in Ukraine, haven’t you?
Yes, I have, but it’s not a big achievement, really, because golf is not yet a highly competitive sport in this country like it is in some other countries. But participation of good players from elsewhere makes golf in Ukraine more competitive, more spectacular, and boosts the development of golf.
In 2009 I won the first golf championship of Ukraine. It was an open championship. The number of golf players in Ukraine is growing fast and I’m sure good players from elsewhere will start coming here to play pretty soon.
But for me playing golf is mostly for fun – it is being a professional instructor that is my golf priority. Playing golf keeps me in shape and hones my skills.
How many golf clubs are there in Kyiv?
Three but they have four golf courses as one club can have more than one course. Usually, at first a nine-hole is laid out and you can play two-round games, and later nine more holes are added and thus you have a standard eighteen-hole course.
As far as I know, golf began to be played in Ukraine in the early twentieth century.
Yes, that’s correct. Golf began to be played in 1912 at the estate of the Muravyov-Apostols in the Land of Zhytomyrshchyna. After the Bolsheviks came to power they used that golf field for growing potatoes.
With Ukraine’s independence, many things have been changed and many things have been revived, and golf is one of them. It is mostly diplomats, employees of foreign companies and foreign tourists who play golf in Ukraine but things are changing and more and more of local players come to enjoy the game.
Golf is more than just a game — it’s a life style. Now there are three golf federations in Ukraine which promote golf — I am convinced their efforts will keep making golf ever more popular.
To which countries people you train or those who are members of your club go to play golf?
The USA where golf is a very popular game. Probably the US is a number one golf country in the world. Britain where golf started to be played originally comes second. We also have people who go to Spain, Portugal, Arab Emirates, Egypt and Turkey. In these countries you can play golf all year round. But in summer you don’t have to go anywhere — you can play golf in Ukraine perfectly well! There are all the right conditions for that!