When it comes to golf, Estonia is no Spain, Ireland or even Sweden for that matter. But the sport is growing, perceptibly, steadily, incrementally, with increased awareness of the great game and the expansion of the middle and leisure classes. Starting from point zero after the fall of the Soviet Union (golf is still barely known in Russia) Estonia now boasts several courses and about 4,000 registered players with a handicap. The man at the center of the golf scene in Estonia is Hanno Kross, President of the Estonian Golf and Country Club outside of Tallinn. His mission is to grow the game in Estonia and keep the EGCC’s two courses, the Sea Course and the Stone Course, in superb playing condition. Anyone who has played the beautiful and challenging Sea Course can attest that Estonia is lucky to have such a fine golfing experience located so close to the capital. Tallinn Arts talked with Hanno about the golf culture in Estonia and where it’s headed.
1.) Tell us about the courses at EGCC. What is the style of golf? What are the highlights? What are the challenges?
There are two courses – the 9 hole links style Stone Course and the 18 hole championship Sea Course. Both are very different – the Stone Course is a little shorter and good for a beginner. The Sea Course is a true championship course where the World Cup Qualifier was played in 2009 and 2011. The Sea Course varies a lot – it has both forest and sea side open to the elements. The elevation goes up 40 meters so you can experience a lot in a round.
2.) What is the state of golf in Estonia today? What do you see as the future of the sport here? Are there any youth golf programs to speak of?
The state of golf is getting better every year. Last year we got 130 new members to our club. A lot of people between the ages of 30-40 are taking up the sport. It is a lot more affordable than it used to be. For example at our Stone Course you can pay 350€ for as much golf as you want in a year. There are also junior programs and we have approximately 60 juniors training weekly. For me the junior trainings are not only about sport but also it helps to grow the person – the etiquette, the people and everything which surrounds golf – this helps children to be a better person.
3.) What are the big events coming to EGCC in summer 2014?
At EGCC we will host the Ladies Individual European Championships this year. Also there will be the Estonian Championships played at EGCC the next three years. But altogether more than 100 events a year!
4.) What are the future plans for development at EGCC?
The plan is to build the Stone Course up to an 18 hole course so for a tourists, for example, they can do a long weekend and play twice at our Sea and Stone Course. We have been voted three times in a row as one of the TOP 100 golf courses in Continental Europe and the aim is one day to become top100 in the World.
5.) How are membership levels? What are the requirements of membership? What advantages are conferred to members?
There are around 600 members in EGCC already – the advantage is that you can pay a yearly fee and play as much as you want, even 200 rounds if you can! We have introduced a new membership scheme where you can choose to play either the Stone Course for 350€ per year or Sea and Stone Course for 1000€ per year.
6.) How do you see the sport of golf developing in the region? Will Russia ever become a golfing nation?
Russia is developing but the problem there is that golf is very expensive and there are no public golf courses where you can play golf for a reasonable price. I’m sure it will take time but for example the St Petersburg region with 5 million people – there could be easily 100 golf courses if we compare it with the Scandinavian model. At the moment there is only one which I think is slated to be opened in 2014 or 2015.
7.) Presently, who is Estonia's best golfer?
We have one professional player, Mark Suursalu, our club member. He won the Nordic League tournament last year which was the first professional golf tournament won by an Estonian. His rounds were 69, 66 and 64, -17 under par. He got a lot of confidence from that tournament and I hope he has a chance to qualify for the PGA Europe Challenge Tour soon.