Golf in Croatia – Where Are We at the Moment

Croatian open golf championship was just held in Zagreb, and it probably would have gone unnoticed if Toni Kukoč, Croatia’s famous basketball players, was not one of the competitors. It is an injustice to sport and we are trying to fight it as well as to move this sport forward.

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I met Toni recently during Unicef’s charity golf tournament on Crveni vrh (Red Peak). While we were sitting in the golf club drinking coffee the day before the tournament, I definitely convinced him that basketball is not the sport for me, and our photo from the tournament further established my belief. But my first encounter with a golf club turned into love at first sight the very first day. After I managed to dig a generous size crater on the driving range with my No. 7 club, I changed the putter and things improved from then on. Obviously I still have a lot of swings and practice ahead of me, but distances I was able to achieve after the first few swings were encouraging (pure physics – the amount of mass is not questionable…). In golf, you don’t need an opponent, you are your own toughest opponent.

A tour of the course and “play” on several holes on Crveni vrh during which I was receiving help from everyone and where everyone was cutting me some slack, turned into a first rate experience. Walking (ok, driving in a golf cart) to get to the ball, unbelievable quiet and relaxation wiped away all my prejudice in an instant. First few impressions: a golf course is no ecological monster, it’s more of a well maintained park through which you are moving in a set direction. The game was invented by the English (the Scotts to be more exact) so the names and terms are weird and some of the things are not exactly logical: if a set includes 14 clubs, the half a set contains, logically, 9 clubs. The heaviest one is called wood, and it is, of course made out of metal (yes, there is a club called iron). The area around the hole is called a green, in order for us to distinguish it from other parts of the course which are green, and it’s still not clear to me why the rake cannot be left in the bunker (sand trap) when they’re only getting in the way when they’re on the grass…..

Rules of conduct in golf are pretty simple: don’t do unto others what you don’t want others to do unto you (for instance drive a golf cart in front of them while they’re getting ready to swing the ball), respect their privacy: it was fun with Niko Kovač who was getting ready for a drive on the 18th hole against Toni. Apart from the three guys from his own team, there were four of us that were watching him. Niko stopped and said he’s nervous to play before “such a large crowd”. Toni just commented “and you’re not nervous when you have to shoot a penalty in front of seventy thousand people?” Everyone laughed and Niko hit the ball – luckily the next swing is played off the best ball of any player on the team…

The stories saying that golf is a sport only for the rich are also not true. A round of golf with lunch at the golf club will set you back 400 kn! What is really expensive in this day and age is to set aside 4-5 hours to play. Should you decide to take up golf, in order to play on the court, you have to go through training school, pass a test and earn a set handicap, and that requires investing quite a lot of time. However, according to my first experience, each moment you set aside for this game is well worth it. The only problem is, even though Croatian newspapers are full of golf, and we hardly have any courts and driving ranges at all. But we have 43 golf clubs.
In our conversation, Toni noted that there are 138 golf courses around Boston alone, and so far he played on more than half of them. If, as a golf aficionado, you have decided to travel somewhere and play golf, then you want to play on a different court each day. That is why, as Toni says, we need at least 20 more golf courts. There’s no point in talking about the total number of golf courses in the US, especially when we compare it to Croatia: we have a total of 3.5 courses with 18 holes: in Zagreb, Krašić and Savudrija (the 0.5 relates to the old golf course on Brijuni where even the grass is way past its prime).

Dubrovnik currently has two golf clubs, but apart from preparation works for the construction of a golf course on Srđ based on Greg Norman’s design, the city doesn’t even have a single driving range. For the ones heading towards Split, Zadar or Istria – it’s worth a try, so take advantage of the great weather and go to a driving range: dress code is simple – polo shirt, baseball cap, shorts and sneakers. You can rent the clubs and balls on the spot. And don’t forget one essential part of golfing gear that is not mentioned in the rule book – sunscreen!

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