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Hitting from the Red Tees
Wendy Sloane
May 13, 1991
An entrepreneurial Swede has built a nine-hole golf course within chipping distance of the Kremlin
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May 13, 1991

Hitting From The Red Tees

An entrepreneurial Swede has built a nine-hole golf course within chipping distance of the Kremlin

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Question: what does a retired Swedish professional hockey player who loves golf have to do with a Moscow city dump?

Answer: The former dump is the site of the hockey player's golf course, the first to be laid out in the Soviet capital.

Question: Why would anybody want to build a golf course in Moscow?

Answer: Money. Big money. Sven Tumba hopes, and seems to believe, that he is going to be in the long green in a very short time, thanks to his course.

Tumba is a former hockey center who is a late-blooming entrepreneur. He was born Sven Johansson and raised in the village of Tumba. During his long and distinguished athletic career, in which he played for Sweden in the 1952, '56, '60 and '64 Olympics, Tumba became his nickname. In 1965, he made it official.

Meeting Tumba today, you wouldn't guess he had been an athlete. He has put an a few pounds and now, at 59, looks the part of a ruddy-faced, paunchy businessman. He is, in fact, a Stockholm-based entrepreneur who pursues development projects both at home and abroad.

Abroad is one thing, but opening golf courses in the Soviet Union, a far from affluent country, is quite another. That, however, is just what Tumba did in 1989. The idea had come to him more than two decades earlier, during his playing days in international hockey. "I wanted to start golf here," says Tumba, a scratch golfer, as he relaxes on the deck of the Tumba Golf Club Moscow's clubhouse. "But whenever I told the Russians that, they told me, 'Nyet, nyet, it's a capitalist game.' I heard that for years."

Tumba is not easily dissuaded, and in 1971 he started to make overtures to Soviet officials. The Soviet sports council was initially unenthusiastic. But after years of wrangling, Tumba finally put together a partnership that includes a 40% stake for the Moscow Sports Committee and a 20% share for a Swiss firm that would manage the club. In 1987 contracts were signed, and Tumba was granted access to a Moscow dump site just a 10-minute drive from Red Square.

Tumba found the plot of land almost unusable. "I am the only person in the whole world who would think of making a golf course out of this mess," he says as he looks out over what was, for years, a landfill. "See this part over here?" He points to the driving range, a gleaming meadow of green where several teenagers are hitting balls. "This was the worst area. You could have gotten sick just by walking down through the sludge."

The entire parcel was not only foul but also small—54.4 acres. The prospect of shoehorning nine golf holes plus a clubhouse into such a tiny area caused Tumba to downsize his dream. "Our course is small [about 2,600 yards], but it's still a course," he says. "There is not room for more than one par 5, and we have three par 3s, but the course is challenging and nice-looking."

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