Then, in 1986 Jones got a call from Moscow. The Cold War was winding down, and the golf course project was back on. It still faced more hurdles than a horse starting the Grand National. First the Soviets had to come up with the money. Then the local construction machinery didn't work. There was even a gnome in the Pentagon who objected to some export licenses when he saw that the project included "bunkers." Construction took the better part of six years. Twenty years elapsed from the time of Jones's first trip to Moscow until the full course opened in 1994.
But the final product, Le Meridien Moscow Country Club, is a remarkable piece of work. It cuts through dense stands of dark evergreens and ghostly white birches. Sluggish creeks and algal ponds come into play on half the holes. The par-four third, 454 yards, begins by the remnants of some earthen antitank fortifications built to hold off the Nazis in World War II. It rises to a knoll, then drops down to a green that hugs the side of a bog. The fifth, at 566 yards, may be one of the best par fives anywhere. Water flows in front of the tee, flanks the fairway on the left, cuts across the line of play and guards the right side for the second shot. Then it curls around the front and left sides of the green. A player has to clear the hazard three times.
Finding such a layout in Russia is like running across one of those Texas ranches where the owner is raising zebras. It would seem still more exotic had Jones not draped it so well on the landscape. The prime reminders that the course is not in, say, Minnesota, are the onion-shaped dome silhouette in the club's logo and the heavy security at the front gate. The era of feral capitalism in Russia is not quite over, and people with money like to feel protected.
The club's membership was at first largely expatriate. But with time, more Russians have taken up the game and joined. The Moscow Country Club is now a very diverse place, a club where one of the premier events each year is the "Superpowers" tournament. The members divide themselves into four teams—U.S.A., Russia, Europe and Asia. In October 2001, the club's first Russian chairman of the board of governors, Alexander Dobrovinsky, was elected.
I met Dobrovinsky on the Sunday afternoon before the Russian Amateur championship began. Wearing white shorts and the red shirt of Team Russia, smoking a thick Montecristo cigar, he was sitting on the veranda of the clubhouse with some friends. He watched as one of them labored over a scorecard, trying to settle a complex hash of bets. A passing shower drove us inside, where we talked in a great room built of varnished birch logs.
Twenty years ago, he told me, he was living in Brooklyn and driving a taxi. His Horatio Algersky story began in Moscow, where he was born to a Russian Jewish father and a mother whose parents were White Russians living in exile in France. By the seventies, when he was twenty-one, his mother was back in France and the Soviet army was sending him draft notices. Dobrovinsky opted to join his mother. A few years later he emigrated to New York and, after his taxi stint, began working as a paralegal. His path led through France, where he got an MBA, then Switzerland and back to Moscow, where he landed in the early nineties, getting his law degree and establishing a corporate practice.