Golf in the Time of Communism

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Christian M. Ravndal   US Minister to Hungary

Christian M. Ravndal was a career US diplomat.  He served as head of the US Foreign Service, ambassador to Uruguay, Ecuador and Czechoslovakia, and he was minister to Hungary in the 1950s.

He was also a scratch golfer.  When he was posted to Budapest he spent his free time at the Hungarian Golf Club with club pro Joe Stammel.  When Ravndal arrived in late 1951 only eight of the original eighteen holes were still in use at the club.  The other ten holes had been appropriated by the Hungarian government.  By April 1952 only five holes remained.

Ravndal and Stammel were in the middle of round in late spring 1952 when they were approached by the Hungarian Minister of War and a Russian general.  They were ordered off the course immediately as the Hungarian government took over the remainder of the club’s property.

Determined to tee up again, Ravndal set out to create a course despite opposition from the communist Hungarian government who viewed the game as a luxury associated with capitalism.  Nearby was an overgrown eight acre parcel with a bombed out mansion that the US government had purchased in 1947 to build residences for the members of the US diplomatic delegation.  The communist takeover of Hungary resulted in the parcel remaining undeveloped.

Ravndal and the legation staff used their own money to pay to turn the property into a four hole course.   Employing local labor, bomb craters were filled in, thick brush removed and unexploded ordnance disposed of.  In July 1952 the course was completed and the games began.  A round consisted of sixteen holes (four circuits) with a par of 48.

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Five cent chit from the Air Free Golf Club in Budapest.

In a contemporary New York Times article, Ravndal described the course as a “monument to nose-thumbing” due to the disapproval of the host country’s government.  (The communist government eliminated all golf courses in Hungary).  To add further insult to them Ravndal named the course the Air Free Golf Club.

The facility was open to all western diplomats in Hungary and quickly became a popular hangout.  A pool was added (by adapting a bomb crater) and a tennis court was installed using crushed brick as a surface.  A locker room and bar were completed.  A French diplomat’s goat acted as groundskeeper.  The club hosted nine 32 hole tournaments annually.   It operated until the early 1970s.

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A Complete $5.00 chit booklet for the Air Free Golf Club.  This type of booklet was commonly used in dining facilities and clubs at US military and diplomatic facilities from the 1950s to 1970s.

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