Pilot, Hospitality Worker and Priest Aim for First Golf Course in Slavonia

By 16 September 2019

The Croatian golf story is a long, complicated and often completely embarrassing one. With lawsuits and false promises surrounding the oddly hot topic of golf in Croatia, could three unlikely individuals from Slavonia be the ones to introduce the sport to Eastern Croatia's plains?

As Novac/Nikola Patkovic writes on the 15th of September, 2019, one day, a pilot, a hospitality worker and a priest met at the airport... It could be the start of a good joke, which could develop in different directions, but this isn't a joke, but a serious story that goes in only one direction. And yes, behind it are indeed a pilot, a hospitality worker and a priest, and the path they've taken together took them to the founding of the Golfing Association in Vinkovci, Slavonia.

Now, one might think we're returning to the joke, but we're not. Professional pilot and manager of the Sopot Airport in Vinkovci, Milan Mravinac, local Vinkovci hospitality worker Antun Jelenić (aka Toni) and Krešimir Aračić, a priest from Berak (Tompojevci), make up a trio that is credited or indeed "guilty" of giving birth to a very interesting idea, which took on more serious outlines and in due course could introduce the first golf course in Slavonia.

But, there's a long way to go before the idea of a real golf course in Slavonia could come to fruition, and the unlikely heroes of this story are more than aware that they can't do it all on their own, so they aren't hiding that while they're continuing to push forward, they're dissatisfied with things as they currently stand.

''We're using the resources which are at our disposal, which is the grassy area of ​​the airport or its take-off areas, where we hold training sessions whenever the opportunity arises,'' says Mravinac, who came up with the idea of ​​launching golf activities at the airport, when Jelenić arrived for a conversation.

''Since I worked in Germany for a while, where I had the opportunity to get to know golf in this form, that is, in this way, by playing it at the training ground, talking to Milan, we came up with the idea that it could be started here as well,'' Jelenić said, who also told Mravinac that he had heard of a priest who is a golf player and that it wouldn't be a bad idea to try to get in touch with him.

''That was all happening back during this spring. I contacted our parish priest, Krešo, who immediately showed his goodwill and desire to help us, so we soon all met up and it all started very enthusiastically. I offered the space of the airport that has everything needed for a golfing driving range and that's how it began,'' said Mravinac, and then the priest, Krešo Aračić joined the conversation - and his story is particularly interesting.

Namely, he is one of three Catholic priests in Croatia who are avid golfers at the same time, so we were interested in how one priest found himself in this, even less common for priests maybe, type of sport and hobby.

''I've been involved in football for a long time, otherwise my father is a football coach and he always told me not to bother with it, and that football isn't for priests, but I felt a love for the sport. In football, as is well known, everything is experienced, so, there's using God's name in vain, swearing about people's mothers, quarrels, and I was temperamental, and oh boy... did I know how to get into conflicts with the other players.

Then I decided to stop with all that, so I switched to tennis. But there was a problem with you always needing someone to play against, so that wasn't a happy solution either, and then a friend from Sombor suggested I try golf. At that time, a golf course was opened in Zmajevac in Baranja, and that's how I started. There, I met Darko Ljubanović, a professional golf player and coach, who opened my eyes more and I became infected with this sport, and got a license as a golf player, because it's the only sport in the world that you need to have a license to play on the courts around the world,'' explained Pastor Aračić.

''When it comes to golf, it's extremely important that players know how to behave nicely, to look out for their teammates, and for those in front of you, and that's what attracted me most to the sport. No swearing, you play against nature, wood, sand... It's one really nice, genuine game that the Scots invented because they lived with nature. With golf, there's no 'cure' for personal frustration like getting irritated with others, like there is in football. If you make a mistake, then you're the one at fault.

I don't play against another player, I play for myself and against myself, that is, against nature. It's a nice, chivalrous, gentlemanly game. We priests are people too, and we work a lot with people, and often we need a day or two of free time in which we devote some time to ourselves,'' said Aračić, who then returned to explaining his cooperation in the Slavonia golf saga with Milan and Antun.

''Milan and Toni asked me to help them and I accepted that offer with joy. A few years ago, there was an attempt to start something similar in Vinkovci, but in the end everything collapsed, I couldn't push on with it on my own, so the story failed. There are other people here who are leading this project, and I'm in the position of advisor and of support. As an amateur player, I must not teach them, because only a professional can do that. I can help them out with advice and that's all, and for now, it's working well,'' stated the priest.

''There are about twenty of us for the time being, and we don't want to be a golf club because we're not ready for that. That's why we will set up an association that will give us certain freedoms, but also make sure we're recognised formally and legally. The terrain will be and remain this way,'' said Mravinac, explaining the due to the area's size, it could never be a proper golf course, but merely a driving range, whose words were confirmed by Aračić.

''At the moment, there are no plans to set up a club, because I don't want finances to hinder us, but instead to carry on our love of this sport. The goal is to set up a Golf Lovers Association, to bring us together as many people as possible here, to practice, and later on, for anyone who feels like it, we can also organise a trip to Zagreb or to Slovenia, where I'm a member of the Radenci club, where anyone who wants to qualify for a golfing license, possibly join a golf club and go to competitions, can do so - but that's still a long way off,'' said the pastor.

Among the twenty members who joined them was Mirko Miškić, an engineer from Vinkovci, who used to practice tennis but became interested in golf a few years ago.

''It's kind of connected. There are a lot of people who switch to golf after tennis and I've been watching golf tournaments on TV for the last few years, I learned the rules too... When Toni told me what they were planning, I was thrilled to come here. So far, we're happy, and we'll see what's to come later. There is some thought about a golf course in the Vinkovci area, even the surface it would be on, but nothing has been defined. We believe that other citizens will be interested outside our circle of friends and acquaintances, and that's our goal, because we want to further develop the culture of this sport,'' said Miškić.

The fact that a golf course in Slavonia would be a great solution is something the priest doesn't doubt at all, as he knows very well how much time and money it takes to go to play a game in Zagreb, Slovenia, Kapošvar or Zabalj near Zrenjanin, where they have golf courses.

''That's why I can't go to as many tournaments or as many games as I'd like to, and I believe that in Eastern Croatia, there would be great interest if we had the right grounds, even with nine holes. It's a wonderful sport that makes you take a few hours out in nature and relax,'' explained the priest.

Make sure to follow our dedicated lifestyle page for more information on Slavonia and much, much more.