On a bright sunny day, urban Indians are out wearing their Sunday best. As they sip their wines and linger over the appetizers, the conversation begins, not about Sachin or Dhoni but centred on birdies, eagles and bogeys. So, along with their designer sunglasses and luxury cars, they have brought out their irons. Golf was and remains a niche sports played across the globe. As a sign of the country’s booming economy, rich Indians are today taking to the greens increasingly and are hoping that this trend will help popularise golf in a nation that has traditionally had only one sporting passion: cricket.
With the Indian economy growing at a decent pace, lifestyles getting bolder and larger than life, and incomes and spending power of Indians is at an all time. So demand for quality leisure and recreation activities grows apace. Golf equipment makers and sports marketers are enthusiastic about the prospect of India’s burgeoning middle class — about 300 million people — embracing the sport in droves during the next decade. Golf benefits from not only the demand for recreation, but is also a boost to tourism.
It all started with the British leaving golﬁng as a legacy to India, alongwith a number of high quality golf-courses, steeped in tradition. The founding of the Indian Golf Union (IGU) in 1955 saw the baton of responsibility for golf organisation and development from the Royal Calcutta Golf Club, which had been handling India’s golf interests since the club’s inception in 1829.
To say the game has grown in India lately would be wrong. India has had its share of champions. India’s men’s golf team won gold at the 1982 Asian Games and silver at the 2006 Asian Games. Lakshman Singh won the individual gold at the 1982 Asian Games.
According to the IGU, India currently has 196 registered golf courses, and up to 35 additional courses not affiliated with the IGU. Around 50% of the registered courses are situated on military bases, which are accessible only to military personnel and some select individuals. This leaves approximately 100 courses to cater for civilian golf demand.
The makeup of the golf course supply is split between 18-hole (39%) and 9-hole (60%) facilities, and three 27-hole clubs. There are signature courses in the country, including ones designed by Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Greg Norman. Jeev Milkha Singh is the first name that comes to mind when you talk about Indian golf. Son of ‘Flying Sikh’ Milkha Singh, he has won four titles on the European Tour, four on the Japan Golf Tour and six on the Asian Tour. Although his current world ranking is nothing to boast about, his highest ranking was 28th (in March 2009). He has won the Asian Tour Order of Merit twice.
Gaganjeet Bhullar is now the top Indian golfer as per world rankings. With 5 wins on the Asian Tour and 9 wins on the Professional Golf Tour of India, he is going great guns and emerging as one of the best talents coming out of the country. Anirban Lahiri, Shiv Kapur, Jyoti Randhawa, Arjun Atwal, Gaurav Ghei, SSP Chowrasia (Winner on European Tour) are few of the other big names of Indian Golf. They have done remarkably well on the Indian Tour as well as on the Asian Tour. But they do need a bit more consistency to improve on the European tour and PGA tour.
Karan Taunk of Jamshedpur is one of the flourishing talents of the country and with the emergence of these kind of young and talented players the day won’t be too far when India will have its own Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy’s.
The growing glory of the game has been astonishing in the last few years and one of the big reasons is the swelling investment in the game. With the increase in sponsors for the game the game is burgeoning leaps and bounds then what it was a decade ago. Tournaments like the Indian Open with prize money of nearly 1.2 million USD attracts the best players from the Asian Tour, Avantha Masters is another major championship on the European tour. Golf Premier League is also an interesting idea brought up in the last couple of years. Listed here are some of the tournaments that will be happening through the year around the country:
The Bonallack Trophy, the SAIL Open, the DLF Women’s Indian Open, the India Golf Festival, Take Solutions World Corporate Golf Challenge, the Toyota Golf Festival, the Mercedes Trophy, the Citibank World Golfers Championship, the ICICI Bank Private Banking Masters, the ICICI Bank International Pro-Am, the British Airways Executive Challenge, the World NRI Challenge, and the Barclays Invitational.
The Way Forward
Due to the lack of popularity it is difficult to estimate future growth rates of demand. Expected participation applies to a small section of the population who can afford to choose and play golf. This suggests that India may need to build up to 100 new courses to satisfy the demand over the next decade. An increase in participation can be achieved by:
- • Developing and creating more affordable and accessible facilities … build more golf courses in the smaller towns and cities. Keep minimal fees and invest to have world class facilities.
- • Increasing activity in junior and academy golf … improve coaching standards at the junior and academy level. Open more and more academy’s across the country so that the players of all ages can benefit from the same. The talent is there, all we need to do is to show them the way.
- • Effectively promoting professional golf to a wider audience … cricket may be the sports king of India, but golf has a bigger global audience and a very different aura. We need to build on this aura and global value by hosting big-money tournaments and lure the biggest names of the game to the country to showcase their talent.
In India you can play golf almost anywhere, in the hills and in the high Himalayan fastness, or in metropolitan cities and small towns, by lakes and forests, or surrounded by tea estates, in old cantonments, or even out in the desolation of the vast deserts …
India was the first country outside Great Britain to take up the game of golf. The diversity of it’s courses reflect the roots of the game. Not only does India home to the oldest gold club in the world outside of Great Britain, but is also home to the highest at Gulmarg, Jammu Kashmir, which is at an altitude of 2,700 metres. There are golf courses in the mountains, plains, deserts and at beach resorts. The environment of each course is unique in its culture and history, highlighting all that makes India a diverse golfing destination.
Once there was a quote that Golf is, “a passion, an obsession, a romance, a nice acquaintanceship with trees, sand, and water.”
When all the facets of the game are favouring us, it’s high time we embrace this sport and use its romance and underlying passion to create a magical success story. The ball is at the edge of the hole, and it is indeed the moment to gauge the green and make that special putt to take the sport to the next level.