Global golf gets a new buzzword - India

April 1st, 2008 - 10:50 am ICT by admin  

By V. Krishnaswamy
Some of the very best golfers in the world are hotfooting it to India, not for a holiday but to play in the biggest professional events in the region. As Indian golf comes of age and becomes more than just a game played by the elite, Indian tournaments too have become more popular with top players attracted to the country’s world-class courses. They include the likes of Adam Scott and Ernie Els, both top-10 players in the world, former World No. 1 Vijay Singh of Fiji and eight-times European No. 1 Colin Montgomerie.

They were all in India last month for tournaments like the Emaar-MGF Indian Masters and the Johnnie Walker Classic. And, these stalwarts were talking not just about their ambitions on the greens but are also looking at India as a golfing destination.

In addition, golfing legends like Greg ‘Shark’ Norman, Nick Faldo, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus have already made contact with a lot of developers to come up with high-end golfing properties. Each of these legendary players, who have designed signature golf across the globe, are now looking seriously at India to enlarge their footprints.

Till a few years ago, Americans and Europeans looked at China as the big market - which it still is - but now the interest levels are very high in India. So much so, the golf community feels that India has greater growth potential in golf than even China.

The buzzword in golf, as everywhere else, is India. Even as India moves towards becoming a global power, its potential in terms of golf, too, is being slowly but steadily understood, recognised and realised.

With India’s own golfing prowess in terms of courses and golfing success growing, the Asian countries, barring Japan and Korea, are all looking at India to fuel it further. The ‘Big Boys’ of America and Europe are increasingly looking at India to further their businesses.

Which is probably why major sponsors are all looking at events in India, and with greater media focus on them, the bang for the buck is greater than ever before.

With the world’s most lucrative professional Tour, the US PGA, probably having reached a saturation point and the impending - if it is not there already - economic slowdown, promoters and sponsors are looking at new markets.

And none look more attractive than India, with its mega business and penchant for global acquisitions. A booming economy has seen wealth creation at its best. Multinationals are looking at India with great interest.

Add to that the increased focus on Indian golfers’ performance on the global platform and golf looks the most logical sport to get involved in for big companies.

Another reason for global interest in Indian golf is the success rate Indian golfers have achieved in the last two years. Before that there was just Arjun Atwal on the US Tour and the only one to have won an event on European Tour.

In late 2006, Jeev Milkha Singh won the flagship event of Europe, the Volvo Masters of Europe, amongst his four titles - which included another one jointly sanctioned by Asia and Europe. He went on to make a mark at both Augusta Masters and US Open.

Besides him, there was Jyoti Randhawa contending every now and then, and last month S.S.P. Chowrasia, son of a greenskeeper, stunned the big names of Europe to grab the $2.5 million Indian Masters and his own winning cheque was whopping $ 416,660.

Indian domestic market in professional golf, too, is very strong. From being stuck in the region of $700,000-750,000 as prize money per year, it made a big leap to $1.1-1.3 million in 2007-08. That figure could go as high $1.7 million this year.

In the week after the $500,000 Hero Honda Indian Open, BILT put together India’s richest event on the domestic scene with a purse of Rs.8 million, which is $200,000. Not too long ago, that was a decent purse on Asian Tour.

In February-March 2008, India hosted three major events in the space of four weeks. The $2.5 million Indian Masters tournament was followed by the $400,000 SAIL Open and then the $2.5 million Johnnie Walker Classic.

Besides, a whole lot of new courses are in the works. The golfing industry itself has begun to boom with world-class equipment and apparel readily available and the pool of talent at junior and senior levels is amazing.

India and China make for an interesting study. India with its long history and tradition of golf - what with the existence of golf clubs dating back to late 19th century and one of the most widespread domestic professional tours in place. And, China, which till the early 1980s has just one golf course, is now looking at golf tourism as one of the main routes to lure the rich and famous to come and spend money in their Land.

China now has some of the world’s finest courses. The Mission Hills complex in Shenzhen has 10 designer championships courses, making it the biggest golf resort in the world. Dozens of courses in China are being designed by the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Greg Norman, Nick Faldo, Colin Montgomerie and so on. The Mission Hills has 10 courses, each designed by a renowned name and China now has more than 200 courses, with many more on the way.

But China has only a handful of professionals, who are making a mark in and outside of Asia, the biggest names being Zhang Lian Wei and the upcoming Liang Wen Chong.

India, on the other hand, has 200-odd courses, but half of them are small and managed by the armed forces and most are not open to public and certainly not worthy of being touted as tourist attractions.

But India has a legacy, which includes almost a dozen golf clubs more than 100 years old. The old ones have a charm and the new ones compete with the best in the world.

Apart from the likes of Jeev Milkha Singh, Jyoti Randhawa, who should soon make it to the US Tour after having paid their dues in Asia, Japan and Europe Tours, there are Shiv Kapur and S.S.P. Chowrasia, Gaurav Ghei and Rahil Gangjee.

Arjun Atwal is already playing in the US and there is also the Indo-Swede Daniel Chopra, who learnt all his golf in India, in a similar position. Chopra in last six months has won twice on the US Tour.

These apart, there are almost 15-20 Indian golfers already dotting the courses in Asia on the Asian Tour, now worth more than $35 million.

Those who thus far used the Middle East and China as examples to show how golf is popular and good for business have now begun to take note of the strength of Indian golf. The gulf countries do not have professionals of world strength right now, and China has very few ready to make a big mark.

But in the case of India, there is a growing market - and with it come quality golfers too.

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