Golf no longer a sport only for the elite in India

V Krishnaswamy

The Professional Golfers Tour of India took over the running of professional golf in India in only 2006-07. And in its very first year, the PGTI, now run by players themselves, put on offer Rs. 4.60 crores in a mere 10 tournament.

Tournaments carried prize purses of as much as Rs. 70 lakhs, unheard of in the past. With that kind of money now available and players down the like making sizeable amounts, the sport is not just for the elite players.

And in time to come, even availability of golf is going to become widespread with awareness and coaching programmes.

One of the biggest hurdles in the progress of golf in India has been the belief that golf is expensive and inaccessible for the common man. While that may have been true some years back, things have changed a lot.

Once available only to club members, many golf clubs – with the exception of many under Armed Force -- now allow walk-ins to play by paying green fees and a guest fee.

One look at the kind of champions Indian golf has seen, more so on the professional side, and it shows how golf has changed the lives of many players.

In the days gone by, Shadi Lal, Basad Ali, Rohtas Singh were the first lot. The first big success came in the form of Ali Sher, first Indian professional winner of Indian Open in 1991, and then came the likes of Vijay Kumar and Mukesh Kumar and the latest is Ashok Kumar, who earned more Rs. 44 lakhs in the PGTI season for 2006-07.

Success has been translated on the Asian scene, too. SSP Chowrasia, son of a greenskeeper, went on to earn more than US $ 100,000 and he has become a hero for others who want follow in his footsteps.

While the likes of Jeev Milkha Singh, Arjun Atwal, Jyoti Randhawa, Gaurav Ghei, Shiv Kapur and Rahil Gangjee had access to golf in their early years, golf changed the lives for many more.

One of the greatest advantages of playing in India has been the low green fees. While some of the designer courses in the Capital may cost more – like US $ 50-60, the green fees at most other places never goes beyond Rs. 500 (about US $ 11) and in most cases it is in the region of Rs. 100 (US $ 2) and 200 (US $ 4) and often as less as Rs. 50 (US $ 1). For Foreigners the charges may be more, even double, but even that is a pittance as compared to green fees of US $ 50 and 100 in most places abroad. Exclusive courses ad resorts often charge as much US $ 200 and more for a round.

The advent of designer and world-class golf resort like the Amby Valley Sahara Lake City has also meant that India has begun figuring prominently on the international golfing circuit.

The Indian Open was started in 1964 and over the last 40-odd years it has become one of the most well-known National Opens in Asia, and is now worth US $ 500,000 for the 2007 edition and is sponsored by Hero Honda, which earlier backed the Hero Honda Masters. India had another Asian Tour event in the US $ 400,000 Amby Valley Asian Masters. More are expected to come up in the next few years.