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Growing the game of Golf in India amidst the air of ‘exclusivity’?

Asian Tour
Posted by Admin 12 Jun 2018

By Priyanka Sen Sarkar


The emergence of talent powerhouses like Shubhankar Sharma and Aditi Ashok, who reached the upper echelons of world Golf, has given a fresh impetus to Golf in India.  With a growing tribe of young Golfing talent cementing their position as a dominant force on the global realm, the future of Indian Golf seems upbeat. Or so we thought.



Golf in india



Even as Indian Golfers are playing a consequential role in broadening the appeal of the game across the country, the Indian Golf growth story is far from a happy one today. Golf in India finds itself in the rough at the grassroots level as accessibility to the game remains the biggest roadblock for most existing and aspiring Golfers.



Despite a robust economy, a colossal population of 1.35 million, a burgeoning middle class with high disposable income and a rich legacy of Golf, the game remains elitist and walled-off to many. 



The stark reality: India has about 230 golf courses, out of which none including DDA Lado Sarai is purely 'pay and play' and are at best hybrid public courses. Over 160 golf courses are on the public land and out of these  -  100 are Defence-owned – exclusively reserved for Government officials. Some are owned by state Governments, BSF, Police, Railways etc and operate under specific membership criteria. Almost all the other courses are private ones operated by golf clubs, which are far from welcoming; have membership barriers thus restricting access to a multitude of rules and regulations. 




The air of exclusivity!



are golf clubs in india limiting the spirit of the game



It’s not that the ‘exclusive’ Golf clubs allow access to those who are willing to cough up a huge amount of cash.  Even the very rich can face a 10-year waiting period for membership as ‘moolah’ alone won’t gain you entry into these clubs. It’s about knowing the right people, your disposition, and personality and of course, the impression you bestow upon the hierarchy.



Many tax-paying aspiring golfers in India do not even know these golf courses are actually accessible to them by law. And to evade the law, these golf courses increase their walk-in green fees without prior notifications, restricting their access to the non-members furthermore.


All these golf ingredients make the game inaccessible, tough to join, giving the game that air of exclusivity.



The overarching question: Isn’t the Indian Golf terrain a classic example of a sector that has tremendous potential in galloping forward, but one that has been affected by ‘the CLUB Membership' concept which limits the spirit and the growth of the game?




How the ‘club membership’ culture confines the spirit of Golf? 



Golf in india



Long referred to as an elitist game, Golf carries with it many upper-class and exclusive connotations and access to the golf courses is like the forbidden fruit. Echoing similar sentiments, Former IGU Director General Wg Cdr Arun Kumar Singh (Retd), shares, “The Maharaja culture still exists in the Golf clubs. When you become a member, you are buying a membership to become a snoot. You want to create a firewall around you and want Golf to remain a ‘mysterious’ game for others. You don’t want anyone else to come. Membership is, unfortunately, not limited to playing Golf. It is usually an opportunity for socializing and why Golf is considered elitist in this country is because of this culture. This gives an intimidation to people. People think that it is meant only for the rich and the elite and this is detrimental to the growth of the game.”



He adds, “Membership in almost all golf clubs is for people in the latter half of their lives. Junior programs or membership if available is generally for children of members which makes it even more restricted in reach.”




Golf in india



Echoing similar sentiments, Akshay A Kilachand, Golf Captain at Willingdon Sports Club, says, “Access to the sport is very, very limited. It’s high time that the private Golf clubs have options that allow non-members to access the Golf courses. Anyone and everyone with a passion to play the sport can actually do the same. Also, this takes a toll on the caddies. Even they can earn a little more if there are more footfalls on the golf courses at non-peak times.”




Are Club memberships for the ‘real’ Golfing talent?



golf clubs in india



How does one expect a steady stream of talent flow, when the environment is too walled off? Wg Cdr Arun Kumar Singh (Retd) comes up with an interesting point. “Interestingly, there is no requirement for applicants to play Golf for membership. The test or handicap is required only when your turn for membership comes after a waiting period of 15 - 20 years. Moreover, what does a test tell you…that you can swing a club and connect the ball? It doesn’t say that you are a very keen Golfer or you play Golf for sporting reasons. So a majority of memberships are for non-golfers. And it suits everyone.”



He adds, “Picture this: In one of the well-known golf courses, you have 5000 members. So out of them, even if 2000 start playing Golf regularly, there won’t be any place, isn’t it? So only 500 will play golf and the rest can have the subsidized Food and Beverages facilities. Naturally, there’s no place for non-members who are passionate about playing the sport.”


Golf clubs and golf courses can't become an exclusive preserve only of a specific social or economic elite with pricing designed to keep the real Golf talent out.



The persisting question: How can 1.35 million Indians be motivated to play the Game of Golf and how can they get access to the Golf courses and not the clubs?



Roadmap to the future with



Golf in india future



While there are major roadblocks ahead, is optimistic about the growth of Golf in India and vehemently strives to make the game accessible to anyone and everyone who harbours a passion for Golf. Here’s a closer look at the potential solutions that aim to nurture and grow the game from strength to strength: 


  • Focusing on Tier-2 cities Golf courses: Out of the 230 Golf clubs in India, there are about 80-90 potential Golf courses in Tier 2 cities that are not doing well. They do not have enough funds, do not have enough memberships and are not successful. believes that real growth can happen in the Tier 2 cities golf courses and can be looked into– it’s a great opportunity as the masses are also getting richer there. Nurturing the ‘not-so-successful’ Golf courses in Tier 2 cities can be pivotal for the growth of Golf in India.



  • Focusing on the grassroots: believes a structured grassroots programme will be critical to the growth of Indian Golf in the coming years. Wg Cdr Arun Kumar Singh (Retd) puts it aptly, “We need to look at Golf in two parts…one is excellence. The people who are excelling need to be trained etc. The other part is opportunity. You need to provide an opportunity to more and more people. And the opportunity also has got two aspects. One is to create awareness. Today Golf is a mysterious game. One is to focus on grassroots and to focus on grassroots you need to create awareness. Once you create that awareness, the focus should be on playing facilities where they could go and play. It should be the basic and minimal facility.” 



  • Leveraging the non-peak time in Golf courses: Every Golf club has enough slots in a Golf course which are free. There’s something which is called non-peak time and differs from season to season. Golf courses can easily put that particular time into use for people who are really keen to play Golf.



  • Keeping the playing facilities: How about if the Urban Ministry or the Ministry of Sports insists to the Golf clubs that club membership is agreed, but 50% should be for your members and the rest should be for ‘Pay and Play’. And the rates for the ‘Pay and Play’ facility should be decided by the Ministry of Sports. Without hampering the interest of the club members, we can help keen Golfers get access to the courses and facilitate them to exercise their golfing skills.



  • A dire need for the taxpayer and Student membership: strongly believes that student and taxpayer memberships are the order of the day. This is yet another way of tapping into raw and young talent, nurturing them and gradually developing a stream of talented players who can compete globally. Any kid who has an Identity card comes and plays with whatever holes with some token money. Wg Cdr Arun Kumar Singh (Retd) has a word of caution. “Keep kids away from the club and go for a student membership. If you are giving them club facilities, you are ensuring that they will not play Golf. It should be extremely affordable. You can actually lay down student timings or twilight timings for the earnest and aspiring golfers to play,” says he. 



  • Creating awareness:  Deepali Shah Gandhi, President of the Golf Industry Association (GIA) comes with an interesting point. “There’s lack of awareness on the accessibility part as many do not even know that many golf courses are actually accessible to them. There’s a way around but unfortunately, they do not know how to reach. Through GIA’s initiative INDIA LEARN GOLF WEEK (ILGW), we look towards creating that awareness and do our bit in growing the game,” says she.



  • Leveraging Real Estate Golf courses: Avid Golfer Amit Batra, Executive Vice President & Head – Operations at GE Capital, quips, “I feel the real estate Golf courses have a great role to play. Make them available to anyone who could pay a nominal fee during weekdays and weekends.”  



  • Bolstering the role of IGU: The Indian Golf Union (IGU) needs to play a more proactive and momentous role in the promotion and development of Golf in India. Imagine the potential when 230 Golf clubs under the aegis of IGU become accessible for all who have a penchant for the sport.  IGU is essentially a body for the promotion of golf and should be looking at popularising the game of golf much more than what is being done at present. It does organise a large number of tournaments for amateurs who are generally aspiring professional golfers. The tournaments are across the country and involve a lot of travelling and incurring of expenditure. This again makes the game elitist and restrictive because only a few can afford to play on the IGU circuit. There is nothing which is done for existing players in clubs and knowledge about golf in tier 2 cities is almost non-existent. IGU must get more interactive and need to take the game to Tier-2 towns by having relationships with smaller Golf clubs who do not exude the glamour of designer courses.



The suggested initiatives that are aimed at developing Golf right from the bottom of the chain will fast-track that rise in popularity of Golf and help churn out more Shubhankar Sharmas and Anirban Lahiris.  This, in turn, will promote sustainable participation and excellence in the game and put Golf in India on an accelerated growth path.



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