Golf in India – an idea whose time has come
“Golf is deceptively simple and endlessly complicated” – Arnold Palmer
India is seeing a paradigm shift in the spectrum of sports that are being played across our vast nation. Although the over-used phrase 'cricket is a religion in the country' remains largely true, the gap between cricket and other sports is slowly narrowing.
One such sport that is rising up the popularity charts is golf. What started out as a recreational game for the retired, or for businessmen looking to engage with their customers before making a business deal, is now being considered a career option by many young Indians.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating, as they say. Since I first started playing the sport almost 12 years ago, the numbers of golfers, especially youngsters, has rapidly increased. This has directly impacted the number of world class golf courses that are springing up across India – a telling sign that the game is being favourably adopted as a sport of choice.
Junior Golf Development Programs are going on in most clubs, with young kids taking up the sport and honing their skills from the age of four or five.
I come from a family with strong sporting ethos, so I was always encouraged to take up a sport. But in general too, parents are now becoming increasingly aware that encouraging their kids to play a sport has its own set of benefits.
Most golfers are introduced to the sport by someone who has played it before. I was introduced to it by my father, who had to play a few rounds of golf to get membership into a golf club. He took me along as I had a keen interest in all sports, and the rest as they say is history.
It could be a family member, friend or even just a chance outing at a golf club that helps you break into the sport. Some parents even push their kids into golf because of peer pressure from other parents!
Some smart parents have figured out a long-term benefit – when applying to colleges overseas, your child can have an advantage if he or she has played golf at a competitive level. Golfing experience can actually help them get admission into top universities across the globe. Most of the female junior and amateur golfers that I compete with are doing exactly that.
One thing is for sure though; those who start playing golf, are hooked for life.
Golf has returned to the Summer Olympics after 112 years. The Indian golf contingent is comprised of three competitors at Rio – Anirban Lahiri, who is a regular on the PGA tour and plays alongside the best names in golf, and three-time European tour winner SSP Chawrasia will represent us in the men’s event, while 18-year-old Ladies European Tour player Aditi Ashok will represent India in the women’s event.
The fact that we have three golfers in the fray speaks volumes about the growth of the sport in India over the years. We shouldn't get too far ahead of ourselves, but a podium finish in Rio will give an even bigger boost to the popularity of golf in India.
There are, however, a few aspects that prevent golf from truly competing with the popularity of the mainstream sports. And accessibility is one of the biggest problems in that regard.
Let us admit it – picking up a golf club is not as easy as picking up a badminton racket, a cricket bat, or a football. It requires memberships to expensive golf clubs, as the concept of public practice facilities is rare in India. Affordability has, and will probably always be, a barrier in the way of more people taking up the sport.
There have been success stories over the years, of golfers from very humble backgrounds who have defied the odds and made it to the highest competitive level in the sport. These wonderful examples are a testament to the determination and grit that stems from the love of the game, but these stories are still few and far between. I will expand on this topic in one of my future columns.
Over the last few years, I have seen first-hand the talent that is emerging not just from the metros but also from smaller cities across India, and I have played with these wonderful competitors too. I have no doubt that we will see a Major winner or World Champion from India in the next few years.
The golf revolution, as I would like to call it, has begun, and I am excited to be a part of it in my own way. What happens from here remains to be seen, but golf in India is certainly an idea whose time has come.