Golf Will Always have Restricted Access Unless we Build New Driving Ranges & New Public Courses

Indian golfer Rishi Narain, Managing Director of Rishi Narain Golf Management, is trying his best to develop world-class golf courses that could lead to golf tourism in India. We talk to him about the upcoming India Golf Expo to be held in Bengaluru in April and the potential of the golf industry in India.

What is the potential of golf as an industry in tourism, sports, academics in India?

Golf tourism has huge potential in India. We have scenic golf courses like Royal Springs (Srinagar), Oxford (Pune), DLF GC (Gurgaon), Kalhaar Blues & Greens (Ahmedabad) and many others that offer a world-class experience for recreational golfers. With the right promotion, planning, marketing and small improvements at the courses, we can attract thousands of golf tourists as we already have world-class infrastructure in place. In sports, with 21-year-old Shubhankar Sharma of Delhi making waves on a global level, we can safely say that Indian golf is in good hands. Besides him, we have Anirban Lahiri playing in USA and SSP Chawrasia fully engaged on the European Tour and around a dozen Indians playing full time on the Asian Tour. Indian juniors are a talented lot and are excelling at the international level. However, more international competitive exposure from a young age is the key. Though travelling nationally and for international events are very expensive and many parents cannot afford this. States, clubs and the national bodies must find a way to subsidize travel of many more than just the half dozen players at the topmost level.  Coaches can also guide the kids towards their goals and not just coach them technique. They should act as mentors.

We do need to go into the academic institutions like schools, colleges etc, to get more young people interested in the game. Some isolated attempts are being made but much more needs to be done on a coordinated, national level.  Seminars need to be done for school authorities, physical education teachers etc for them to understand the opportunities that golf offers the kids, where they can learn and play.

Is India prepared for international tournaments?

Yes, India is already hosting to European and Asian Tour events (Hero Indian Open with US$1.75 million prize money and the US$400,000 Panasonic Open) and a Ladies European Tour (Hero Women’s Indian Open) event.  These events attract high-quality players and are beamed live into 200 countries across the world.  Spectator turnout needs more activation and the events themselves need to engage more people but yes we are prepared.

Has golf as a sport is open to women? What has been done to promote it in the female fraternity?

Golf has always been open to women in India. 20-yr-old Bangalorean Aditi Ashok is now playing regularly in the USA after doing extremely well on the Ladies European Tour. 15-year-old Delhi girl Diksha Dagar is currently the national ladies champion. Playing golf has also helped a lot of girls enter colleges in America on golf scholarships. Hero has invested heavily in women’s golf but we do need more sponsors to help the cause. The number of girls playing needs to be broad-based.

Is golf still a game of luxury? Your comments.

The problem is that there is an acute shortage of golf courses in our cities hence access is restricted. In India, we have only 100 civilian courses whereas in Thailand or in Malaysia, with one-tenth of our population or less, there are 400-plus courses. So it’s difficult to get into courses where the memberships are full or the courses are very crowded. Yes, equipment sounds expensive but at Rs 50,000 for a full set of mid-level quality which lasts 10 years or even more, it’s actually more affordable than most people believe. Cricket equipment like bats, balls, pads, etc, wear out quickly. A golf ball is virtually indestructible so lasts many games. But yes golf will always have restricted access unless we can build new driving ranges and new public courses – which are open to anyone to pay and walk in. Look at the success of the Delhi Development Authority’s Qutab Golf Club and HUDA’s Panchkula Golf Club – two shining examples of how public access golf has worked in India for the past 15 years.

There are not many golf courses in India as in other countries. Are you talking to the government about any support? 

There are around 250 golf courses in India with 50% under defence forces and another 50 in the Tea Estates of North East and South India. But in the last few years, real estate developers have shown a keen interest and have built a number of golf courses. Although the majority are 9-hole courses, it still is a good start. Yes, we are lobbying with city development authorities and state tourism development boards to build courses which bring immense benefits. Couple of projects in Naya Raipur and in Manipur are already underway which hopefully will lead to more.

What are you doing to promote golf tourism?

We are trying to educate authorities that development of clusters of 3-4 world class courses leads to success in golf tourism. We are also giving hard data that modern knowhow has enabled most courses to use only sewage treated water and adopt other environmentally friendly practices so there are multiple benefits from the development of courses. The India Golf Expo is a great forum to educate developers and government authorities.

Tell us more about the golf event in April.

India Golf Expo, to be held in Bengaluru on April 19-20, will bring together experts from different domains, drawn from across the globe to share knowledge and best practices for the development and sustenance of the sport in the country. This time around, The Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, Scotland  (golf’s international governing body) will host a seminar in India that will provide the most comprehensive sustainable education event in Asia across golf development, renovation and course management – exploring a range of topics which address the opportunities within the sport and how they set a new platform for sustainable golf in Asia. Other experts will educate developers, tourism authorities and club managers. The exhibition will showcase machinery and technology and services for the golf course industry. It’s a great opportunity to exchange ideas, solve problems and build relationships and network. 

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