India the new growth market for golf
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New Delhi - Golf is among the fastest-growing sports in India and the movers and shakers of the Asian and European Tours see huge potential to cash in.
This week, the country becomes the 37th destination visited by the European Tour, which has spread its wings to co-sanction the Indian Masters with the Asian Tour.
It is the richest golf event ever staged in the emerging economic powerhouse at $2,5-million (about R19.5 million), and heralds a month that will see three tournaments in a country that hosted just one in 2007.
While China has been the target market over the past few years, India is seen as the new frontier. With local golfers tasting success overseas sparking a surge in interest at the same time that incomes are rising the European and Asian Tours considered it the right moment to dive in.
"The growth of the Indian economy has coincided with the emergence of golf as a major sport in the country," European Tour chief executive George O'Grady said when he announced the tournament.
"We are always keen to expand our tournament portfolio into new territories and we believe that the Indian Masters offers huge potential on that front.
"Thanks to Indian pioneers such as Jeev Milkha Singh and Arjun Atwal, along with Jyoti Randhawa and Shiv Kapur, professional golf in India has taken a massive step forward over the past decade."
The Asian Tour has a much longer history with India, and chief executive Kyi Hla Han said it was thrilling to see how fast it was developing.
"It is exciting to see golf in India booming the way that it is now," he said.
"To have three major international events in February on the Asian Tour schedule is certainly a strong signal that the game in the sub-continent has come of age.
"Corporate India sees the value of golf sponsorship with the successes of players like Singh, Atwal, Gaurav Ghei, Kapur and Randhawa," he added.
Indian golf has come a long way since amateur Biloo Sethi's Indian Open win in 1965 which remained the country's lone success in its home event till 1991 when caddie-turned-pro Ali Sher wrested the title.
But the game remains an expensive hobby. It is cheaper to buy cricket bats and balls than a golf set which costs around 7 000 rupees (about R1 178) at a minimum.
Despite this, the rise of Indian professionals abroad has inspired youngsters to believe there is life beyond cricket.
Cricket legend Kapil Dev, who is now a keen golfer, believes India is capable of producing world-class players to breathe more life into the sport.
"I feel this is one more sport where Indians are capable of achieving world-class standards," the former India cricket captain said.
"Our boys are already playing some of the biggest events in the world and it is only a matter of time before they bring more trophies."
JJ Singh, president of the Indian Golf Union, called this week's Indian Masters "an historic event".
"The event is a result of the growing status of the game of golf in India, augmented by the Indian performances across the golfing globe," he said.
"Indian golf will surely get a boost when the best talent from over seven continents will be on display and also will showcase the infrastructural development needed to host an event of this size." - Sapa-AFP