International Management Group (IMG), long associated with cricket, tennis and fashion shows here, senses serious greenbacks in the greens—as in designing and developing golf courses around Indian real estate projects.
The US firm has lined up an ace up its sleeve—Fijian golfer Vijay Singh, who IMG represents, and who will be involved in planning the courses that will cost around $8 million (about Rs32 crore) each to develop.
“The ethnicity factor is certainly there,” admits Mark Adams, IMG senior vice-president and director of its golf services in Asia, visiting India for the third time in recent months. “We definitely see a couple of Vijay Singh opportunities.” Singh’s grandfather migrated from India to Fiji.
IMG’s entry into a segment dominated by individual Indian golf course designers, such as Ranjit Nanda or the occasional imports from abroad such as pro-turned-entrepreneur Greg Norman, underscores the importance of the sport in a country driven by a booming economy and affluent families who sees golf as a lifestyle.
IMG now joins a short list of companies cashing in on the golf boom. This month, consumer electronics company LG Electronics India Pvt. Ltd ended its decade-long association with cricket in favour of golf. Auto components leader Hero Motors Ltd says it will soon begin manufacturing golf carts. Sports gear major Puma Sports India Pvt. Ltd has unveiled a range of golf lifestyle apparel and accessories, endorsed by British golfer of Indian origin, Kiran Matharu.
Real estate developers have realized there’s money to be made from the sport. Premium gated communities are coming up around golf courses carrying signature names, such as Jaypee Greens, around a fairway once known as the Greg Norman Golf Course in Greater Noida, a suburb of the Capital. The apartments typically cost several crores each.
Earlier this year, the first-ever professional Indian Open for women was held at the DLF golf course in Gurgaon.
People associated with golf in India say they are not surpised; they reckon the sport has witnessed a 35-40% growth over the last four years. Brandon de Souza, managing director of golf events management company Tiger Sports Marketing Pvt. Ltd, claims 150,000 people have taken up the sport since 2003, swelling the number of serious golfers to 400,000. Whereas once a handful of golf courses dotted the country, he says, today there are 190 across the country. “It’s an industry and I’d say it’s worth between Rs30 crore and Rs50 crore,” de Souza says.
But the golf course designing and development proposed by IMG is new for India even though IMG says it has designed golf courses and provided management services in other markets.
Recently, IMG Golf Course Management, a specialized division, was selected by the world’s top golfer Tiger Woods to manage the only course he designed: the Al Ruwaya golf course in Dubai. IMG has also developed 17 golf courses in China, is developing four more and managing another four.
As it did in China, IMG plans to educate Indian clients that it can do more than just manage events but also design golf courses and the infrastructure around them. The IMG brand—and the Vijay Singh signature—definitely “open doors” in India, Adams says, adding that real estate developers have shown interest. “We hope to wrap up at least three projects in the next 60-90 days.”
IMG India’s managing director Balu Nayar says there’s more sense in looking at realtors rather than plan stand-alone courses because of the real estate boom. “There’s a lot of demand for golf and developers are looking at creating golf infrastructure in real estate projects... It’s a new revenue source (for IMG),” he says.
IMG already is aware of one area of concern: the environment. Golf courses strain water resources and use massive amounts of fertilizers and pesticides to maintain the turf. Critics of golf courses also allege they waste resources from land to water.
“Golf has no place in the development strategy for India,” says Amit Srivastava, director of India Resource Center, an anti-globalization group. IMG says it would strive to work towards environment enhancement, rather than degradation. Nayar says as the company was focusing only on real estate projects, courses developed by it would have access to waste water from the residential properties around. “It’s this water we’ll recycle,” he said.