For the first time, India has been invited to tee off at the women’s golf World Cup next year, receiving a wild-card entry that vindicates a recent spate of efforts to increase visibility and sponsorship of the sport in the country.
Tee time: Former India champ Irina Brar (centre) at the DLF Golf & Country Club in Gurgaon. Brar and current No. 1 Smriti Mehra comprise the Indian team for the World Cup.
“It’s a dream, a real surprise as we are just making a mark in Asia,” says Women’s Golf Association of India secretary general Champika Sayal. “Now, hopefully, women’s golf will attract a lot more sponsors, and a lot many people, younger women and girls, will opt for the game.”
The 14-20 January 2008 World Cup will be held in Sun City, California, which has made dreams come true for India before—it’s the same place Aishwarya Rai was crowned Miss World in 1994.
The tournament will have 20 teams, led by the top eight nations on the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings, followed by the top four on the US’ LPGA (Ladies Professional Golf Association) money list and the top four on the Ladies European Tour (LET) in order of merit in case they don’t figure in the Rolex list, the defending champions (Paraguay), the host nation (South Africa), and two invitee countries—which now includes India.
The invitation to the World Cup underscores the growing recognition of Indian women golfers on international stage: current No. 1 Smriti Mehra is considered one of the longest hitters in the world, while former India champ Irina Brar was invited to the prestigious British Open this July. The two comprise the Indian team for the World Cup. Earlier this year, the DLF Golf & Country Club in Gurgaon hosted the first Indian Open, carrying a prize purse of $100,000 (about Rs40 lakh); next year’s prize has been raised to $120,000.
On 3-8 December, the $250,000 Emaar-MGF Ladies Masters will be held in Bangalore’s Eagleton Resort; it’s the first LET event to be played in India. The Rs1 crore prize money is also the biggest on offer in a women’s golf event in the country.
LET executive director Alexandra Armas says her dream was to bring the tour to India ever since she assumed office. “You never know, in 10 years’ time, they may have a new generation of home-grown players dominating women’s golf,” Armas was quoted as saying about India on the tour’s official website (www.ladieseuropeantour.com) on Monday.
Sayal says the aim is to make this happen, and fan sponsor interest. She’s now hoping to ride India’s World Cup debut to attract more backers for the second edition of Indian Open, so the prize amount could be raised to $200,000—the minimum required to get a tournament attached to the European Tour.
Digraj Singh, director, Tiger Sports Marketing Pvt. Ltd, the company that managed the inaugural Indian Open, says a combination of things will be required to sell women’s golf to sponsors: better marketing, a structure that ensures sponsors see quantifiable returns on their investments, and performance. “We Indians are patriotic by nature,” Singh says. “When a team or player does well, sponsors follow automatically. That’s why cricket does so well.”
Concurs Venu Nair, chief executive, World Sport Group (India) Pvt. Ltd. ”The success of Indian male golfers such as Jeev Milkha Singh in the international arena has made golf popular,” Nair says.
“If a woman golfer cuts a major Asian tournament, and the media covers it, people will take an interest. Golf is an individual sport, and the women will have to perform.”