As a 12-year-old,Champika Sayal collected stray golf balls and swung at them with a hand-me-down club, transforming the lawns at India Gate into her own golf course.
Fast-forward more than three decades to last week: Syal supervised India’s first-ever professional women’s golf tournament. And the day after it concluded, Puma Sports India Pvt. Ltd unveiled a clothing line for women golfers, tapping British-Asian golfer Kiran Matharu as its chief promoter.
Both events underscore how Indian women golfers have more than arrived: they have become a target market.
“Today, we can hold an Indian Open, and that is historic,” Sayal told Mint in an interview. “We have professional women golfers, and we have more than two lakh playing socially. After cricket, golf is the fastest-growing sport in India.”
In a nod to this trend, Puma unveiled its golf collection on Saturday, joining several other apparel lines targeting Asian women who tee off. Matharu, a Sikh teenager growing up in Leeds, Yorkshire, will help plug Puma’s golf footwear, apparel, bags and accessories.
Among the world’s more famous female golfers, Michelle Wie wears clothes designed by Nike Inc. In Thailand, Grand Sport Group Co. has introduced a range of stylish outfits under the Onyx Golf label. And in Japan, Mizuno Corp. recently launched clothing for younger golfers to attract female customers.
Like them, Puma’s managing director Rajiv Mehta says he wants the new line to appeal to youth trying to look good on and off the course.
While India has been playing golf for decades—Indian men participated in their first Open in 1964—its popularity has grown steadily with India’s middle class and business leaders taking to the greens to wheel and deal.
Now, lessons offered at golf courses around the country are seeing two new demographics: teenagers and women.
Bangalore’s Purnima Sama said she started lessons when she came to understand that golf could help her career. “I realize the importance of golf in the workplace,” Sama, a former Xerox executive, said. “I want to do this for the future.”
Besides recreational golfers, India now boasts 15 professional women golfers, with about 500 amateurs who compete at tournaments, all playing under the aegis of the Women’s Golf Association of India, the organization set up last year to oversee professsional tournaments in the country. Syal serves as secretary of the association.
The DLF Women’s Indian Open was held last week in Gurgaon, and 70 golfers competed for the $1,00,000 (Rs44 lakh) prize. Chinese Taipei’s Tseng Ya Ni clinched the title with India’s Meghna Bal, an amateur, and domestic No. 1 Irina Brar tied for fourth place.
Next year, the Open—which was backed by a long list of sponsors, from Mercedes to the Incredible India tourism campaign—plans to have a prize money of $2,00,000.
Rashmi Nanda sat on the sidelines to watch the women’s open. She just started taking lessons three months ago and pays Rs2,500 for eight lessons a month.
“My instructor told me it’s a good idea to watch the professionals,” she said. “You get motivated.”
Matharu, who competed in the Indian Open, said it was heartening to see teenage girls compete against professionals such as Libby Smith and Brar. “It was very encouraging to see that,” Matharu said. “They could be good in the future.”
India’s newcomers on the greens readily admit they want to look good—both in their game and their appearance.
“I don’t want to look clumsy,” said Sama who usually wears a Benetton shirt when playing. “So I spend a lot of money on clothes.”