Lessons in Punjabi. YouTube. Golf has arrived.
Looking at his work with the seven-iron, you would be hard-pressed to tell that Anmol Puri is new to this. His stance over the golf ball is athletic, the follow-through is impressive, as are some of the results.
It’s uncomfortably bright in the open but reasonably pleasant under the covered hitting bays of the practice range at the Qutab Golf Course, a one-of-a-kind, government-run public golf facility that borrows its name from the neighbouring and equally unique landmark on the southern border of the Capital.
Puri, 33, is the lone occupant of the range on a Friday afternoon in late September. His first contact with golf was through his brother-in-law’s putting mat. Then, just a little over a month ago, they dropped by the Qutab on a Sunday. The course was fairly empty and he just teed it up. “Played all 18 holes but it was a struggle and demoralizing,” says Puri.
You would have thought the venture into golf ended right there, but no. Having played cricket and hockey, Puri, a strategy manager with Accenture, soldiered on. Over the next couple of weeks, he followed golf on TV, studied golf swings and turned to the Net.
“I typed ‘How to play golf’ on YouTube and got tonnes of instruction.” Sounds as easy as the wife googling new recipes, and no, it isn’t good advertisement for those who make a living out of teaching how to play the game. But Puri noticed a big improvement in his golf the third time out on the course, and he’s been a regular on the range.
Puri works for a company associated with golf (the sponsor of the World Golf Championships) but not many of his contemporaries in his Gurgaon office play the game. Not just yet. He counts the “alone time” the game offers as a plus and makes no bones about its other spin-offs. Puri admits it gives him an opportunity to connect and build relationships with the top-level management who play. “I ran into a company partner on the course the other day and he said we must play sometime.”
Puri is a part of a growing category of golfers. Vijay Divecha, director at the Touché Golf School in Bangalore, has noticed a wider cross-section of people taking to golf, with close to 2,000 new recruits having passed through his school since 2009, middle-level corporate professionals and juniors making up substantial numbers of these. There are few courses in India and membership is either expensive or there is a long waiting list, or both.
Divecha has done away with the membership issue. He has some good deals on offer too—Rs.22,000 gets you a set of golf clubs, paraphernalia like shoes, gloves, cap, and 10 lessons. Take away the extras and you can book the 10 lessons for Rs.9,000, conducted over 40 days. Touché is spread over 26 acres with a putting, chipping and long game area, and a small nine-hole course. There’s a fitness centre with physio, trainer and nutritionist. On call are a dozen golf coaches, all certified by the National Golf Academy of India (NGAI).
The NGAI is based out of the Chandigarh Golf Association (CGA) academy, headed by Jesse Grewal, and the scene is no different in that city. The facility averages one new golfer a day. It helps that entry is Rs.50, it costs Rs.30 to hire a golf club and another Rs.40 for a bucket of golf balls. “I give quite a few lessons in Punjabi now,” quips Grewal, the upwardly mobile rural population having discovered a new pastime.
The profile of the Indian golfer has changed big time from the company presidents, CEOs and owners of business houses. “You go to the CGA in the evenings and it’s packed. There are like 50 children practising and some from towns like Ludhiana and Jalandhar. You can have two more CGAs in Chandigarh and the scene will be the same,” says Amritinder Singh, golf professional and coach to Jeev Milkha Singh.
The role of YouTube notwithstanding, it helps that golf teaching has evolved in the country.
Till about a decade ago, the options available for somebody wanting to learn how to play golf were more or less restricted to a family member who played, or a caddie. Founded in 2004, the NGAI now has 400 certified golf coaches and it churns out up to 50 new teachers every year, including those from Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh. As many as 22 of the coaches are of the highest “A category”, spread across the country.
If only the development of courses, especially those which welcome non-members, could keep pace with this growth in the number of instructors. We’ll get to that another time.
Prabhdev Singh is the founding editor of Golf Digest India and a part-time golfer.
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