In golf, you are your own opponent. You must play your best,” says Manu Gandas, 11, with a quiet confidence that belies his years. It is an attitude built on the greens, of which he has been a part since he turned four.
Game theory: Singh demonstrates the correct swing to his student Meheraj Chadha at the Delhi Golf Club.
Gandas isn’t a rare example of a child captivated by the appeal of golf. When the Jain International School, Bangalore, introduced golf six months ago, a number of children switched to it from cricket and tennis. “There are 50 students currently enrolled for golf, and we expect the number to increase,” says Archana Vishwanath, director of Jain Academy for Sporting Excellence, Bangalore. Apart from regular practice at the school’s six-hole golf course, students here watch golf tournaments on TV, and potential champions are sent for intensive training to the Bangalore Golf Club.
A game traditionally associated with grey hair, army men and companies, is fast becoming a favourite pastime with young children, all of whom want to recreate the magic of Tiger Woods. For inspiration, budding golfers need look no further than Bangalore lad Chikkarangappa Seenappa, who honed his skills at the Eagleton Golf Resort, situated on the Bangalore-Mysore highway. “As golf shifts from being a show sport to a serious one in India, a lot of youngsters in cities such as Bangalore, Chennai and New Delhi are attracted to it,” says Sayeed Sanadi, country head, media and TV, Tiger Sports Marketing.
Wing Commander Satish Aprajit, secretary general of the Indian Golf Union (IGU), the apex body which aims to promote and develop golf in the country, says it receives more than 300 applications for the junior tournament, forcing them to hold a pre-qualifying round to whittle the number to the required 120. Jasjit Singh, a class A professional of the Indian National Golf Academy, recalls how he was one of only six children on the greens of Tollygunge Club in Kolkata in 1979-80, when he started playing. “There’s been a sea change since then. Last year alone, I coached more than 500 children at the grass roots level of IGU’s army coaching camp,” he says.
So, is golf the new cricket? Siblings Pranay and Riddhima Dilawari, ages 12 and 9, for instance, were playing cricket and tennis, respectively, when they decided to try out golf. “They were hooked, despite the problems with swinging, putting and chipping. Golf is said to be a slow game, but few games challenge the mind as much. In the process, they learnt to handle stress and think on their feet,” says Manisha Dilawari, a neurophysiologist and a stay-at-home mother.
Pranay still likes a round of football and swimming, but quitting golf even when his swing kept going wrong was never an option. “I used to swing as if I were wielding a cricket bat. It took time—18 months—for me to perfect my stroke. But, I was determined to get it right,” he says. In June, Pranay was first runner-up at the junior tournament at the Delhi Golf Course in the C category (11-12 years). His father, Punit Dilawari, an orthopaedist with the Fortis Group, adds: “Golf is one game in which if something goes wrong, one has only oneself to blame. And this makes children responsible for their own behaviour.”
Aru Atwal, whose daughter Mehr started playing golf at eight, says: “For Mehr, the first two years went in getting acquainted with the game. But now she enjoys herself and, yes, golf has instilled a sense of discipline in her. It has taught her to think independently.”
Being a parent of a budding golfer requires walking a tightrope. Just to send your kids to a good golf coach can set you back by a hefty packet. Then there is the equipment—a pair of golfing shoes, for instance, costs about Rs4,500. Badan Gandas, Manu’s father, a physical education teacher at Lord Jesus Public School, Gurgaon, says he spends about Rs15,000 on him every month. “It is a lot of money for a middle-class family. But, I’ve always believed in two things: You must invest in your child and you must invest for your child,” he says.
Aprajit believes that today, any child who wants to play can do so. “IGU has tied up with clubs to scout for talent. We request them to grant student memberships so that children pay only a nominal amount to play at a golf club. Most tournaments and camps, too, are held during school holidays,” he says. “It is no longer a rich man’s sport. A golf set for children is available for Rs9,000.”
What parents need to watch out for is the fine line between encouragement and pressure. Aprajit points out that it is often parents’ aspirations that bring children to the course. He recounts how several top-ranking junior golfers have been banned due to cheating. “The pressure is high on kids to perform well and, since golfers keep their own scores, a child is tempted to cheat if he thinks this can help him make the cut. In a sport where integrity is of extreme importance, a ban is the worst thing that can happen to a golfer.”
So if you want your child to learn from golf, don’t get sucked into the rankings game. Help your child enjoy the sport by getting him a good coach. Ali Sher, a 1991 Arjuna Award winner who coaches children in Delhi, says: “The right coach is important because children can get bored easily, and it is important to keep their enthusiasm alive, which a good coach does.”
Finally, what’s the recipe to make your child a champ? Advice to parents comes from none other than Tiger Woods: “Don’t force your kids into sports. I never was. It’s the child’s desire to play that matters, not the parent’s desire to have the child play.”