New Delhi: In February, India for the first time will host two of the world’s most prestigious golf tournaments: the $2.5 million (about Rs10 crore) European Tour Indian Masters, andthe $2.5 million Johnnie Walker Classic.

Fijian player Vijay Singh, who has confirmed his participation in the Johnnie Walker Classic to be held at Gurgaon’s DLF Golf & Country Club between 28 February and 2 March

The interest and activity—not to mention big money—is a sign of golf’s maturity in prosperous India. Developers are luring buyers with the promise of golf courses nearby or even within complexes. Sports apparel makers are launching lines specifically for Indians who play golf. And clubs around the country report waiting lists of several years.

Suddenly, “golf is very important in India," says Adrian Flaherty, tournament director of Golf In Dubai, the company that is promoting the inaugural Indian Masters.

Top players are expected to descend on the city during the events; celebrity Fijian player Vijay Singh has already confirmed his plans to play in the Johnnie Walker Classic at the Arnold Palmer-designed DLF Golf & Country Club in Gurgaon between 28 February and 2 March next year. Names such as Ernie Els and Colin Montgomerie are being wooed for the Indian Masters at the Delhi Golf Club (DGC) on 7-10 February.

The surge of interest, of course, has to do with India having a lot more of the types of people who play golf: A survey by the National Council for Applied Economic Research (NCAER) released two years ago says the number of households in the country with annual incomes of more than Rs1 crore would jump from around 53,000 in 2005 to 1,40,000 in 2010.

Several events are planned in the days to come. A day before the inaugural Indian Masters begins, at least 150 amateurs—many from the corporate sector—will compete at a Pro-Am tournament.

On Saturday, the multi-city McDowell’s Signature Club Golf Championship is expected to play host to 4,500 golfers representing 30 clubs from 20 cities. The Hero Honda Indian Open, to be played at the Delhi Golf Club on 11-14 October, has raised its prize money from $100,000 to $500,000; the tournament will be telecast live by sports broadcaster Star Sports.

The Masters is sponsored by real estate developer Emaar-MGF Land Pvt. Ltd. “It’s a market Emaar wanted to come to and the European Tour provided the opportunity," says Flaherty. PGA European Tour tournament director Jose Maria Zomora says his company had been eyeing India as “one of the biggest markets in the world" until Emaar-MGF emerged as a partner.

Both the European Tour and Diageo Plc., manufacturers of premium alcoholic beverages including the Johnnie Walker whiskey brand, say they want to appeal to India’s affluent. At a press conference late last month to announce the Indian Masters, European Tour chief executive George O’Grady said the growth of the Indian economy has coincided with the emergence of golf as a major sport in the country.

Says Diageo India managing director Asif Adil: “Diageo is about celebrating life every day, everywhere. The Johnnie Walker Classic is not just a mega sporting event, but an occasion for entertainment and luxurious indulgence."

Apart from top players’ interest, there is also a surge in popular interest in the game. The sport, as an industry, is estimated to be growing at 30-40% annually, and valued at between Rs50- 60 crore, says Brandon de Souza, managing director of golf event management firm Tiger Sports Marketing Pvt Ltd. Tiger is managing the Indian Masters.

One reason, says Balu Nayar, managing director of sports, lifestyle management and marketing company International Management Group (India), is the increasing number of young professionals who can afford club memberships, costing Rs25,000 a year or much more.

But with long waits at most clubs—and one has to pay to be on the list—other promoters are looking at developing golf courses to meet the demand: corporate houses who want to retain employees, real estate companies eager to sell luxury villas and even developers of special economic zones. These are potential clients for IMG, which recently entered the golf course development business in India.

“The demand for golf courses is staggering," says Nayar. In his estimate, as many as 30 golf courses are being developed around real estate projects. There were around 70 golf courses five years ago; today, it’s double that. By some estimates, another 50 courses will be added over the next two years.

Others are joining in the golf business. In February, during the first India Open for professional women golfers, Puma Sports India Pvt. Ltd launched a range of golf apparel and accessories. Last month, taking advantage of the buzz over the European Tour, rival adidas India Marketing Pvt. Ltd announced its “Cool Max Extreme" range of golf apparel that it claims is designed to reduce the sun’s impact and keep golfers cool. Priced between Rs1,899 and Rs2,499, the range is available at select adidas stores and all major golf pro shops.

Seeing this growing trend, Sports & Leisure Worldwide, publisher of the Golf Plus magazine, plans India’s first golf-related exhibition on 19-21 October. Says company chief executive Anil Dev: “The show provides access to be a part of the monstrous golf pie that’s growing at a phenomenal rate."