The Indian Premier League (IPL), Hero Honda Hockey FIH World Cup and the forthcoming Commonwealth Games may be grabbing all the attention but experts believe India could well be on the road to becoming one of the world’s hottest golfing destinations.

Gaining popularity: A game in progress at a Gurgaon golf course. Manoj Madhavan / Mint

In the last three years, golf, though still a niche game, has generated interest, and a following, among both people and advertisers. According to industry estimates, the number of professional golf tournaments in the country has grown from 10 to around 23 in these years. The prize money offered has gone up too, from a total of Rs13.6 crore in 2007-08 to around Rs30 crore last year.

Experts say India’s golf market has been fuelled by the international success of Indian golfers. “Jeev Milkha Singh, Jyoti (Randhawa), Gaganjeet (Bhullar) and others have raised the profile (of the sport) in media and public, which never happened before," says Rishi Narain, managing director of Rishi Narain Golf Management Pvt. Ltd, a sports marketing firm.

“India is emerging as a potential hub for professional golf tournaments because sponsorship interest is still going strong as compared to other markets," says Harish Krishnamachar, vice-president, South Asia, World Sports Group, a sports management agency.

Krishnamachar says total revenue from golf sponsorship increased from approximately Rs27 crore in 2006 to around Rs60 crore last year, a figure he expects will double in the next two years. Companies such as two-wheeler giant Hero Honda Motors Ltd, Korean electronics manufacturer LG Electronics India Ltd and Avantha Group have been keen investors in the sport.

Narain expects revenue from sponsorship to grow by 50% in the next two years. He says, “For large professional events, there is the Rs15 crore Avantha Masters, Rs2.5 crore Sail Open and Rs10 crore Hero Honda Indian Open, plus the PGTI tour (Professional Golf Tour of India) is worth around Rs20 crore." He adds that sponsorship revenue from corporate golf tournaments contributes an additional Rs30 crore to the kitty.

The inclusion of golf courses in real estate projects is expected to help make the sport accessible to the growing middle class. “Golf is still an elite sport here, with most golf clubs allowing only members to play," says Hiren Pandit, managing partner of GroupM ESP, the entertainment, sports and partnerships division of media buying house GroupM. “Building golf courses as part of housing developments will make it reach out to more people," he says.

In just two years, the number of golf courses in the country has gone up from 80 to 200. “We will see 100 new courses built in the next 10 years, with an average investment of around Rs25 crore per course, each supporting around Rs1,000 crore of surrounding real estate sales," says Narain.

Golf equipment companies are beginning to take the cue. In January, Callaway Golf Co., the billion-dollar US maker of golf equipment, set up a wholly owned subsidiary called Callaway Golf India Pvt. Ltd. So far, Taylor Made Golf Co. Inc. has had a 70% share of India’s golf equipment market, but experts believe companies such as Callaway will give it stiff competition in the years to come.