In the case of the PGTI, there are these big-money events funded by enterprises that don’t seem to be looking for commercial payback. “For the love of the game," is a well-used line. Let me give you an example. At ₹ 1.5 crore this year, the McLeod Russel Tour Championship will be the leader on tour in terms of prize money, and that has been the case since the event was introduced two years ago. Here’s the interesting bit. The world’s largest tea producer is not eyeing tangible returns for the business. The company sells bulk tea and has a dedicated set of buyers. They don’t need advertising. So why such generous contributions to golf? Well, simply put, Aditya Khaitan, the managing director, is known to be keen on the game. Khaitan wants to bring back big-event golf to the east and with them, the prominence of the venerable Royal Calcutta Golf Club.
He’s not the only one in this one-sided relationship with pro golf in India. Real estate company DLF put forth similar sentiments with their DLF Masters, which grew from ₹ 65 lakh in 2007 to ₹ 95 lakh in 2012, when it was last held. The event has been off the schedule as a new Gary Player layout is taking shape over their previous golf course in Gurgaon, Haryana. “We don’t need the branding. We own golf infrastructure and we want to support the sport," says Aakash Ohri, executive director, DLF Home Developers Ltd. The other two blockbusters on the PGTI, the ₹ 1 crore each BILT Open and the CG Open, are both companies in the Avantha Group whose founder and chairman Gautam Thapar is also the PGTI president. There has to be some “love" there.
The small, sleepy town of Digboi in Assam plays host to the IndianOil Servo Masters Golf. At ₹ 30 lakh last year, not an eye-popping figure, but the intentions here border on mushiness too. “RoI (return on investment) goes much beyond looking at the event only as a Servo promotion. It’s a complete package which is bound by commitment to sports, encouraging young talent, making the tiny town of Digboi abuzz with a big event," says Sabeena Chowdhary, manager, corporate communication, IndianOil.
With such largesse and affection as the base, the PGTI was in a position to set up a robust, thriving tour in the eight years it has been in existence. That hasn’t happened. Starting out with ₹ 4.60 crore as prize money in 2007, the tour clocked ₹ 7.30 crore (plus the $70,000, or ₹ 42 lakh, at the Sri Lanka Ports Authority Open) in 2013—the figures are from full-field PGTI events.
Apart from these five and the Tata Open, the handful of other sponsors who have come on board have not stuck around. Companies and corporations like Toyota, Aircel, Emaar MGF, AIS Glass, Color Plus, ONGC, all have made quick exits. Padamjit Sandhu, director, PGTI, puts this down to limited viewership of the sport, and corporate golf. “A corporate golf event costs a fraction of a pro tournament, with good networking potential. Another reason is a shift in the marketing strategy of the brand," says Sandhu, who heads marketing for PGTI.
How about this for a reason? As of now, any brand that expects milage out of associating with Indian professional golf is expecting too much. Ten Golf, a tour partner, puts together 40 half-hour shows a year at no cost to the PGTI. On the face of it, a great deal, but I rarely come across anybody who gets to see the show or, for that matter, the channel. The national dailies mostly ignore the PGTI. Not a scenario conducive to brand promotion.
Paucity of sponsors means long periods of inactivity on the PGTI schedule, some of which the tour covers up with tournaments called the PGTI Players Championship; they have been part of the calendar since 2008. Of 16 full-field events last year, half were PGTI Championships, with prize money ranging from ₹ 25-30 lakh. Money from “Tour Partner" deals with Rolex and Volvo funds these events. Ideally, this money should help grow the PGTI kitty.
Things are getting better, says Sandhu, looking to string together events worth about ₹ 10 crore this year. There are new names on the current schedule. Like Kalhaar Blues & Greens, which co-sponsored a ₹ 50 lakh event with the PGTI on their new Jack Nicklaus design in Ahmedabad in January. “We wanted to introduce the golf course to the best players in India and also build awareness about golf in our part of the country. It was a fairy-tale start for us as India’s highest-ranked golfer, Anirban Lahiri, won," says Devang Shah, managing director, Navratna Group. The real estate company has a three-year deal with the PGTI.
The Cochin International Airport has put a golf course at one end of the runway and partnered with the PGTI this year for the Cochin Masters, another ₹ 50 lakh fixture. Professional golf returned to Kashmir this month with the J&K Bank PGTI Pahalgam Masters ( ₹ 30 lakh) at the new Lidder Valley Golf Course, followed by the PGTI Kashmir Masters ( ₹ 50 lakh) at the stunning Royal Springs Golf Course. New ₹ 50 lakh events are also planned for Bangalore and Chennai later in the year.
All these events are co-sponsored by the PGTI, and Sandhu declined to divulge its contribution to the prize fund. He did, however, say that the PGTI’s financial commitment would reduce each year.
Endorsement of the golf course and the tourism promotion angle are used as bait by the PGTI. As is networking between high networth individuals, decision makers and the bureaucracy during the pro-ams of the events. In Sri Lanka Standard Chartered has bitten into some of that. Having partnered with the Indian tour in 2012 and this year, the bank cites brand enhancement, client engagement, and business leads as part of the RoI.
In a bid to get the big boys to play on their domestic circuit, the PGTI has come up with a Super Series this season. A set of five new stops (Kochi, Ahmedabad, Srinagar, Chennai, Bangalore) plus the BILT Open and the CG Open, where points are awarded according to final placings. The winner of the Super Series will take home a ₹ 30 lakh bonus. Rahil Gangjee, S.S.P. Chowrasia, Himmat Rai and Lahiri turned up in Kochi and Ahmedabad; all four are regulars on the Asian Tour. Jeev Milkha Singh, Shiv Kapur and Gaganjeet Bhullar, the European Tour trio, have remained elusive so far.
Sandhu acknowledges the lack of visibility. If the media is shying away, he intends to reach out this year with a budget of over ₹ 30 lakh. “We are tying up with a national daily. PGTI will highlight the tour partners and event sponsors there," he says.
“We have helped create champions and attracted new players. Our top golfers are moving on to better tours and performing very well," reasons Sandhu. In two years’ time, he envisages a 24-event tour worth ₹ 12 crore and at least five international championships in India. Sounds good.
Prabhdev Singh is the founding editor of Golf Digest India and a part-time golfer.