Taking golf to a new league4 min read . Updated: 16 Jan 2013, 07:22 PM IST
The new IPL-style golf tournament may make the sport cooler and edgier, but will it help increase golf's fan base?
Innovate or stagnate. That’s the new mantra. Auto firms are throwing in new and updated gadgetry at a breath-taking pace. Unfortunately, no autopilot yet. Aeroplane makers are dreaming big on innovations. TV has gone HD. You can actually see the dimples on the golf ball and the blades of grass flying off the clubface.
Speaking of which, golfing products company TaylorMade says they have come up with the biggest thing in golf since woods ceased to be that. Apparently, this new development will send your golf ball 20 yards further with no compromise on direction. Attach a rocket to your ball, they say.
Sport itself is churning out new formats. You may fault it, but Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket seems to have fired a few imaginations. Indian hockey has taken inspiration from it, and now golf. The first $400,000 (around ₹ 2.2 crore) Golf Premier League (GPL) will be played in the second week of February at the Aamby Valley City golf course near Pune. “The idea is to make golf cool, edgy," says conceptualizer Shiv Kapur.
So 14 holes instead of 18, a maximum of 30 seconds to hit a shot and a combination of day and night play which will be telecast live on prime-time TV. There’s reasoning behind these tweaks. The first two to quicken the pace of play (golf is thought of as dull and slow by some) and the third to catch golfers at the club bar over the weekend. The event will run from Friday to Sunday.
Having played college golf in the US, Kapur, 30, has seen up close how sport is run as a means of recreation, and as a business, in that country. So when he sat down for a beer one evening during the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship in January 2011 with his friend-caddie-business partner Neeraj Sareen, who has a similar American experience, talk veered towards doing something fast-paced, IPL-like, in golf. Further discussion (and, I suspect, beers) had them looking at the US’ National Basketball Association (NBA) and National Football League (NFL) for ideas. Hence the franchise-based, shot clock, team jersey model for the GPL.
Among the eight teams are Delhi Darts, Gujarat Underdawgs, Tamil Nadu Pulis, Shubhkamna Eagles and Colombo Sixers, where cricketer Mahela Jayawardene, also a keen golfer, is the team principal. Punjab, Maharashtra and Karnataka will complete the list and they are all getting together in Mumbai on Friday to pick up their four-member squads in a first-of-its-kind player auction in golf. It’s an impressive pool of talent, divided into four categories.
The “international players" include major champions Darren Clarke, Angel Cabrera, Michael Campbell, Rich Beem and Shaun Micheel. Anirban Lahiri, Gaganjeet Bhullar, Rahil Gangjee and Kapur himself will be part of the “international Indian players". Thaworn Wiratchant, Scott Hend and Chapchai Nirat will represent the Asian Tour. A player each from these three categories will team up with eight Professional Golf Tour of India (PGTI) golfers. Evening parties and celebrity appearances will complete the IPL touch.
The team format as such is not new. Former tour player Rishi Narain, who runs Rishi Narain Golf Management, came up with the ₹ 1.20 crore Louis Philippe Cup, an annual feature, last year. Groups of three Indian pros, among them Jeev Milkha Singh and Jyoti Randhawa, make up nine city-based teams like AVT Kolkata, Take Solutions Chennai, DLF Gurgaon and Dev Ellora Chandigarh. “The PGTI signed a contract with us and we paid a heavy sanction fee for exclusivity over the pro team golf format sanctioned by the PGTI in India. So I am disappointed that this second event is happening," says Narain. The PGTI clarifies that the GPL is neither sanctioned nor co-sanctioned by it. They have only “released" their players to play the tournament. In return, Kapur is putting up a full-field ₹ 40 lakh event for the PGTI later this year.
Narain has more to say. “You only have to ask whether the BCCI (The Board of Control for Cricket in India) would allow the ICL (Indian Cricket League) to coexist with the IPL or whether Hockey India would allow their new Hockey India League to tolerate World Series Hockey. What makes things more confusing for the public is the two golf events are scheduled only two days apart."
Kapur maintains that other than the fact that both are team events, the two have little in common. Also, he got his dates from the PGTI six months ago as he wanted to schedule his event just after the Dubai Desert Classic to make it convenient for overseas players to travel to Aamby Valley.
Dilip Thomas, whose company, the AVT Group, has a team in each, thinks both the events are good for the game. “I feel both give exposure to my brand, whereas the GPL also has the potential to give me a return on my investment. If it works, I can make money from the GPL which I would then like to plough back into the game."
Again, both Kapur and Narain want to increase golf’s fan base with their innovations. They want to reach out to new audiences. Kapur talks about getting Tiger Woods to India in a few years. This is good for Indian golf. Let’s just play, I say.
Prabhdev Singh is the founding editor of Golf Digest India and a part-time golfer.