The current icons of Indian golf—Anirban Lahiri, Shiv Kapur, Gaganjeet Bhullar, Aditi Ashok and Sharmila Nicollet—and even the ones before them like Jeev Milkha Singh, Arjun Atwal and Jyoti Randhawa may not be household names yet, but with the popularity of golf growing rapidly, they could soon become as popular as our cricket stars.
Shubhankar Sharma, just 21, was the youngest player in the elite field at the recent WGC-Mexico Championship, but his mature performance made the world sit up and take notice. He led a world-class field—comprising 45 of the world’s Top-50 players—after three rounds in what was his debut event, not only at the World Golf Championships, but also the PGA Tour. He may personally be disappointed at finishing a tied 9th, but it was a performance that he and the entire Indian golf community can be proud of.
All this will translate into greater popularity for the game of golf. What is most heartening is that Indian golfers these days come from different backgrounds, debunking the theory that this game is only for the privileged. We have Lahiri and Shubhankar, both of whom are sons of army men; and before them, Jyoti Randhawa, too, came from a similar background.
And then there is S.S.P. Chawrasia, who rose from a modest background to blossom into a world-class golfer and is now one of the finest ambassadors for Indian golf. He is also a two-time defending champion of the Hero Indian Open. His success is inspiring many young men and women to take up the sport in India.
As a keen golfer myself, I am delighted to see the growing interest in the game in India. A small section of committed enthusiasts has nurtured golf in the country and now we need to do much more to encourage young talent to take up the sport.
For starters, there is a dire need to have more public golf courses, which can be accessed by budding golfers. Currently, of the 250-plus golf courses in India, only a handful are open to the public or walk-ins.
The game is rapidly shedding its ‘elitist’ tag and is now in a position to breed champions; we could even unearth a Tiger Woods in India. The need is to harness their potential by creating the right environment. Although golf courses are on the rise in the country, most of the development is real estate and tourism-oriented. No doubt, these aspects are important, but we need both—championship courses for the game at the higher levels and basic facilities such as driving ranges, public courses and academies to promote the game at the beginner’s level. We also need more private companies to come forward and partner with the government agencies to create the right infrastructure.
Catching them young
An initiative that can really push golf to the next level would be to include it in the physical education curriculum in schools and even colleges, like it happens in the US. This early introduction really helps in nurturing and building champions, as we have seen in the case of both Shubhankar and Anirban. Since their fathers were in the defence services, they gained access to golf courses and participated in the sport from a young age. If we could replicate this model across the nation in civilian schools and universities, golf could perhaps be as popular as other prominent sports in India. Organizing inter-school and inter-college golf tournaments would be a great way to boost interest and identify future champions as well.
India has the talent to become the next golfing superpower. The efforts are moving in the right direction. But it is also time to give golf an accelerated push. The golfer in me wants to see an Indian emerge as a winner at a Major and be a force on the world’s strongest circuit—the PGA Tour.
It may seem a distant dream at present, but in reality, it is much closer than we think!
Pawan Munjal is chairman, managing director and chief executive officer, Hero MotoCorp. The views expressed are peresonal.