“If you watch a game, it’s fun. If you play it, it’s recreation. If you work at it, it’s golf.”
– Bob Hope
Unfortunately, golf is neither of the above three for majority Indians. Most of us know the name of the sport and that’s about it. Despite a growing economy, rising middle class with high disposable income and a legacy of golf, the sport remains inaccessible to many.
India, as for most sports is a powerhouse for talent and the same holds true in case of golf as well with Anirban Lahiri and Aditi Ashok representing India in world golf . Though Indian golfers are working towards attracting more players in the country, accessibility to the sport remains a big hurdle for most aspirants. Currently India has 196 golf courses , out of which around 100 are publicly owned and the rest are private. These 100 golf courses are exclusively reserved for government officials and work under membership criteria. The little hope that private golf courses show is dimmed by expensive membership schemes thereby restricting the sport to a majority of Indians. ‘Golf is a sport for the classes and not for the masses’, but sadly even the ones who have big pockets to cough up money end up waiting for years get to in. It depends on the personality, societal status and having the right contacts to move forward in the waiting list.
Implications of the Membership Maize
All the above ingredients show that golf gives off an air of exclusivity and is a deliberate attempt of the membership holders to reserve the sport only for the elites. It is not only about playing golf but also about socializing with the who’s who of the country. Golf in India still follows the Maharaja culture which is a direct implication that it is for those belonging to the top of the societal strata. Membership is availed by those in the second half of their lives and to the children of members which limits access to the game further more.
Roadmap to All Square between the Masses and the Classes
By adopting a few initiatives, India could unveil the golf mystery to those aspiring to learn and play the sport. Around 80-90 golf courses present in Tier 2 cities are currently not doing very well in business terms and could be offered to the masses there. This would not only increase golf course revenues but would also attract additional tourism. Golf courses are usually idle in non-peak seasons and could be offered to those genuinely keen to play the sport. Indian golf is in dire need of a ‘pay and play’ program which would protect the interests of members as well as offer opportunities to others who wish to play. However, the ‘pay’ rates should be fixed by the Ministry of Sports. The Indian Golf Union should play a more proactive role in popularizing the sport by spreading awareness and designing courses for all. With a little effort into the sport, India is not very far from cementing a dominant position on a global realm.
Author details: Ashita Birawat