There was a time when golf courses were meant for a privileged few and available only for those with fat wallets or the right connections. The game has changed now. Mushrooming golf courses are meeting an aspiring professional class with rising incomes.
Golf also just got bit more affordable, a bit more easy, for the average middle-class Indian. From a mere 100 golf courses five years ago, about 300 putting greens peppered across the country now. Hand-holding courses, sponsorships and events are driving the business up. Corporate groups such as Jaypee are targeting it as a viable business, while inbound tourists are making it lucrative.
Earlier this month, golfing equipment major Callaway announced its entry into the country as it scouted for local partners to set up manufacturing facilities. The sport has now gone beyond glitzy metros to the suburban townships and Tier-II and III cities.
“It is an exciting time to be in India, especially with golf debuting at the Rio Olympics in 2016 and in 7 years there is a lot of hope from the country and industry that India would be one of the top contenders from Asia,” said George Fellows, global CEO and president, Callaway Golf Company.
Callaway is betting big on the Indian golf industry, which is one of global golf's fastest growing markets with an average annual growth of 25 per cent in the number of golfers over the past few years.
“While the Indian golf industry is in its infancy, signs point to a high growth phase,” said Fellows.
With the opening of new clubs and courses, India will continue to see growth as an emerging golfing destination.
While the number of tournaments for amateurs to polish their skills has swelled, the quantum of prize money has also increased manifold in the last few years.
The Avantha Masters to be held in February will offer a prize money of 1.5 million euros (about Rs. 10 crore) to attract European players, a record for a pro-golf event in India
“The stature of the professional game across the region and in India has risen tremendously over the past few years. The sport has assumed aspirational values and with courses, including public access courses, will only make the game more popular,” said Gautam Thapar chairman and CEO of Avantha Group.
While golf remains an elite sport, interest levels amongst young professionals is growing and is steadily making inroads into a much wider audience in India.
And playing golf in a pay-and-play course of the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) is equivalent to the parking charges in some upmarket shopping malls.
“In Delhi we have two pay and play courses-- Lado Sarai in Qutab and Bhalswa golf course-- where for a game of 18 holes one needs to pay about Rs 100,” said Squadron Leader R.K. Tiwari, who was associated with building of the Bhalsawa golf course.
So much so that golf enthusiasts from Japan and Southeast Asia fly down to India during some weekends on chartered flights for a game.
“We have a sizeable number of members from South-East Asia and East Asian countries like Japan and South Korea. Our members from these countries often come to India and stay for a week to play golf,” said Manu Goswamy, head of business development and marketing strategy, Jaypee Greens.
As land is a premium asset in these countries and the membership charges for a golf course is prohibitive for a large number of people, he said Jaypee operates two golf courses at Greater Noida (18-hole) and Noida (18-hole and 9-hole).
Realty companies have bet big on the booming business of golf in the country.
In August 2009, DLF clinched a deal for 350-acre plot located on the Gurgaon-Faridabad road for Rs 1,750 crore from the HSIIDC (Haryana State Industrial & Infrastructure Development Corporation). It pipped Unitech and Bharti Realty.
“A golf course with its lush greenery, open space and the ambience helps create more attraction for a residential project,” a DLF spokesperson said.
Fellows said Callaway is setting up its fully-owned subsidiary to garner a bigger pie of the market — launching a direct retail presence in the country.