Five-year-old Viraj Singh Shankhla can barely manage to lift his kitbag. But that hasn't prevented the student of Prep at Delhi Public School, East of Kailash, from swinging a club at the Qutab Golf Course. In the middle of the week, his mom, Divya Singh, 35, a human resources executive with a telecom firm, has taken time off to drive her son to the range.
Shankhla is not alone. Sana Chhabra, 6, in kindergarten, already knows her chip from her putt. Her father Amit, a retail executive, ensures Sana gets the best coaching and exposure to different courses in the national capital region. "But I love putting at Qutab," says the student of Scottish High, Gurgaon. Why? "The coaches are nice," she says.
With the profile of golfers getting younger, the early birdies hope to catch the worm. In 2010 alone, says Anil Dev of the Asian Golf Course Owners Association, an estimated 5,000 children under the age of seven took up the sport.
The biggest factor driving the popularity of golf among children is the availability of good infrastructure and coaching, says Rishi Narain, whose sports management firm runs the Indian Golf Union's national junior programme. "Membership to private clubs still isn't easy, but to catch them young, most courses run junior programmes," says Narain.
Public courses such as Qutab that encourage walk-ins, where the cost of playing an entire game (see box) is less than the caddie fee at many private courses, play their part in taking the 'elitist' game to the common man.
Romit Bose, who has moved on from the Delhi Golf Club to head the junior training programme at Qutab, says the first fundamental that coaches have to work on these days is hand-eye coordination. "It takes time since most children are addicted to video games and Playstation," he says. Affirms Pritam Saikia, a certified golf trainer with Golden Greens, Gurgaon. "Golfers aged between 5 and 15 should play other sports too. The workout should incorporate activities like running and throwing to build golfing muscles."
Once they have got the fundamentals of swing, chip and putt in place, the experience of pros-turned-coaches helps the children hone the finer nuances.
Eight years ago, Vani Kapur, 17, a student of Gurgaon's Shriram School, was just one of 300 students enrolled in the junior programme at the DLF Golf and Country Club. Today, she says, thanks to coaching from Anitya Chand and Karan Bindra, she has emerged as India's leading woman amateur. "In his time, Anitya sir was a top amateur. The insight that he gained while on tour has helped me tremendously. I even represented India at the Guangzhou Asian Games last year," she says.
With the sportbeing included in the 2016 Olympics at Rio, the gen-next of Indian golf can dream of taking a swing at India's first medal on the greens.