Indian golf: driven to a bunker
These aren’t the best of times for Indian golf. More so after the Union sports ministry derecognised the Indian Golf Union (IGU), the sport’s apex organisation in the country, for not complying with the laws.
Listing promotion and development of golf as its primary objective, officials of the national sports federation (NSF) are spending more time in courtrooms these days rather than taking the game to the grassroots to shed the tag of golf being a rich man’s sport.
Affordability and access play a key part in a sport taking root, and a lot more needs to be done in golf. Barring a fistful of public golf courses and driving ranges in urban areas, the sport is still driven by exclusivity or the colonial club culture, breeding deterring awe among the masses.
Sample this, the Royal Calcutta Golf Club charges a green fee of Rs 6,500 from a non-member. At Delhi Golf Club (DGC), it is Rs 6,000 on weekdays and Rs 8,000 on weekends. An IGU membership brings down the cost, but it still isn’t cheap — Rs 4,500 and Rs 7,200 respectively. Such high fees trigger debates as these premier clubs are on public land, though they reserve the right to set their own rules.
Of the 200-plus golf courses in the country, a substantial chunk is under the armed forces. Under the current set-up, the army zone forms a key component of the IGU council, which is the decision-making body, but security is often cited a reason for disallowing civilians from using most of the facilities.
While it is a sensitive matter, surely there is a way to ensure optimal utilization of gold courses in military zones. Recently, former national coach Amandeep Johl was denied access to the golf course at the Indian Military Academy in Dehradun when he had gone with the request for limited playing rights for some of his students by paying the fee.
“I wasn’t allowed to meet the captain and instead told to put in an application. Since we were there for only a few days, it was an exercise in futility,” said Johl, who was a top professional before switching to coaching.
Shooting a low score defines a satisfying round as golf is a game of skill rather than strength. In developed nations juniors play from tees as per their age groups, the case is otherwise in events conducted by IGU. Children play from faraway tees that not only spoil the score, but the risk of injury goes up as well.
At a recent IGU North Zone Feeder Tour event in Gurgaon, the father of a 12-year-old competitor said he had to spend Rs 40,000 on a full-size driver so that the boy, small for his age, could get some more distance off his tee shot. This is a fast-spreading malady as in the bid for length juniors are using clubs far beyond their age specifications.
A player on the amateur circuit, who refused to be named for fear of reprisal, said he was snubbed when approached an IGU official over unfair yardages. “He laughed at me and said this (making kids play long yardages) was the reason Indian golfers were doing well abroad. All those who have done well have passed through this system,” he said.
If playing longer yardages and its consequences are adding to the dropout rate, those braving the odds have to bear the brunt of poor scheduling. An example is the trials conducted by IGU to select the team for the Asian Games, to be held in Jakarta this July. Scheduled from April 23 to 30, the first practice round was at Jaypee Greens in Greater Noida, while the next day it was at Classic Golf Resort in Manesar, Haryana — the venues over 100km apart.
Same was the case on match days. Significant time was lost on travel, which could have been spent more fruitfully. Despite the heat, tee-offs were late in the morning and often players’ needs went unattended as federation officials weren’t around.
Scheduling of amateur tours is such that it is a toss-up between missing school and crisscrossing the country, which isn’t cheap, to make the order of merit in the hope of a spot in one of the Indian squads. Checks are not in place during tournaments too as there are regular complaints of caddies holding players to ransom and clubs doing little to put the players at ease. Even if one makes the grade, there is no certainty as on numerous occasions IGU hasn’t honoured the order of merit while selecting teams for overseas tournaments.
Lack of unity
For a sport to flourish, federation officials need to be on the same page. For long, the IGU council, made up of members from the army and people from across the country, had seldom seen eye to eye as far as propagation goes. Engaged in one-upmanship, the infighting has got worse since IGU was derecognised by the sports ministry in April for non-compliance with the national sports code and failure to hold elections.
On paper, the demands were met at an emergency general meeting on June 6, but the manner in which changes were carried out by IGU has upset several stakeholders, who will be moving court and also explore the need to form a rival association.
Till order is restored, the players, the sport’s biggest stakeholders, will continue to suffer.