Men’s golf in India has never been short of sponsors, but it’s time women’s golf also got some serious business. Money has always been a trickle and the government, too, has remained shy of giving the ladies game a good shot. It’s the usual big four supporters who hold this up for the young girls – Hero Group, Avantha, Usha and DLF. The game needs to spread and grow. Even within India Inc, you would find no more than five or six women playing actively led by Moelis banker Manisha Girotra. This needs to change.
This weekend carried a cue as a young amateur Indian girl Gauri Monga (pictured) surged to the leader mix and stayed in contention for all days during the Hero Women’s Indian Open. The $300,000 tournament, which is sanctioned by the Ladies European Tour, Asian Tour and the Women’s Golf Association of India, was held for the first time at the busy and buzzing Delhi Golf Club and brought with it many spectators. Monga knew the course, she picked her clubs carefully and got the ball straight into the centre in a club where the fairways are flanked by forests or obstructed by Mughal architecture. Monga’s leading moments are a serious reason to put the spotlight back on the ladies game in India.
A good mix of money, full galleries and players make for a perfect reason for women’s golf to launch off. The young amateur and pro brigade are competitive, know the game, are training their mind, maintaining focus and can outshine a lot of male talent, too.
For years, India could only talk of one of its stars – Simi Mehra. Today, we should be proud that out of 16 Indians at the Hero Open, 10 made the cut and played the only international women’s tournament on home soil. Bangalore’s Sharmila Nicollet has made headlines for both golf and glamour. She hits longer than most male golfers I know. A new crop of young players like Vani Kapoor, Neha Tripathi, Ankita Tiwana, Shweta Galande are all fine-tuning their game and getting global exposure as they explore tournaments in Asia or even go to train overseas. Sharmila, Vani and Neha took home key awards at the India Golf Awards in November. Behind the success of all these women is one self-less woman, Champika Sayal, who has pushed boundaries, glass ceiling to put together funds and a body for women’s golf in the country. Adding to Sayal’s strength is Kavita Singh, the first Indian on the board of the Ladies European Tour.
Consider how fantastic it would be to see women playing during the same week as the men’s tournaments? How rewarding tournaments would be if every sponsor backed a ladies game, along with an all-men tournament?
Strange as this may sound, but should golf take a lesson from tennis? Which runs its major events in a way they have men’s and women’s competitions in the same place and under the same banner at essentially the same time? It’s an idea to think about.
Shaili Chopra is an award-winning business journalist and founder of www.golfingindian.com