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Expanding golf print crucial for emerging markets

Monday, 5 May 2014 - 3:58am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

He wears his first love on his sleeve – tie actually – so to speak and it's not golf but rugby. In perfectly matched colours to go with his bank logo, the red tie has drawings of rugby players. And he's braving this on a golf forum. Yes those are the ways of the head of HSBC's global sponsorships Giles Morgan. He knows his sport and in these ways and others, keeps some on the edge.

We are chatting by the outside of a convention hall that is redefining the golf industry and setting its outlook for the year. Morgan is optimistic that the sport of golf will tide (or perhaps tee) over the big economic challenges. In describing some of the key trends shaping the game, he picked on three trends - an aspirant, growing middle class; economic development in parallel with demand for golf in new and emerging markets; and growing female participation.

The first, I suppose, is a trigger for golf just as it is for foreign investor money coming to India. But Morgan's focus on the other two intrigued me. The need to expand a foot print or golf print was central to the strengthening and consolidation of the sport in emerging markets. India could look further east and learn from China, or even Vietnam which has over 65 golf courses in the making right now. India on the other hand is either looking to mothball plans due to environment and forest issues, or even land acquisition. This is expected to change with the government and Incredible India taking to the idea of golf tourism in a bigger way. Morgan and HSBC were suitably impressed by China where they run one of the world's biggest golf events (outside the Majors) called the WGC –HSBC Champions. Interestingly Morgan bets big on the appetite for the game. But warns on complacency. "Globally golf is in a healthy position especially in emerging new markets as described by the prevailing themes outlined today. But such a position cannot be taken for granted in the long-term."

But the third factor that Morgan brought up impressed me the most. The notion that women will drive golf growth is not only a spectacular thought but also a brilliant idea to find natural ambassadors for the game. Increased female affluence, access and attractiveness to the game of golf have resulted in an uptake of the game by female players in the USA for example where PGA 's most recent figures from 2013 show that there was a net gain of almost 260,000 women golfers. In India we don't have enough numbers to flaunt but without a doubt that's an investment in the future.

There was one more factor that grasped the attention of most at the golf business forum. Both Morgan and I too remained fascinated with the idea that one of the oldest sports in the world was faced with the rise of the technology nemesis. How Apps, games, mini golf, skate caddies, clubs to hire across the world, ball sensors and such were spinning the game on its head. How the game requires innovation and nurturing so that supply meets demand for the golfers of today – and tomorrow. "It's important for the golf industry to come together to recognise the challenges ahead and grasp opportunities for growth while maintaining the integrity the sport is founded upon."

Golf perspective coming from a man who knows his golf as well as his business, does suggest the recovery shot for the game has been played. Now its for everyone to take advantage of the lie.

We are sitting and talking in Abu Dhabi, just miles from where IPL matches are attracting people in droves to watch the region's first sport love, cricket.
And just when I thought golf makes for such great conversation, he said to me, "you didn't ask me about cricket."

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