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IMG bets on Indian golf

Monday, 12 May 2014 - 7:00am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

This morning we aren't playing golf but we are at a course in Abu Dhabi discussing business and what else, golf.

The two marry perfectly giving golf the stature of business-sport. I am chatting up with Guy Kinnings of IMG, who is in the business of sport, and you can imagine in these tough economic times that's a subject that has significant mileage.

I begin by discussing what's making India lose out on all great golf events due to a weak economic climate. Kinnings says India remains on radar even as IMG, now run by Reliance in the country, is focusing primarily on fashion. At least that's the most visible mascot of the company given how media-profile that event is. As IMG's head of golf he does realise the potential in the country but does say he is looking for that one clinching moment where everything that matters to golf comes alive together-- government, big money and scale.

The good news is, and I hope corporates are all ears, that our players are beginning to win, and win well. Young Anirban Lahiri bagged the Indonesian Open a couple of weeks ago. Rashid Khan -- who comes from a very humble background -- has been in the top five of the Asian Order of Merit with Lahiri leading that charge. This is a great trigger for IMG to once again train its eyes on talent from India and use their popularity to get to a higher clip in the game.

With Gaganjeet Bhullar already in their fold, IMG's boss of the golf business is looking out for new icons.

There is hope, even at IMG that a turning economic tide will benefit the game. As I have said often higher GDP reversals are like recovery shots for the game. IMG did the famous Johnnie Walker Classic in 2008 with Vijay Singh and Colin Montgomerie, Adam Scott and others. Then they ran Avantha Masters, which got off the schedule reportedly due to Avantha's rupee woes as the forex weakened last year.

"It's an investment. We do have a great team in place. We see certain markets that will be key to golf's future and is one of them."

But what's it then?

With big business houses like DLF, Hero and Avantha keen on the sport, why have we not seen India emerge as a player? Is something going wrong?

"We wonder too why. May be in China it's moved faster. There was the possibility of bringing some world class events quickly and that worked for them."

Kinnings is curious about the new formats -- albeit shorter ones -- for golf, but essentially he remains a purist and a believer that it must be lapped up for what's its always stood for -- 18 holes and a traditional game with traditional rules. Where both he and I concurred that the game will be in for some innovation, and if not time then technology will shake it up to make it more mass and more enjoyable.

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