The Indian Open, to be held at the pristine Karnataka Golf Association course later this week, has attracted some of the best golfers from world over apart from the emerging Indian youngsters, proving the point that golf is the fastest growing sport in the country, writes Vedam Jaishankar
If you lived in Bangalore, Delhi NCR or Chandigarh you could be excused if you thought golf was the fastest growing sport in India.
These regions, in the midst of a veritable explosion in the popularity of the game, are witness to dozens of golf courses, golf schools/academies and pro shops sprouting almost on demand.
Bangalore is a case in point. The pristine Karnataka Golf Association course, renovated and elevated to the status of the best in the country, is a bee-hive of golfing activity 5am to 8pm seven days a week, 365 days a year. The older, smaller and decidedly less hectic Bangalore Golf Club, although quite busy by its former standards, seems inactive by comparison.
Over the past few years, besides the three military and SAI golf courses in the heart of the city, numerous privately-owned courses – Eagleton, Golf Shire, Champion Reef, Clover Greens, et al; coaching academies in Touche Golf, SPT Academy and the one at Bangalore Palace Grounds have all had encouraging footfalls to the extent that golf could almost pass off as a mass sport.
It is against this background that KGA and Bangalore welcomed with open arms the Hero Indian Open’s inaugural foray into south India. Hitherto, in its 48 years of existence, the Indian Open, the jewel in the crown of professional golf in Asia, has been staged either in Delhi or in Kolkata. In fact, for the past 11 years it has not moved out of Delhi, despite the best efforts of Bangalore, Chennai, Kolkatta, Pune and Mumbai’s golf clubs.
But this time around a lot of factors went in KGA’s favour. Acknowledging the increasing popularity of the game, Pawan Munjal, managing director and chief executive officer, Hero MotoCorp Ltd, said: “We have to take big-ticket golf to other cities for the game to attract more followers in the country. We have supported this event for more than 15 years now and have seen it grow from very humble beginnings to the major sport that it now is. I am very happy that we have taken this year’s edition to Bangalore and KGA. We know that golf is extremely popular in Bangalore and my firm belief is that the Hero Indian Open will draw more youngsters to the game.”
Of course, for any event to make an impact, the quality of the players must be outstanding. This is where the 49th edition of the Hero Indian Open will score. Swedish ace golfer Pater Hanson, who has consistently featured in the top 25 of the world golf ranking (he is currently at No 23), will be the top draw. The tall, 34-year-old golfer who was part of the European team that scored a sensational victory over team USA last month, has won five European Tour titles thus far. Scotland’s Richie Ramsay and England’s James Morrision, along with title holder David Gleeson of Australia will be just as keenly followed by India’s golfing aficionados.
Gleeson, who missed five months of the tour owing to a stomach infection, is itching to defend his Indian Open title: “Whenever you go back to a tournament which you’ve won before, there’s always a good vibe and feeling. I heard the golf course is good and I’m going to a new city and that’s always good fun,” he pointed out.
Gleeson said his stomach infection had made him so weak that he had to change his driver to try and get the ball going. “But I’ve regained my health now and my game is slowly coming back and I’m getting the distances I want. Also, there is always more motivation when you defend a title. Possibly there will be more attention given to me compared to other weeks but that’s a good thing,” he added.
India’s top golfers, Gaganjeet Bhullar, Shiv Kapur and Himmat Rai won’t have to worry about form. They have been in scintillating form in the on-going tournament in Macau. Bhullar, in fact, is in the lead going into the final round on Sunday. KGA lad Anirban Lahiri who has had a very good year on the tour, unfortunately had a poor outing on day two and failed to make the cut at Macau. Lahiri who made waves at the British Open with a hole-in-one, is itching to do well on his home turf: “Bangalore is my hometown and it’ll be nice if I do really well there. I’ve got to keep pushing myself and move in the right direction from where I am today. Hopefully, I can do that,” said Lahiri.
Besides these golfers, there are a whole lot of young Indian golfers who will be watched with more than passing curiosity. These include the highly promising Rashid Khan who recently turned professional and a quartet of amateurs, Khalin Joshi, Chikkarangappa, Honey Baisoya and Angad Cheema.
Truly, with golfers drawn from virtually every golfing nation golfing enthusiasts are surely in for some really interesting times when the Hero Indian Open tees off this week. Watch this space.
—Vedam Jaishankar is a Bangalore-based writer