In India, golf is one of many sports that has been in the shadow of cricket. It has been more of a niche, rich man’s hobby rather than a popular activity for the masses. However, Indian golf has come a long way in recent years with young Indian men and women realizing their talent on the golf course.
One of the main catalysts for this spike is the events of the Tokyo Olympics in 2021. Instead of the Indian social media world creating buzz over another classic Indian T20 match, they had their attention on a 23-year-old female Indian golfer named Aditi Ashok. On Saturday 7th of August, she was on the verge of securing herself and her country a historic Olympic medal. She had the talent and attention to get thousands to wake up in the very early hours of the morning in her country to watch a sport that they were barely interested in and hardly knew the rules. Despite her best efforts on the day, Ashok just missed out on a medal finishing fourth on the final day of the event. However, what she achieved at those games and the attention she received has lifted the profile of the sport in her country. But what has the previous history of the sport in India looked like and why has it not taken off compared to the likes of cricket and hockey?
Golf in India has existed for more than 100 years, even older than the existence of the country. The British took golf with them to the subcontinent in 1829 and founded the oldest golf club outside of the UK, The Royal Calcutta Golf Club. Others then opened in different areas such as the Royal Bombay Golf Club and the Bangalore Golf Club. So while the sport did not even exist in some areas of the world during this time including the United States, and the ball was only just rolling in others, India already had a large number of established golf clubs around the country.
But since its appearance in the country, golf has always been viewed more as a rich man’s sport rather than a working man’s game, in hand creating the classiest assumption. Things such as prices of equipment, eye-watering membership rates, and other minor costs could help answer why that is the case. As a result, golf has not been able to take off in the country. However, there has been an occasional success over the years when it comes to professional Indian golfers.
One of the main flagbearers of Indian golf in the past two decades has been Anirban Lahiri. Lahiri has 18 international victories to his name and is featured in various team tournaments such as the Presidents Cup. Other key golfing figures include Jeev Milkha Singh and Arjun Atwal who were present on the scene during the 2000s with Jeev winning three titles on the European Tour.
But including the golfers mentioned, there has been another key catalyst that has helped with the surge of the sport.
Of course, the disaster that was the COVID-19 pandemic affected billions of people across the world and had negative circumstances in countless nations. But in terms of the world of golf in India, it has helped its growth.
Sales of equipment, usage of facilities, and the number of people entering the game rose, with figures rocketing over 25-30% higher than pre=pandemic levels. The increase can be attributed to several reasons. The focus on health and fitness resulted in more people having a go at the sport plus it is something that has very low human contact, making it safe for people to play without developing any health concerns. Additionally, it had the ability to prize back some of the wealthy businessmen who had previously stopped playing golf due to business reasons.
There are approximately 135 golf courses available for the masses in India. Governing bodies and various individuals have pushed for the availability and affordability of the sport. There is also a wide range of men’s and women’s golfing tournaments within the country, including the Hero Indian Open, sanctioned by the Asian Tour and European Tour. Mixed, this will help the sport continue to sprout in India and as the years go by we may see that the next golfing superstar comes from India.