x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Game of golf has a healthy following in India

As recently as two decades ago, the only Indians who cared about the Ryder Cup were the privileged few with access to exclusive clubs and courses, writes Dileep Premachandran.

India's Jeev Milkha Singh plays a ball on the 16th hole during the 1st round of Dubai Desert Classic golf tournament in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2010. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili) *** Local Caption *** XKJ120_Emirates_Dubai_Desert_Classic_Golf.jpg
India's Jeev Milkha Singh plays a ball on the 16th hole during the 1st round of Dubai Desert Classic golf tournament in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2010. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili) *** Local Caption *** XKJ120_Emirates_Dubai_Desert_Classic_Golf.jpg

As recently as two decades ago, the only Indians who cared about the Ryder Cup were the privileged few with access to exclusive clubs and courses.

Then, two things happened. In 1991, 162 years after the Royal Calcutta Golf Club was founded, Ali Sher, who started off as a caddie at the Delhi Golf Club, won the Indian Open.

That same year, India set about changing a socialist economic policy that had been in place since independence.

In the following decade, as liberalisation took root, golf courses mushroomed across the country. Tournaments proliferated, and prize money grew to previously unimaginable levels. As the middle and upper classes started to enjoy the rewards of a more open economy, corporate sponsors flocked to the sport.

And there were pioneers on the courses. Jeev Milkha Singh's father, Milkha, missed an Olympic medal in 1960 in a photo finish, and his mother captained India's volleyball team. The son was the first Indian member of the European Tour, and the first ranked in the world's top 50.

Jyoti Randhawa topped the Asian Tour's money list in 2002, while Arjun Atwal was the first to play on the US PGA Tour. These days, you even have a magazine - Golf Digest India - dedicated to the sport.

The game's followers, and the numbers have grown steadily since Tiger Woods entered the fray, follow events like the Ryder Cup closely. Even with India about to start their Super Eights campaign at cricket's World Twenty20, there are enough headlines devoted to golf.

How times have changed.

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