A solution for boosting the sport in India

H.R. Srinivasan... preaching golf.-V. GANESAN

“We want to support the Indian golfing fraternity by putting at least five players on the U.S. Tour and 10 on the European Tour,” says H. R. Srinivasan, the vice-chairman and managing director of Take Solutions and more importantly a golf evangelist, in a chat with G. Viswanath.

Indian golfers have made news on the Asian and European tours and, on rare occasions, the PGA circuit. If Viswanathan Anand had triggered interest in chess in the country, Chiranjeev Milkha Singh can claim to have given the once ‘rich man’s sport’ a real push in India.

Jeev, Arjun Atwal, Jyoti Randhawa, Himmat Rai, Gaganjeet Bhullar, Shiv Chowrasia, Rahil Gangjee, Gaurav Ghei, Anirban Lahiri and Chinnaswamy Muniyappa have hit the headlines in the last two decades. If one is to believe H. R. Srinivasan, the vice-chairman and managing director of Take Solutions and more importantly a golf evangelist, Indian golf should make further progress in the next 10 years.

Three years ago, Take Solutions sponsored Shiv Chowrasia and recently it took Khalin Joshi under its wing. “Results are not going to happen in the short run. Golf is not a matured sport in India yet; it’s going to take time. It could happen in the next 10 years. It’s not like Tiger Woods and Accenture, both superior brands that can take advantage of each other. That’s not happening in India in the next five to seven years when we will actually have to build the sport. When you try to build a sport, you won’t find the Dhonis of the world. We want to support the Indian golfing fraternity by putting at least five players on the U.S. Tour and 10 on the European Tour. This is Take Solutions’ ambition. We (India) have enough on the Asian tour. We are looking to support those golfers who show the promise of getting on to a U.S. or European Tour. We have the talent, but we don’t have the support and training mechanics,” said Srinivasan on the eve of the networking event of the golf community in Mumbai.

He went on: “We have golfing equipment, but not the training equipment. The training facilities in India are very primitive; they are nowhere close to what is available in the U.S. or Europe. Some of the Indians we like to support would need to go there. Take for instance fitness, there is something called the Titleist Performance Institute (TPI), which focuses only on golfing fitness. The nearest TPI is in Bangkok or Shanghai. The PGA golfers are super athletes. So, these are the things we lack — higher physical abilities, conditioning camp facilities and even coaching.

“We don’t have great coaches. We have a few good ones like Vijay Divecha. The view is that over the next five years, we should be able to make a meaningful contribution to put professional Indian golf on the world map, which means the Asian and European tours and the PGA Tour. We are looking to start from the junior programme or when the amateurs turn pros and then give them the sustained support over a period of time. Our focus is on players in the age group of 20-25 and who are set to turn from amateur to a professional.”

In an interview to Sportstar, Srinivasan said that his company is moving from corporate golf to supporting professional golf.

Excerpts:

Question: Is there a strong connection between golf and business development?

Answer: Not yet. It’s going to be a very far cry using it (golf) in business development. It’s a good forum to network. I have been supporting golf in the last 10 years and I can say this. But corporate golf is picking up because people like to engage themselves in a sport that challenges them. People coming into golf is very high now, but that’s not the crux. What is relevant is whether the corporates are going to support the game and determine whether India goes into the professional world golf or not.

Showing promise. S.S.P. Chowrasia in action during the 2013 Indian Open.-SANDEEP SAXENA

If the corporates do not support, no sport will find its logical place at a competitive level. I have been arguing that support to sport must be treated as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) under the new companies bill. I have taken this matter up to the ministry level articulating that it’s very important to have corporate contribution and I don’t think that contributing to education and children’s welfare alone is CSR.

Why this viewpoint that the corporates should support only golf and not other sports? Golf facilities (courses, equipment and other infrastructure) are not accessible to common person…

The lack of public facility (access to play golf) for a common man is only in Mumbai. There are places like Chandigarh, Delhi, Bangalore or Chennai where golf is far more accessible. The availability of golf to a normal human being without being a member of an expensive club is a possibility. In each of the places I have referred to, the junior programmes are phenomenal. There are special programmes for caddies and their children. In fact, the Tamil Nadu Golf Federation (TNGF) has a full-fledged programme for caddies’ children. The TNGF takes care of the equipment, clothing, nutrition and training. There are about 25 of them — all caddies’ children. Similarly, there are programmes at the Delhi Golf Club and also at the Chandigarh Golf Club. Accessibility may be a problem in Mumbai, but Delhi has at least four public ranges and Chennai has the facilities too. But what comes to prominence are the DLFs, Jaypees and the BPGCs of the world that are really for the professional golfers.

Only a small group of corporates support golf now?

The corporate support for any sport comes because of the passion of one or a few individuals within that company. Wherever there is a golfer, or a patron of golf as the head of a company one will find him supporting the sport. Similarly, in cricket, tennis or basketball, one will find the patrons of that sport in important positions within the company. Today, we have a lot of corporate golfers and therefore you will find a natural gravitation towards golf. That’s good for the game.

The biggest donors of money for golf in India have really been BILT and Hero. They have put in many crores over the years. They stand out as far as support for golf in the country is concerned. After that it could be us, Indian Terrain, Shriram Properties, Mantri Developers, Shubhkamna and Louis Philippe.

Can a player ranked No. 50 and 100 on the Indian Tour earn sufficient money to make a living, say about Rs. 12-lakh a year?

That’s a great data point. Today, the top 25 on the Indian Tour are in that bracket already. I am talking of the players in the Indian order of merit — the Mukesh Kumars, Rashid Khans, Chikkarangappas and the Sujjan Singhs. They are making that much money today. A player in the top 25 in India could be making anywhere between Rs. 12 and 40 lakh a year by just playing on the Indian Tour. The next question is, will the top 100 reach there? It will happen in three years’ time; if a player is ranked No. 100 in India, I think he will be making Rs. 15 lakh. And many players will have sponsorships. It would be a great thing for Indian golf.

Unless the sport becomes lucrative, one will not find competitive golf being played. Today, we have the Sri Lankans and Bangladeshis in the Indian Tour and they are in the top 25. The Indian Tour is going to expand; the number of tournaments will go up, the PGTI is planning more tournaments. The IGU is looking to get more tournaments going.

Would you say the success of Jeev Milkha Singh was the real trigger for the development of the sport in India?

Jeev has made an impact, certainly. He had the support of the MNCs like the Barclays. One has to look at the average player on the Indian Tour and see where the support for him is coming from. We support SSP (Chowrasia) and Khalin. Over the next three years, we want to increase it to five. When you sponsor, it helps to defray their travel expenses. When a player goes to Digboi (Assam), he ends up spending Rs. 50,000-plus a week. If it is an Asian Tour event, it is going to be Rs. 1 lakh a week on travel and stay. All these golfers play for 25 to 30 weeks a year. The super golfers like Tiger Woods play for only 18 to 20 weeks. An average Indian Tour pro plays between 30 and 35 weeks. So, an Indian golfer needs around Rs. 18 lakh to sustain himself and this comes from the sponsorship and not from the prize money.

What happens at the networking of the golf community event?

We have this networking evening before every city tournament. All stakeholders are invited. I evangelise the concept of golf and try to get more people into it. But we don’t even measure the end achievements.