The future looks uncertain

PROFESSIONAL golfers in India are going through a period of flux.

PROFESSIONAL golfers in India are going through a period of flux. The future of the Professional Golfers' Association of India tour over the next five years is yet to concretise and a large number of players, sponsors and organisers are waiting with bated breath as developments unfold at an excruciatingly slow pace.

In the past five years, the Indian Golf Professionals' tour was a joint venture between the PGAI and Tiger Sports Marketing. The latter used to run the tour under the aegis of the PGAI and over the years it had grown in popularity.

The tour also threw up a number of players with potential, many of whom have gone on to achieve laurels abroad. Jeev Milkha Singh, Jyoti Randhawa, Arjun Atwal and Gaurav Ghei are some of the professionals who have carved a niche in the European, Asian and US PGA tours. All these players have at some point of time turned out on the Indian tour, though now, they prefer to play at the more lucrative tournaments in Japan, Malaysia, Europe and the United States. Indian golf also has a number of upcoming stars such as Digvijay Singh, Ashok Kumar and some other amateurs waiting to turn professional.

The sport is said to be one of the fastest growing in the world and has certainly had a quantum leap in India.

At the end of 2003, the term of the pact between Tiger Sports Marketing and Professional Golfers' Association of India elapsed. A fresh bid for the rights to run the tour was to be submitted in January this year and four major players reportedly were in the fray.

Nimbus, IMG, Rishi Narain Golf Associates and Tiger Sports Marketing evinced keen interest in bagging the right to stage the tour. As the date for the submission of the bid approached there were only two real contenders.

IMG, which was supposed to put in a joint bid with Globosport, pulled out at the last moment and Rishi Narain Golf Associates did not have the wherewithal to be a serious contender. Tiger Sports Marketing as per the previous pact had the right to match the highest bid and retain the conduct of the tour.

Tiger Sports Marketing gained accolades for its handling of a difficult proposition. Some of the pitfalls included the withdrawal of the title sponsor ITC when the Government of India banned surrogate advertising by liquor and tobacco companies. Hero Honda stepped in to fill the breach but raising funds for the tour was always a perennial problem. This led to some displeasure from the Professional Players' Association.

The players body while conceding that Tiger Sports Marketing had done a good job in running the tour was peeved that some of the tournaments on the calendar last year had been called off especially in the last moments leading to a cut in the prize money.

Another grouse was that quite a bit of sponsorship, especially in the use of practice balls during the tournaments were not considered by TSM.

Other irritants included lack of articulate representation at the PGAI meetings leading to arbitrary decisions and permitting a disqualified player at the Q-School to participate on the tour.

Nimbus having had a clear field during the bidding is said to have come up with an offer of Rs 3.25 crore along with a 20 per cent increase every year.

Nimbus is also said to have considered the idea of professionally engaging the services of TSM in staging the tour. However this idea was reportedly turned down by TSM, which decided it would either run the tour individually or pull out completely.

PGAI is yet to decide on the inking of the agreement as Tiger Sports Marketing was allowed one month's time to decide on whether to match the offer or bow out.

Brandon de Souza, President of Tiger Sports Marketing, has been mulling over the situation and by all indications making every effort to retain the rights to the tour.

Much hard work has gone into putting the tour into place and a change in operating systems might not be the solution.

Undoubtedly Tiger Sports Marketing would have to strive hard to iron out its abrasions with the players' body and ensure a larger flow of funds.

The golf caravan has been on the road for five long years. It has now reached a point where some tough decisions will have to be taken. Will it land in the hazards or will it land on the greens? The future looks uncertain.