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Golf

Driving aspiration - India's new golfers

India's middle class increasingly has money, and time, to spend on leisure activities. The latest craze is playing golf, as the hitherto elitist sport begins to attract a mainstream following.

The Indian capital New Delhi invited the world to try out its golf courses this month, hosting the European Tour.

The country even achieved its own measure of success, with Indian golfers Jeev Milkha Singh and Jyoti Randhawa doing well on their home soil.

Although golf in no way approaches the popularity of cricket, India does now have an estimated 500,000 active golfers. The country boasts 270 golf courses, some designed by legendary golfers such as Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman and Gary Player.

Jeev Milkha Singh, who took part in the European Tour is India's first golfer to reach the ranks of the top 50

Golf has steadily gained popularity in India over the last decade, with many international golf companies setting up shop there. Prashant Singh, Director Marketing for Callaway Golf India, told DW "There is some similarity between how you hit a cricket bat and how you swing a golf club."

"Golf in India is still at a nascent state but it is definitely growing. India is one of the emerging destinations."

Changing times and tastes

Singh said that, compared to China, the market size in India is small, but it is growing rapidly.

"The economy is growing and India is a young country, the common man's disposable income has gone up. To add to that, golf is a family sport, and Indians are family oriented."

"Golf is an addition to the lifestyle of corporate India; people want to try out new things. Playing golf is seen as being cool." Singh told DW

Now, Callaway Golf India is now on the lookout for a big star to endorse the sport, considering it a potential game-changer.

A golf ball

Most Indians still find getting access to facilities difficult

"For us, businesswise, two things that could change the face of golf in the country are if it is taken up by a Bollywood star or a cricketer," said Singh. "A lot of cricketers play golf even today but don't see it as their first sport. Retired cricket veterans have also taken up the game."

Jeev Milkha Singh is the first Indian golfer to break into world's top 50 and the son of Indian golfing legend Milkha Singh. He was the first player from India to join the European Tour. While the player believes golf's popularity will never be close to cricket, he still thinks it can achieve long-term popularity.

An elite sport?

"Golf is being seen as a sport, no longer as social status," Jeev Milkha Singh told DW. "Young talent is coming up and they are doing really well. So, many have started looking at it as a serious profession."

"Parents understand that their kids can make a profession out of it because they see young guys doing well and making a lot of money and getting famous in the country."

However, sponsorship is tough to find for golfers across the world - but especially in India. "A player has to be extraordinarily good and only then sponsors consider them," Jeev Milkha Singh added.

Golf is increasingly popular with women, with role models like Simi Mehra, the first woman from India to take part in the world's leading golf tour for women, the US-based LPGA tour.

Simi Mehra of India (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

Simi Mehra was the first woman from India to take part in the world's leading golf tour

But while golf is increasingly popular with the middle class, the average Indian still has little access to facilities. At present, there is only one public driving range and one public course in the country.

A luxury reserved for tourists?

Golf experts say that the government of India is yet to show a keen interest in the sport, which is an official event for the 2016 Olympics.

Shaili Chopra, business journalist and golf entrepreneur, believes that affordable golf academies might help bring Indian golf up to par with the rest of the world. But she acknowledges the sport will remain an elitist one for some time to come.

"The money it takes to play is immense, so people have to take up this sport through foundations and sponsorship is needed for young caddies and children who are unable to have access," she said.

"The game may not be going as rapidly as we would like it to, but the efforts of the tourism industry will go a long way in making a difference to India’s potential as a golf destination."

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