Across the world, golf is one of the most popular sports with approximately 450 million fans. The three major tournaments, the Masters, PGA Championship and Open Championship, generate more than $30 million worth of prize money to be paid to players.
In 2016, golfers in the UK spent more than £4 billion ($4.9 billion) on the sport. Behind football, cricket, and rugby, golf is one of the most popular sports there. The sport’s international governing body, The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, is based in Scotland, while there are more than 1,800 registered golf courses in England alone. That’s more than double the number in Germany, one of the biggest and most populous countries in Europe.
In 2018, there were 642,000 registered golfers in the United Kingdom, down from a peak of 694,000 in 2016. There were similar numbers in Germany, despite having fewer clubs. The United States has the most golfers, with 25 million in 2015.
A further 7.3 million people in the US are believed to watch major tournaments like the US Open and Masters, with many also placing bets on golfing competitions through sites like Oddschecker.
In India though, things are a little different. There are only around 200 players registered with the country’s governing body, the Indian Golf Union, despite the sport having been played in the country for almost 200 years.
Although it’s small, can golf grow its influence in India?
Golfing Facilities in India
While England has 1,872 golf courses, India has just 196. Of these, 50% belong to the Indian military, meaning they are out of bounds to civilians, leaving only around 100 18-hole, 9-hole, and 27-hole courses for the entire population of 1.35 billion people.
There are also 35 courses that aren’t affiliated to the Indian Golf Union, although around half of these are pitch and putt, which is not the same as traditional golf.
Some research has shown that the country could need as many as 100 new golf courses to support the growing demand for the sport. But these would need to be affordable and accessible to a larger proportion of the population.
There are significant barriers to achieving this, the biggest of which is an inability for developers to acquire appropriate land. Real estate is in high demand and short supply in India, meaning the prices for land are high and subject to continual inflation.
Finding large enough plots to house a golf course is also difficult. The average 18-hole course requires 30 hectares, although some can use more than double this.
The Cost of Golf in India
Golf in India is mostly played by the wealthier portions of society and is inaccessible to many due to the cost of buying equipment and joining a golf club. While there is a shortage of courses in the country, the cost of playing is not likely to go down.
Some private clubs charge more than $26,000 (INR 20 lakhs) for a lifetime membership. This is around 60 times more than the average annual salary in the country.
One option for helping golf become more accessible in India would be to open more small pitch and putt venues since they’re cheaper to build and operate.
Indian Golfing Role Models
Sports require a healthy amount of fresh talent coming through each year to help sustain them over the long term. This is what helps cricket continue to be a dominant force in the country, as younger players have a wealth of cricketing legends to look up to.
There are golfers from India that have been successful, including Jeev Milkha Singh. He is ranked number 1 after winning 20 competitions in his career, including the Golf Nippon Series JT Cup in 2008, the Bank Austria Gold Open in 2008, and the 2006 Volvo Masters in Spain.
There’s also Arjun Atwal, the first Indian golfer to be a member of the PGA Tour in the US and the first to earn more than $1 million as part of the Asian PGA.
At present, golf in India is still small. While it is showing some signs of growth it’s got a long way to go before it can catch up to cricket. Until it’s made more affordable and accessible, it won’t be able to.
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