The top junior golfers today will be the champions and Olympians of tomorrow and we need to begin a serious and sustained investment in their future. As per the IOAs guidelines, around 30 countries will qualify for the Olympics and India, which for the past three years has been awarded automatic entry into the 25 nation World Cup of Golf, is a certainty as per current player rankings. In golf, India has consistently outperformed other Asian nations with the lead being played by Jeev Milkha Singh, who at no. 40, is currently the worlds highest ranked Asian player and for the past five years, Indians have fared better in world golf than any other Asian nation, despite having the smallest number of golf facilities and players. The recent emergence of 21-year-old Gaganjeet Bhullar as one of Asias hottest young stars further underlines the exciting future of Indian golf. 17-year-old Rashid Khan has been the two time Asian Junior Champion and 15-year-old Chikka from Bangalore is rated as one of the top five players in his age group in Asia. Indians won an individual golf at Pusan Asiad in 2002 (Shiv Kapur) and silver team medal at the Doha Asiad in 2006.
The Olympic recognition should encourage government bodies in India to create more facilities and academies for youngsters to take up the game. The competition from China, Thailand, Malaysia and Korea will certainly intensify as their governments are known for the massive support and development programmes for Olympics which will now undoubtedly be extended to golf. They also have the advantage of many world class golf courses and driving ranges. So it will be easier for them to create champions.
The challenge for Indian golf is to keep its leadership position in Asia in the face of the huge institutional support golf will get now in other countries around the region. Will our IOA and Sports Ministry take a more active interest in golfcertainly yes. Will this help the game Not so sure. However the corporate world can make the difference as golf is the favourite participation sport of the senior echelon of India Inc.
Creation of proper coaching centres, training of coaches, latest techniques (and golf is highly technical) and plenty of local, regional, national and international junior tournaments and corporate sponsorship is the need of the hour. If proper encouragement is provided we could see the number of boys and girls aged between eight and 18 doubling every two years for the next decade. While the government can make land available for creating golf courses and golf academies, the private sector can invest in building the facilities and the programmes. Golfs unique advantage over other sports is the large public demand for use of these facilities which will make them commercially viable and not burden public funds. A wrestling, track and field or boxing stadium will hardly be subscribed by the public in large numbers. However, golf facilities will attract the public and amateur players in large numbers. Further, with golf facilities being an attractive component of urban planning, it offers India a unique solution in the governments efforts towards sports development.
The Indian Golf Union and other major administrative bodies entrusted with the proper advancement of the sport need to present such arguments strongly and lead India to Olympic glory.
The writer is Asian Games gold medallist