Mastering The Challenges Of A New Course

Updated: Nov 9 2003, 05:30am hrs
By this afternoon the winner of the $48,450-cheque of the $300,000 Hero Honda Masters 2003 tournament will be known. Will it be another Indian to make it five times, which is the maximum number of times an Indian has won the title

The Delhi Golf Club (DGC) has been bubbling with activity ever since the tournament kicked off on Thursday, which is the 14th stop on the Asian PGA Tours 2003 schedule.

What has attracted attention is not only the line-up of players, including Indias leading golfers Arjun Atwal, Jyoti Randhawa and Jeev Milkha Singh, but also the changes made at the course. (Defend-ing champion Harmeet Kahlon is not taking part due to his engagements with the European tour.)

DGC has prepared itself to make the event as competitive as possible. According to Vineet Virmani, captain DGC, the greens have been redone completely and the landscaping has also been changed. The 10th and 15th holes are now three-tier greens, where one can either put uphill or downhill depending on the pin position, he adds. He also adds that the 18th hole has been extended and lots of grassy hollows and much bigger bunkers would make it more challenging for the players.

So what does it mean for the competition. Says David Parkin of Asian PGA, who is the tournament director, Those changes have been fair. It would definitely improve the quality of competition.

Talking about the players, Mr Atwal says, They have done a really good job. The rolling has been nice and the greens have settled well. Hoping that he would win the title, Mr Atwal says, I really like this course. It has always been one of my favourite courses.

Rick Gibson of Canada likes the course for a different reason. The people here are really appreciative of the game and they are far more knowledgeable than many others in other parts of the world where I have played, says Mr Gibson. Another reason, which makes the DGC course special for Mr Gibson, is the fairway is very close to the forest and it magnifies the gallery. That means the presence and the claps of 1,000-odd-strong crowd can appear to be 10,000-strong and it could always boost a player!

Changes or no changes, for players like Jeev Milkha Singh, it is the sheer feeling of nostalgia associated with DGC. It is always nice to be back here and play, says Mr Singh, who came from Japan to take part in the tournament and would again be heading back there after the tournament.

Indian Corporates Need To Be More Forthcoming
It was in 1995 that Kolkata-born Arjun Atwal made golf aficionados sit up and take notice when he won the STAR Sports Rookie Of The Year on the Asian PGA Tour. But he took time to live up to the expectations, till 1999, when he won the Wills Indian Open. Since then there has been no looking back. His win at the Caltex Singapore Masters in 2002 made him the first Indian to win a European PGA Tour event. Today, he is the leader on the Asian Order Of Merit, thanks to his second European Tour win at the Carlsberg Malaysian Open in February this year.

Even as he approaches the million dollar mark in prize money earnings, Mr Atwal says, My mind is never on that. I just keep playing. Having played almost all over the world, he feels Indian golf is arriving at the international scene. We are pretty much up there with international players in terms of talent. The only difference is in experience, he says. We need more exposure and take part in more tournaments to be competitive. According to him, in India golf is relatively new and is in the process of picking up, while in the US and Europe it is a settled sport. Lack of experience is what is hampering our progress, he says.

Talking about corporate sponsorship, Mr Atwal says, Indian corporates need to be more forthcoming and support the players. Citing his own example, he says, I have been supported by US company, Ping, but till today I have not got even a single Indian sponsor. I am fortunate to have at least one sponsor but for upcoming players it is difficult to get companies from abroad to support them. It is Indian corporates who should support local talent.

On his favourite golf course, Mr Atwal says, I like the course at the Capital Golf Club in the US where the American Express championships were held. The conditions were really challenging. The greens were really fast. The roughs were very tough, he adds. (RAJKUMAR LEISHEMBA)