As far as learning the game goes, I can say, at least for Delhi, that it is entirely possible for literally anyone to do so at the Siri Fort Sports complex.
Welcome to the scarily apocalyptic Covid-19 world. Team sports are passé and individual sports rule: your chances of contracting the microscopic critter go up 23 times on a cricket field and are even higher on a football field. The danger of exposure goes down dramatically on a golf course and, if you just pull your own bag, becomes negligible. You play, essentially, solitary sport—protected against unwanted human contact and the virulent strain sweeping across the world. Or at least that’s what you hope for.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t hold true for pro golf, which, like most sporting tourneys around the world, has been thrown in disarray with a spate of event cancellations: the Asian Tour’s Royal Cup 2020 in Thailand has been called off, as was the European Tour’s Kenyan Open merely a week before the event was slated to take place. Across the world, the cancellation of sporting broadcasts has dealt a hit to the advertising revenue of television networks and sponsors. The fortunes of golf professionals, and the professional golf tours they ply their trade on, are suffering. That fallout, significant as it is, is largely restricted to monetary loss. And it pales in front of the intangible potential loss the game will incur in case Covid-19 ends up affecting the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
The Olympics are not about the money. Even for the highly-paid professional golfers in the fray, participation in the greatest sporting spectacle on the planet is a matter of pride. The year 2016 was a watershed year when, after years of lobbying and decades after its last appearance in the Olympics, golf made a triumphant return to the Games in Rio. The global viewership, coupled with the egalitarian platform represented by the Olympics, went a long way in dissipating golf’s popular perception as an exclusionary sport. Today, as golf loses ground in the West, it’s imperative for its survival and growth to interest and draw youngsters to the game’s fold—especially so in Asia that is fast becoming the new hub for the sport, which puts into perspective the significance of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
The Games’ bête noire in 2016 was the Zika virus. Rory Mc Ilroy cited possible exposure to the virus and pulled out, only for a host of golfing stars to follow suit despite the ‘low’-risk official estimation at Rio. Roundly chastised for the move then, McIlroy had indicated that he would bide his time. “There’s another Games in Tokyo in 2020 and I’m more than happy to wait until then to get my Olympic experience.” Unfortunately for McIlroy, the spectre of Covid-19 hangs heavy this time around, but the newly-crowned top-ranked golfer in the world has bravely stuck to his word and indicated that his decision will rely on official advisory. “…If they deem it safe to go to Tokyo, I’ll be in the plane on my way there,” said the Irishman.
At this point, it’s somewhat premature to conjecture just how badly sporting events next year are likely to be affected by the virus. And really, who cares about sporting events at a time when you’re just trying to make sure you and your family are safe.
With children especially susceptible, parents are especially concerned not just with keeping them safe, but—given the unplanned closure of some schools—also how to keep them busy. Perhaps, golf could come to the rescue, and while group lessons defeat the purpose, one-on-one lessons are easily arranged at most golf courses around the country. That’s not a bad idea for adults either who’ve harboured thoughts of picking up the game, or those who find themselves unable to play their team sport under the circumstances.
In that endeavour, most non-golfers have questions about access to the game. Now, there’s no point pretending that golf isn’t exclusionary: this is still an expensive sport to play regularly. There are hacks though. Middle-class golfers, like your columnist, have perfected playing regularly without feeling the pinch. An annual membership of the Indian Golf Union gives you subsidised rates at most golf courses around the country. Even better, a host of co-branded credit cards now include rounds of golf at specific courses in India and around the country at literally no expense: you will still need to pay for caddy (and the golf cart if you decide to take one), but the green fee is taken care of. You do have to plan your game and book in advance.
As far as learning the game goes, I can say, at least for Delhi, that it is entirely possible for literally anyone to do so at the Siri Fort Sports complex. This government-run sports facility is open to all on the payment of a nominal daily entry fee. At the driving range, rental clubs, buckets of balls and qualified instruction are available for less than what a day out at the theatre would cost. There’s also a mini golf course that learners can graduate to once they’ve got the hang of hitting the golf ball. And that’s when they’ll realise that ball striking is just the start of it. When thoughts of the game start consuming your days and filling your dreaming nights, then you know you’ve caught the bug. No harm done.
A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game