Six years after the establishment of the Professional Golf Tour of India, its top players are now earning in excess of $100,000 a season while its international tournaments, including this week’s Avantha Masters, continue to grow.
It is a change which epitomises the incredible rise of Indian golf.
This week, the Avantha Masters - tri-sanctioned by The European Tour, Asian Tour and PGTI - will be beamed to millions of viewers around the globe as India’s top golfers take on some of the best players in the game for a prize fund of €1,800,000.
It must even exceed the expectations of the ambitious Director of the PGTI, Padamjit Sandhu. The Professional Golf Tour of India, a body built by the players and for the players, was established in 2006 and has proved a major factor in India is now one of the fastest growing golfing nations in the world.
“Before 2006, Indian professional golf had no clear direction and that is when the professional players, under the guidance and leadership of the PGTI President Mr Gautam Thapar, recognized that there was a potential to get things organised and develop the game here,” explained Sandhu.
“A new constitution was put into place, one that clearly focussed on the growth of the players, the sport of golf and all invested stake holders. We recognized the need to be extremely transparent and eliminate any and all possibilities of lack of professionalism and/or lobbying or anything of that sort.
“In fact, it is written in our constitution that to be on the board, or to have voting rights to elect the board, you must be one of the top 60 golfers in India, so that means we get people who are involved in the game and who love the game.
“We now have 20 events and we keep on growing. We also have five international events held in India and our big goal is to increase that number to eight events by 2016. I don’t think that is an unrealistic goal.”
Showcasing the country’s talent, as well as giving them more chances to make the breakthrough into the higher echelons of golf, is top of Sandhu’s priority list.
As he explains, they have already made huge strides in the professional game on the domestic front, but that success really comes to fruition when Indians prove their worth on the world stage.
“There are some really good young guys coming through and it’s important that we have these international tournaments to give them a chance to make that breakthrough,” he said.
“There has been a big shift in Indian professional golf. Only three or four years ago golf wasn’t seen as a serious career option in India, so you would have a lot of good players who would, instead of focussing all their attention on golf, go on to do other things and build other careers.
“But now it has all changed. For two years in a row, in 2009 and 2010, the winners of the PGTI Order of Merit won the equivalent of more than $100,000 each, which is serious money for a guy in his early or mid twenties. That’s the kind of money you would make in India if you had ten years of experience and were given a senior post, so it’s a different mentality now for players considering entering professional golf.
“There are also a lot of Indian players now on the Asian Tour and The European Tour so in India you could have a large portion of the 1.2 billion population looking at the TV or the newspapers and seeing these guys making serious money and that translates into a huge upsurge in popularity for the sport, both in terms of playing and watching.”
The sport’s rapid increase in popularity can be seen on golf courses and practice facilities throughout the country.
“You can see now in India, anywhere you go, there isn’t a single place on the practice grounds because they are all full up, mostly with kids. It’s not considered a fun play-around either, they are all doing serious practice and trying to improve their games with the hope of someday becoming a professional.”
Success, of course, breeds success and having signed a three year deal with Indian television company Ten Network last week, it is showing no signs of abating.
Sandhu continued: “The game has come on leaps and bounds here and just a few days ago we signed a major three-year TV deal with Ten Sports, the Indian sports channel.
“We also have major sponsors such as Volvo coming on board, Rolex have been with us for three years and many other large organisations are joining up with Indian golf, which sends a very positive signal about the potential that people see.
“The media, too, are starting to realise the potential of golf in India. The TV deal represents a huge breakthrough for us, especially as they are soon launching a dedicated golf channel.
“This will help us bring golf to a new audience and they will cover every one of our tournaments with highlights packages, player profiles and features, so it will raise the whole portfolio of our tour a huge amount, giving our sponsors more visibility.
“As a big picture, the progress has been incredible and as a result, we are now creating a new breed of young Indian players.”