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  • Writer's pictureHari Natarajan

Indoor Golf in India?

Ask most non-golfers what comes to mind when they hear “golf” and invariably, the answer is Tiger Woods (yes, even today and yes, this is true also in India!). Such is the effect that one person has had on a sport.

Golf is a mainstream sport played in the US; extremely popular in Europe, parts of South East Asia, Japan and South Korea. The US has about 15,000 courses today with over 95% of them being public - the cornerstone of getting mass adoption of golf in the US. The span between 2000 and 2001 was in fact considered the “golden period” for golf in the US. In emerging economies today, where the biggest potential exists for developing and growing golf, it still remains out of bounds for most people wanting to take it up. India has a little over 200 courses today with about 50% of these belonging to the Army. One of the big challenges in India has been easy access to golf courses and driving ranges.

When I moved back to Bangalore in 2007, I wanted to continue this sport which I had just taken up and started searching for places to play. Most of the established courses within the city were out of reach due to closed memberships and the newer courses were located quite a distance away from the city.

I have traveled extensively on business and during my travels I had seen indoor golf studios in the US and Europe, where golfers played during the winter months. Indoor golf is also extremely popular in Japan and South Korea where it is called screen golf. Given its popularity in these geographies, I've wondered if this could be replicated in India since access to golf is not easy for a newcomer.

Golf got a boost globally thanks to Tiger Woods in the late 90s and early 2000s where it was at its peak in the US and co-incidentally at the peak of Tiger’s career. Of late, a lot of buzz has also been generated by the success of Rory McIlroy.

With Anirban Lahiri (Malaysian Open 2015, Indian Open 2015) and Arjun Atwal (Dubai Open Dec 2014) winning international tournaments recently, we are one major tournament victory away by an Indian, to get a major boost in driving up the popularity of golf in India. I predict this will have an effect similar to what happened in 1980 when Prakash Padukone won the All England Championship, which spurred an interest in badminton in India. I as a kid was also one of those that jumped on the bandwagon at that time.

In India today, golf has become an aspirational sport. With the growing middle class and disposable income, the time is now ripe for golf to start a period of growth, which the industry has been awaiting a long time.

Golfer's Edge - Leela Ambience Hotel, Gurgaon

How do we get new golfers on board easily?

Indoor golf can provide accessible facilities where someone can either learn or practice the game at convenient and affordable locations. These can be treated as facilities no different from tennis courts, squash courts or swimming pools. In fact, it takes up less real estate than all of these facilities.

Indoor golfing centers are built using golf simulators. Golf simulators are machines that use digital technology to track club head motion and ball flight. This technology has now advanced to such an extent that the ball flight can be tracked very accurately and the graphics engine is good enough to immerse the golfer in. Simply put, a golf simulator in an indoor golfing center is exactly what a treadmill in a gym is to a runner.

Some of the advantages of Indoor golf are:

1. Indoor golfing centers can be put up in locations where it is easy for people to get to on a daily basis. These can be in clubhouses in housing communities, hotels/resorts, schools and colleges, malls and other public places

2. It decouples time, weather and daylight dependencies on the ability to play golf. One can enjoy the game at a convenient time in the confines of controlled ambient temperature and at convenient locations

3. Ability to learn the sport in a private enclosed space away from the public glare. This helps when newcomers to the sport (especially adults) are conscious about trying something new in a public place

4. Beginners can get their game to a level where it is ok for them to get on to a course

5. Takes up no more than 300sq ft (efficient on space and capital investment)

6. Integrated swing analysis tools help not only beginners but also advanced golfers to fine tune and correct their swing

7. From a social perspective, this is a great way to spend some time with friends

8. If a large number of Indoor golfing centers are set up, it also helps coaches at multiple levels gain meaningful employment and steady income

9. New golfers also means increased revenue stream for existing golf courses and equipment vendors

Development of indoor golfing facilities and academies can also be looked at as a great investment opportunity for someone to take advantage of the latent demand that exists in the India market for access to golf and could be viewed as a win-win proposition for the entire golfing ecosystem.

I believe so strongly in the concept of indoor golf and that the future of golf in India can only grow from where it is today, that I quit a corporate job to start a company called TeeTime Ventures about 6 months ago. Our aim is to promote golf using technology, not only to make it accessible but also as a teaching tool. We work with real estate developers, hotels/resorts, educational institutions and private individuals to build indoor golfing infrastructure. Working with partners, we have established Golfer’s Edge as a premier brand of indoor golfing centers. We currently have two (Bangalore & Gurgaon) in operation with more coming. We are also working on developing a network of coaches and golf courses which will enable people to learn and eventually get an opportunity to take what one has learnt indoors to a course.

If you want to know more about indoor golf or how we can help you, please contact me directly - 9980877844.

We also invite you visit us at the India Golf Expo on April 15th and 16th ( at DLF Club5 in Gurgaon.

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