Golf da puttar putts away

NORRIS PRITAM | Updated on: May 17, 2012




A boy wonder in Indian golf has sprouted from the agricultural heart of Haryana.

Vivek Mehta has a dream. India head of leading American golf company Callaway, Mehta wants to see the Indian flag flying high on the golf course during the 2016 Olympics in Rio, where the game will be reinstated as a medal sport. It might be a tough call for Indian golfers, given just about 60 top pros will make the cut for the Olympics. But Mehta's vision and efforts will surely make golf a sport for the Indian masses, especially underprivileged youngsters.

Through its over 30 outlets and retail stores, Callaway has grabbed considerable market share in India. But Mehta wants to do more by supporting budding golfers. The rules don't allow junior golfers to endorse brands or use logos on their playing kit. “But we are not just sponsors. We give a platform to young and budding golfers,” says Mehta. “We stay in touch with Indian Golf Union and support young players through them.”

The company provides top-class equipment and excellent coaches free of cost to talented kids across India. “In India we have traditionally thought of golf as a rich man's sport, but I think there is a shift now. I think the biggest problem is not the cost. It is the infrastructure. Now that more and more people are getting behind golf, there will be new courses and coaching academies, and I think that's what is going to bring more golfers into the game,” says Mehta.

Champ from the field

Shubham Jaglan is a classic example. Barely seven-and-a-half, he has already emerged as a boy wonder on the Indian circuit. And where does he come from? Not the greens of Royal Calcutta Club or Delhi Golf Club, but from the plough fields of Israna village near Panipat in the north of India.

Two years ago, Kapoor Singh, an American NRI, visited his roots in Haryana. With a degree in golf management, Singh established an academy in Israna village. It was here that five-year-old Shubham was attracted to the game. Due to personal reasons Singh had to return to the US. But he had planted the seed. Despite a history of top-class wrestlers in the family, Shubham continued to carry on Singh's legacy.

And in Shubham's progress, Callaway has a big role to play. The company gives the youngster some of the finest equipment and apparel. Shubham proudly flaunts a Callaway cap signed by Indian ace Shiv Kapoor and the legendary Gary Player as his prized possession.

The boy and his father, Jagpal, have shifted base to Delhi to help him continue with the game.

His day starts with the recitation of Hanuman chalisa . Soon after, a swanky Honda car, gifted to him, takes him to the golf course.

Recently an LCD TV was added to his modest apartment in Delhi. Any time left from playing and schooling is spent watching golf on TV. “He just doesn't watch anything else but golf,” says his father. Besides Callaway, Jagpal is grateful to former India golfer Amit Luthra and Nonita Lal Qureshi for helping and encouraging Shubham in a big way.

Teeing off in India

Armed with an IIT-IIM degree, Mehta first tasted golf during his stint at Whirlpool in Michigan. And once he understood the nuances of the game, he was hooked. Today he can explain chip and putt with the same ease as he does the marketing strategy of his company.

“Although our product is available at retail stores and pro shops at most golf clubs, we will soon launch standalone outlets at Bangalore and Delhi,” he says. The Government recently allowed 100 per cent FDI in single-brand retail, with several conditions such as 30 per cent sourcing from India. “Our first step now would be an exclusive 100 per cent subsidiary,” says Mehta.

He says the country is a potential market for Callaway's premium brand equipment. “In the past, players always used to ask their uncles, brothers and sisters to get a Callaway set from Singapore or the US. Now they have the best of golfing technology here in India. And we are committed to bringing our latest product line to India,” he says.

Published on May 17, 2012
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