There was a time when Gurugram and Noida’s aspirations meant cloud-knifing skyscrapers, but their desires are now moving horizontally. Golfing in NCR’s suburbs is the new ‘it’ thing.
Weekends or not, golf courses and driving ranges in Noida and Gurugram are the places to be seen, network and catch some fresh air in the concrete jungle. And so they are mushrooming. These are the new meeting points for corporate executives striking deals, closing tricky discussions and even finding you a job.
Saurabh Chawla, a CFO based in Gurugram says, “Employees in IT companies and MNCs in Gurugram are taking up this sport as it allows them the path for upward mobility. Playing golf with your bosses.”
It’s a long leap since Faridabad got NCR’s first American-style bowling alley in the late 1990s. The 2000s were all about Gurugram’s malls and pubs. Today, golf is the new LinkedIn of the suburbs – no longer just a game for the rich and retired.
“We have a saying that we meet on the 19th hole. We have an 18-hole golf course, and the 19th hole is the bar of the golf course. People you play with, whether friends or not, you end up having a drink with them and that’s how connections begin,” said Anupam Vadera, assistant vice president at PTC India, a power trading company. Vadera took up golf after a friend in the Army introduced him. He even got himself a coach.
While Noida has five golf courses, with the sixth one coming up at Sector 151A, Gurugram is home to seven such properties. Real estate developers too are cashing in on this, offering ‘golf-view’ apartments. Golf courses are also being promoted using taglines like ‘play golf as you look at the Aravalis’. A recent news report says how Gurugram’s M3M Capital golf residential project bagged bookings worth Rs 800 crore in the first three days. DLF has its own exclusive golf course and offers housing overlooking the grounds.
For those in Noida and Gurugram, getting to these driving ranges and courses is easy because many of these properties don’t lie on the city outskirts and so are within access. Covid may have spelt doom for businesses and outdoor activities, but it didn’t impact golf and golf ranges much. They were one of the first spaces to be reopened in May 2020 after the first lockdown. Social distancing is a big aspect of the sport anyway. For corporate workers, who would be hard-pressed for time, work from home meant less commute and more time to finally do something they otherwise did not have the time for – play golf.
Democratising the sport
In India, the Army owns around 100 luxury golf courses and sports clubs built on around 8,000 acres of government land.
These are usually not open to the public, unless you know someone from the Army. And because of the exclusive access to places like the DLF golf course, or the hefty amount charged even by a government course, not many takers for the sport existed, until a slew of driving ranges emerged in the suburbs of Delhi. The Noida Golf Course offers a leisurely game of golf with your gang for Rs 2,000 per session on a weekend.
For the amateurs, the driving ranges — or what coach Anitya Chand at DLF Academy in Gurugram calls ‘miniature’ versions of golf courses — provide an easy start. This is where one can learn the technique, test the waters and decide whether to pursue it further and take it to the next level, paying membership fees and graduating to golf courses. For the aspirational rich, it means accessing the sport without having to burn a hole in their pockets, or getting better at the game before they play with their superiors at a golf course.
A major reason why many stay away from the sport is the high membership and green fees charged by the clubs. In October 2021, the golf course in sector 151 A of Noida started its membership drive for the general public. As per officials, the membership fee for new entrants is Rs 10 lakh (excluding taxes). DLF in Gurgaon is a premier course which charges around 8.5 lakh for membership.
Equipment availability is another deterrent.
A decent set of locally made clubs cost around Rs 30,000, and can go upwards of Rs 1 lakh, says Rahul Bajaj, Asian games medalist and golf coach. Though one can find options on websites like OLX and Golf Garage that offer used sets.
Geet Wadhwa, co-owner of Skyline golf in Gurugram says, “Driving ranges have made the game affordable and accessible. The price is Rs 700/per session here, which is equal to two movie tickets.”
Many who play the sport now say that golf in the suburbs can boost tourism potential if the government turns its attention to the sector.
While lockdown and Covid waves have impacted the tourism industry in a big way, golf tourism has managed to recover fast. Countries such as USA, Ireland to Thailand have undertaken various initiatives to promote golf tourism.
Chawla says, “The popular perception is that only sex drives tourism in Thailand. But it is golf that contributes substantially more in attracting high paying tourists, especially from Japan and Korea who spend 3-4 days just playing golf and stay at 5 star facilities. This has now been caught on by countries such as Indonesia, Vietnam.”
Anitya Chand, the coach at DLF Academy in Gurugram, has a number of students under his wings who now rank in the top 15 in India. His student Veer Ahlawat is now the third best Indian after Shubhankar Sharma and Anirban Lahiri. The next goal, Chand says, is to prepare his students for the Paris 2024 Olympics.
Gully golf, local competitions
Many start young too.
Two six-year-olds, Zara and Zayna, were playing a fine game on a Sunday afternoon. They stood nearly as tall as the golf clubs themselves, but it did not stop them from shooting over the skies. Zara, who was accompanied by her father, says: “I like when the ball flies high in the air”. Bajaj tells how parents now are interested in sending their children to learn golf.
While initiatives like the Tarun Sardesai Golf Academy, India’s first residential academy with academics from Class VI-XII, located at Zion Hills Golf County in Kolar, Karnataka do exist, it is still baby steps for most schools to think about including golf in their sports curriculum. Enquiries have definitely begun about adopting golf as part of school sports curriculum, say golf coaches, but it is yet to take significant form.
Parents too are keen on their children taking up the sport. Arpit Goyal, whose son Kabir is in school and plays golf says, “My son loves being outdoors, and I introduced him to golf. The biggest thing I see is concentration, coordination and positive behavior changes in him, and I want him to pursue this sport further.”
14-year-old Parth Sood, who lives in Noida, says, “During lockdown, I set up a practice net in the park and practiced.”
While cricket has been the ‘gully’ game for most in India, even football, golf has usually been restricted to big, open spaces. But as Parth points out, maybe it is time for golf to become a sport of the gully.
All-rounder is what many parents today want their kids to become. And that they won’t become without hit and trial at different sports and extracurriculars. It is the urban competitive spirit that is driving them — to keep track of not just their own kids’ performance but also that of the neighbour’s. And golf presents itself as an enticing option. So even schools are dropping enquiries with coaches and driving ranges to facilitate collaborations. A bid to fulfil parents’ demand?