Indian golfers learn from SA’s success

The presence of a contingent of Indian golfers in this week’s Sanlam South African Amateur Championship in George is further proof of how golf’s return to the Olympics this year is helping the growth of the game in developing countries.

The Indian Golf Union (IGU) sent a group of three golfers to play in last month’s African Amateur Championship at Leopard Creek and this week’s Sanlam SA Amateur at George Golf Club.

With a population of over 1.3 billion people, the IGU shares the desire of the rest of Asia to grow the game in its country.

But the country’s fanatical support of cricket has meant that golf has been largely sidelined. Despite this, India has produced great professional golfers such as Jeev Milkha Singh, Arjun Atwal, Jyoti Randhawa, Shiv Kapur and now Anirban Lahiri.

Beyond its borders, South Africa was home to the legendary Indian golfer Sewsunker “Papwa” Sewgolum, who was a winner of tournaments in South Africa and on the European Tour.

And Satish Aparajit, the Vice-President of the IGU, is hoping the experience his players have gained while in South Africa will help to unearth their next star.

“We are still not where we are supposed to be in terms of our golf in India. We only have 210 golf courses. Cricket remains the priority sport. The fact that golf is now an Olympic sport this year has changed the attitude of the government towards golf, and we obviously hope to get more support from our government in the future.

“But in spite of this our players have done well and we’ve produced some good professionals. We also have an exciting young player by the name of Viraj Madappa who is definitely somebody to keep an eye on for the future. He couldn’t join us on this trip because he had exams back home. But our players that came to South Africa now have learned a lot as well. They played on a variety of golf courses and against top international amateurs, and that’s important for them to gain experience.”

Indian professional Jeev Milkha Singh has long been an admirer of South African golf’s structures. In 2013, when he played in the Tshwane Open, Singh pointed to South Africa as the perfect example of one of the world’s most successful junior golf programmes, and one he hopes his own country will follow.

“The South African junior golf programme is one of the best in the world. I’ll give you the reasons for that. First, South Africa has excellent golf courses. Second, the game is easily accessible in schools here. And third, this is a sporting nation.

“South Africa also has many public courses. In India, we have one public golf course and one public driving range in New Delhi. I’m hoping this changes with golf being included in the Olympics because our government will hopefully make more of an effort to build more public driving ranges and more public golf courses, so anybody who wants to play is given an opportunity.

“I feel there is a lot of talent in our country and we have some great youngsters that can play anywhere in the world if they are given the chance.”

One of the Indian golfers in the Sanlam SA Amateur, Veer Ahlawat, said it’s been an invaluable experience competing in South Africa.

“Our golf union identified the need for us to play against the South Africans so we can get greater exposure and play on better courses. We’ve learned so much and have realised how hard we have to work.”

Written by Michael Vlismas on behalf of Sanlam

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