Indian golf industry needs a sympathetic look to re-open

02/10/2019. Ladies European Tour 2019. Hero Women’s Indian Open, DLF Golf and Country Club , Delhi, India. 3-6 October 2019. Marita Engzelius of Norway in action from the a greenside bunker on the 17th green. Credit: Tristan Jones

V Krishnaswamy

Last week in these very columns I had mentioned how golf could be one of the first among major sports to make a re-appearanceat the highest levels. The PGA Tour plans to re-boot with four events starting June but with no fans in attendance. It will not only follow all the rules of golf but also the rules of ‘social distancing’ and more, as prescribed by the administration to stay safe in these times of Covid-19.

This week I wish to take a look closer home at the golf courses and their staff, golfers and their caddies and their respective families. The sport is a lifeline for these people. Sure, it is the same for the ecosystems in other sports, but I shall confine myself to golf. And why golf can be allowed to make a comeback, even if in a measured manner. While I talk about golf, many of the aspects hold true for other sports.

We no longer need to be reminded of how tough things are. This has been drilled into our heads non-stop, understandably so, for last couple of months.

Yet, there is also the debate on when to ‘open’ up – not just the economy, but also other aspects of our lives. Each aspect of our lives is in some way linked to the economy, directly or otherwise.

To some, sport itself might seem a luxury and a trivial subject on a larger canvas called life. Especially, when we are talking about saving lives and battling a pandemic. Agreed.

But it does change when sport is a livelihood for those engaged in it. Players, support staff, caddies, course and club staff, Food & Beverage staff, event managers and their employees and so on. It is an entire industry. Right now I am not even adding travel, hotel, hospitality and Tourism, for that will make it unwieldy to deal with in so short a space and time.

 

Golf has often been tagged as a luxury sport. It may be so for those who look only at the creamy layer. Just as every man is not a Bill Gates or a Mukesh Ambani, not every sportsperson is a Tiger Woods, Roger Federer or a Virat Kohli.

For more than two-thirds of the people engaged directly or otherwise in sport, it is just ‘another’ job. When we refer to golf, it is names like Tiger Woods or Rory McIlroy that springs to our minds; and when we talk of courses, it is the ‘private’/ ‘members only’ clubs that enter our mind space; and when we talk of earnings, we only see the big cheques that professional winners pose with; and when we talk of ‘casual’ players, we can only visualise the CEOs and MDs hacking away.

The truth is far from it.

If there are 40 events on a golf Tour schedule in the US or 25-odd  in India, there are not more than 30-odd winners in the US and not more than 20-21 in India. The prize purses come down steeply from the first to the second onward down to the 50th, 60thor beyond. Less than half the field which starts at any event make any money – those missing the cut get NO money.

For instance if the prize purse is 1,000,000 units (dollars, rupees or whatever currency), the winner typically gets between 15 and 18 % depending on each Tour’s own policy. At 18% it means 180,000 units for the winner and then it starts falling steeply. The second place gets around 10-12 % (100,000-110,000) and the third place gets around 6-7 % (60-70,000). By the time the gravy train reaches the 10thplace, it just is shade over 2%, which in a million-unit event translates to 20-21,000 units.

The 20thplaced guy gets a miniscule 1.3-1.5 % (13,000-15,000) and 30thgets a shade more than one per cent (10,000) and the 50thguy gets 0.425-0.5 per cent (4,250-5,000). In Europe and US, where money goes down to 70thplace, the winner could get 18% and the 70thguy gets 0.22%.

Now for expenses side – it is mind-boggling and includes travel, caddies, hotel, food and local transport. The gravy in reality is only for the 10-20 guys at the top of each Tour and even that is relative among the Tours ranging from US to Europe to Asia and Japan and elsewhere. That’s why guys, who finish outside Top-20 or 30 are often called ‘journey man’.

So the private jets, expensive resorts, business class travel and fashion items and gadgets are only for the creamy layer as anywhere else in our society. The rest are like us – journeymen.

 

Now get down to the people that a golf ecosystem supports. Caddies, who are casual ‘employees’ of the players could get $ 100-200 a day plus travel/ stay and maybe bonuses, at the highest level in US.

In India, professional caddies get Rs. 2,500-3,000 a day at top events but in daily business for hacks/ amateurs/ juniors it ranges between Rs. 500-750 and as low as Rs. 250-300 plus tips. A round takes five to six hours and that means only one round a day.

Imagine Rs. 250-300 a day for 25 days a month (the club is usually closed one day week). Now it is down to zero.

The system also has staff like green keeepers (maalis in India), cart drivers, F&B and they are all at the lower end of the salary chain.

Apart from top 5-10 % players, the others in this ‘rich man’s’ game hand-to-mouth. Now they are jobless with the Tours suspended – and the staff from caddies to the rest work at posh clubs but are ‘jobless’ with the clubs/ courses are shut.

The Delhi/ NCR region alone has around 2,500 caddies, plus staff, which is two to three times or more than that. There are at least 260 golf courses in India and around half of them are run by the Armed forces. Courses with the Forces are run by them directly.

Of the rest, at least 70-plus are private with 20-30 caddies and staff running into hundreds. Very few clubs have caddies on their rolls – at most places, they are casual labour.

Add to them the allied segments of the sport and the numbers associated with golf industry could be anywhere between 60-65,000 or even more. A portion of that would fall in the ‘unorganised’ sector.

But they all need to ‘survive’, for which they need a salary and for that they must work. Their offices may be ‘posh’ clubs,… but their needs are basic. Various clubs and courses from Delhi Golf Club to Noida to Karnataka Golf Association to BPGC in Mumbai to RCGC in Kolkata and Pune GC in Pune and Chandigarh and many others have tried to help caddies with donations and rations from members and the club itself. But what these people need is ‘work’. And, for that the clubs and courses must open.

Sport by its nature is a social activity. Most people ‘play’ or ‘compete’ with each other.

Contact and team sports are taking a hit. But a few sports, like golf in particular, could be making their way back sooner than later. Already more than 2,000 courses are open in US and many are opening in Europe, but they all need to abide by the rules of ‘Social Distancing’.

Golf by nature has an edge in the matter of a ‘return’. It can be played alone (caddie at a safe distance or carry the bag yourself) and people can actually be ‘left’ by themselves, even while competing with each other. Of course care needs to be taken not to ‘touch’ equipment which more than one person ‘may’ touch, like the pin flags, ball washers, benches and so on. Even retrieving the ball, once a player holes out needs to be done in a manner that eliminates risk. It is all a matter of learning the rules. Golf sure has a ‘lot of rules’ and etiquettes that often seemed bothersome, but are now good to teach us discipline.

Yes, golf does have a case for re-opening. It will help the hundreds and thousands in this industry all over India. Yet, all of it has to abide by the new and additional rulebook imposed on us by Covid-19.

Also Read: When I first got a taste of golf sans fans in Japan at Zozo Championship

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One Comment

  • A very thorough handling of the subject by a master golf writer. Golf definitely has a strong case to reboot. It will also provide govts a chance to test waters back to normalcy.. We will have to take these tiny but firm steps sooner than later.

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