A lot has been written on the subject of Golf Tourism in India over the past decade – some accurate and others wishful. Private bodies have tried but on the inbound tourism front, little has been achieved till date. However recent initiatives by the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India to form a committee and conduct a workshop with various stakeholders in the golf industry are indicative that there is some government awareness now of the untapped potential of golf tourism into India. An important and significant step, which if followed through with action, could actually set us on the path to becoming a destination.
The fact of the matter is that with 50 million golfers around the globe and Asia being the fastest growth area, golf tourism is a multi billion dollar industry and India, despite being a late entrant, could become a significant niche player in this golf tourism market.
What are some of the things we need to do to get a small share of this huge pie ?On a recent visit of mine to Bangkok and rounds at two of the city’s best courses -Suwan Golf Club, the site of GaganjeetBhullar’s 2010 Asian Tour International win and Thai Country Club which has hosted the likes of Tiger Woods, it is clear to me that there can be no better model for India to follow than Thailand which has by far the largest share of the golf tourism pie in this region. Without making too much fuss about areas which we in the golf industry can’t control – like easier visa norms, better priced hotel rooms and car rentals, let us focus on what the golf community can improve to make India a more golf friendly destination
The one basic which needs to be mentioned at the cost of being unoriginal are maintaining high turfgrass standards and playing conditions – and thereby placing more emphasis on training of greenskeepers and club managers. Thailand has at least 100 modern championship 18 hole courses in great condition which not more than six or eight courses can boast to match across India. A second basic which should be taken for granted, but surprisingly is not always available – top quality clubhouses. It is shocking but true that there is not one golf clubhouse in India which can boast of matching the overall size, facilities and standard of any of the top 50 clubhouses in Thailand ! Spacious locker rooms, spas, luxurious pro shops , conference hall facilities and multiple indoor and outdoor dining options are par for the business in Thailand.
A third often overlooked aspect of the golf tourism drivers are the service standards of caddies and other club staff. If you take the case of Thailand – this aspect has been perfected with the colourfully uniformed lady caddies adding a touch of class to this important interface between the visitor and the course. Not only are the Thai caddies smartly turned out in “designer” uniforms but they are also knowledgeable of golf etiquette, club selection and reading greens for the visitor, polite at all times, honest and hardworking. The presentation and training of caddies and other club operations staff is perhaps one stark difference that hugely differentiates Thailand from India and is a factor that contributes immensely to the experience of a visitor. Most Indian clubs lack sadly in this department.
Another small but vitally important aspect of club operations is the ease with which a first time visitor can find his way around the club to register for the round, visit the pro shop and locker room, rent clubs, hook up with the caddy and get to the starting teebox on time. Most Thai clubs have perfected the art of directing visitors through well trained and genuinely concerned golf operations staff, clearly marked directional signs and smooth systems to ensure you can arrive at the club within ten minutes of your pre booked tee time and yet tee off as scheduled. Well trained golf operations staff, standard procedures, efficient bag tagging, rental club dispensing, caddy allocation and proper signage are required to enable this type of efficiency.
Yet very few of our clubs are geared up for visitors. At most Indian golf clubs, negotiating your way around from arrival to the first tee requires “insider knowledge” and familiarity. A first time visitor can be led around in circles by the time he actually gets to the first tee. Ask yourself that if you were a first time visitor to your club, how easy would it be to find yourself around ? Are visitor friendly processes in place ? How easy would it be for a travel company to book tee times for a group at your club ? Unless we confidently produce positiveanswers, we in the golf community cannot expect foreign visitors to enjoy their experience of visiting Indian golf courses, recommend India to friends and come back for repeat visits.
It is the responsibility of every Indian club and every committee member to relook at all processes and systems from a visitor’s point of view if we are to begin the transformation to a golf tourism friendly country. There is a lot to be gained in terms of enhanced revenues and the image of your club. The sooner we can revamp our systems to become visitor friendly, the better.Read More