Golf Premier League hopes to give sport the flavour of T20

Two-time major winner Angel Cabrera and 2011 British Open champion Darren Clarke are the headliners for the inaugural Golf Premier League (GPL) that will be played at the Aamby Valley City Golf course next month.

In all five major winners will be part of the GPL, which will have eight franchises comprising of four golfers each. The other three major winners are Michael Campbell, the 2005 US Open champion, Rich Beem, the 2002 PGA Champion and Shaun Micheel, the 2003 PGA Champion. Other note worthy participants are Thaworn Woratchant, the 2012 Asian Tour money leader and record holder for most Asian tour titles and former Ryder Cup players Jarmo Sandelin and David Howell.

Among the Indian notables are Gaganjeet Bhullar, Daniel Chopra, Anirban Lahiri and Himmat Rai. Shamim Khan and Rashid Khan, the top two on the 2012 PGTI money list, are also part of the event. While the franchises have signed three-year contracts, the players will not necessarily be the same each year because for some, participation depends on their world rankings and where they finish on the PGTI money list.

Darren Clarke is one of five Major championship winners who will play in the Golf Premier League. AFP

“We are going to try and keep the same core and keep the level as high as we can. So we have set the bar at this level in year one so we have to keep raising the bar each year. So this year we have five Major champions, the goal is three years from now to have Tiger playing in this league. It is an ambitious goal, but if you don’t set goals, you never know.”

Each team will have an international player, an Asian tour player, an Indian international (Indians playing on foreign tours) and a PGTI tour member. The first three categories of players will be auctioned, with the franchises getting to pick the PGTI tour members in the order of how much they spend in the auction.

The league is the brainchild of Indian professional golfer Shiv Kapur, and Neeraj Sareen, the chief executive of the league. “I am not going to sit here and claim we came up with the concept,” Kapur told Firstpost. “It is plagiarized a little bit from cricket [the IPL]. Neeraj is a big NFL fan. I am a big NBA fan. We thought this franchise based concept has worked really well in America. How do we bring it to India? And being a professional golfer, thought how do I make it golf specific?”

In order to make golf cool and appeal to a younger and wider audience, the league has tweaked the way golf has traditionally been played, Kapur said. Among the changes are reducing the number of holes per round from 18 to 14, playing the matches at night under lights and having a 30-second shot clock to speed up the game. The result will be a three-hour event broadcast live at prime time on Sony Six.

The league chose 14 holes as a nod to the history of golf – some of the first golf courses ever built started off with only 14 holes. The shot clock came from the NBA while “the night golf part came from being prime time on television,” Kapur said. “People can come home from work and watch it.”

The league will be played over three days – Feb 8 – 10, with a celebrity pro-am to be held on the February 7. There will be two stroke play rounds followed by a better ball round. The team scores will be calculated on the cumulative scores of all four professionals over all three rounds.

Among the team owners is former Sri Lanka cricket captain Mahela Jayawardene, who has bought the Colombo Sixers. The organizers will reveal the cost of each franchise and the amount spent at the auction at a later date. The tournament has a total purse of USD$400,000, with the winning team taking home $250,000.

Part of the tournament’s objective is also to broaden the base of professional golfers in the country. Like the IPL has given young crickets options beyond the national team, Kapur hopes the GPL will give players something to aspire to as well. “Where would a young kid on the PGTI have a chance to team up with Darren Clarke or Cabrera or Michael Campbell? So that gives him another goal to work towards.”

The big hurdle for golf in India has always been access. There are few public courses in this country that are open to everyone, and without places to play and practice, the growth of the game will always be limited. Kapur said they are attempting to address this problem by taking golf to states rather than focusing on cities. The franchise owners have committed to promoting the sport in those states, and working with the government to create more opportunities for regular people to play the game.

“The major push has to come from the government,” Kapur said. “It has to be made affordable. We have a handful of public courses that are affordable. Until that base broadens or more public driving ranges are built, it is not really going to become a mass sport. But if you look, we have an Uttarkhand team. When they start promoting the sport there, people will know about it.”

“Hopefully as the league gets bigger, there will be more resources for them [the franchises] to start these training and coaching facilities in all these centers.”

Franchises: Delhi Darts, Gujarat Underdawgs, Colombo Sixer, Shubhkamna Eagles, Tamilnadu Pullees, Witalsee Punjab Lancers, Maharashtra 59ers, Karnataka Warriors.

NEW EBOOK