Golf slices through India's class system

There's a mix of people training and teeing off here at India's national golf academy.

Middle-aged executives mingle with mothers, teenagers with tournament professionals - all perfecting their swing before taking a shot.

They're here united by their passion for golf, a game growing in popularity in India.

"Golf has moved from being a social status to a sport," says Jessie Grewal, India's top golfing coach.

Image caption Top Indian golf coach Jessie Grewal offers training to all age groups

"We have a whole different section of society coming into golf, people from non-golfing backgrounds."

The sport is opening up to those on lower incomes, says Mr Grewal, thanks to the availability of subsidised green rates and public golf courses.

He says further investment, including the leasing of government land for courses, could revolutionise the game in this country.

Coaching drive

Golf has traditionally been a game played by the super-wealthy, mainly because of the expenses associated with joining private clubs - up to $90,000 (£56,000) for life membership.

The National Golf Academy, where Mr Grewal coaches, is one example of the changing face of the game.

Some 90% of the people who attend the academy are from non-golfing backgrounds, he says.

Since its inception six years ago, some 400 coaches have been trained in India. In 2008 the academy moved into its permanent home, next to Chandigarh golf club.

As well as training golf teachers, the academy offers coaching to all age groups.

Mr Grewal can be seen striding across the course, telling young golfers to keep their backs straight, or to focus more on their shot.

This hub of golf is even frequented by India's most celebrated golfer, Jeev Milka Singh.

Singh's larger-than-life poster hangs at the entrance to the academy, a reminder to the many youngsters here of the potential the game now has.

Lure of professionalism

Tournaments such as the Indian Open and the Avanta Masters offer prize money of millions of dollars, and professional golfers can earn just as much in sponsorship deals.

It is estimated there are about 50,000 active golfers in India, and this figure is expected to rise.

Image caption Professional Jeev Milka Singh is an inspiration for many Indian want-to-be golfers

The lure of golf as a profession might be why so many young golfers are lining up to train at the academy.

The junior sport is thriving in India - with as many as 450 children actively competing on the amateur circuit.

"I'd like to play for India," says Vasundhara Thiara, as she expertly hits a hole in one.

"I'd like to play like Tiger Woods does and become a great golfer."

Vasundhara has a manner well beyond her eight years and as she carefully lines up her shot, she explains her passion for golf started when she was four years old.

Then, her brother wouldn't allow her to play cricket, so she took to hitting balls with a tennis racquet.

When she kept striking the ball into the neighbour's house she soon realised her golf potential.

Vasundhara is one of 160 juniors taking part in a tournament at the Chandigarh golf club.

Image caption Eight-year-old Vasundhara Thiara would like to be a golf professional


"The more youngsters who get into golf, the more potential great golfers India will have," says Mr Grewal.

"Once they turn professional you'll see an investment coming into the game," says Mr Grewal.

This investment is already apparent, with big name sponsors lining up to fund junior golf tournaments.

They are also attracting huge investment from Indian parents like Wing Cdr DS Kahlon who loyally follows his son around the country as he competes.

"The game is beginning to open up," he says, in between cheering on his son at a crucial hole of the tournament.

"In India we're mad after cricket, but that is changing, and a number of golf courses and ranges are coming up.

"Mainly it is a rich man's game, but you see a lot of middle-class people also joining."

'Slum golf'

Hundreds of miles away in Mumbai's (Bombay's) slums and there's evidence the game has an even wider reach.

India has about 200 official golf courses, but this one is certainly one of the most imaginative.

Players tee off from a range of vantage points, including a vegetable cart, a rubbish mound and a truck.

Image caption A "slum golf" tournament in Mumbai where players compete for small stakes

To get round the expense of buying new clubs, the players use handmade irons made from bent pieces of metal.

Instead of a putting green, they hit the ball into holes marked out of the dry earth using stones.

Bappu Shahane is one of the players who organises these games of "slum golf", as well as tournaments with modest prize money - the winner here can take home 100 rupees (£1.40; $2.24).

Sponsorship needed

As a caddy at a local golf club, Mr Shahane works alongside Mumbai's rich and famous, but has aspirations of his own.

"I want to take my game to the next level as a professional," he says.

"But to do that we need some kind of help and sponsorship from outside."

Mr Shahane earns 4,000 rupees (£56; $90) a month for his caddying duties, but entry alone for amateur tournaments can cost 5,000 rupees, and that's not including transport costs.

For these players, investment in their game would help realise their dreams.

"I want to become a professional," says Suresh, who shares Bappu's golfing talent and aspirations, "like Sachin Tendulkar is in cricket, I want to be in golf."

With more money being injected into the game, and more land being given over for public golf courses, that dream could slowly become a reality too.

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