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Earning Greenbacks On The Freeways

Uttara Choudhury  |  BSCAL 

People scoffed when ace golfer Rishi Narain wanted to make his career on the greens. This year his company, Total Sports Concepts Pvt Ltd, projects a turnover of over Rs 1.2 crore.

I was inspired to pick up a golf club after watching my dad play at Calcuttas Tollygunge Club. Later, at fourteen, I developed a vested interest in playing the game. I did my homework and discovered that if I made the grade as a scratch-handicap golfer, by the time I was through with school I could actually wrangle a golf scholarship to the States.

My boyhood gamble paid off. I was picked up by Salt Lake Citys Brigham Young University, which boasted Americas top college golf team. I got to play and it armed me with a Bachelors degree in Accounting. As a student, my highpoint was winning a gold for India at the Asian Games.

Bogged down in a bunker

Later, like millions of graduates, I put golf and university resolutely behind me, and took up a nine-to-five job with Utah-based Okuda & Co. I was your archetypal accountant for two years. Then I read a book that made me sit up. It asked a simple question If you won a million dollars, would you continue doing what you are doing?

It suddenly dawned on me that I hated being a number cruncher. Given an opportunity, much less a million dollars, I would rather be playing golf.

Back on the freeway

My family, which has a liberal sprinkling of chartered accountants and lawyers, was aghast that I was turning my back on a promising career. They reminded me that golf was only meant to be my ticket to America; but I stuck to my guns.

In 1987, I taught golf in Salt Lake City and also became the top amateur golfer in the state. In 1989, I came back to play the Asian circuit and had two wins on the Indian PGA Tour. But in 1992, my bad back forced me out of the game. I also wanted to spend time with my wife and young family a professional golfer is on the road for nearly 35 weeks a year.

With only myself as sweat capital, I set up Total Sports Concepts Pvt Ltd to promote golf in India. For starters, I gave lessons to young hopefuls. Once again everyone cried, You cant do this for a living.

But I had a vision. I had seen the size of the golf industry in South East Asia and dreamt of making things happen in India. I wanted to create a golf industry by developing golf courses and resorts, hosting golf events as image building tools for companies, offering golfing holidays/ coaching camps, and developing the domestic equipment market.

Out of the rough

I was lucky that my wife Charu, a former international golfer, understood what I was trying to create. It helped because there were too many people out there who thought my project a mad caper.

Initially, there was no money. Then in 1994-1995, things started falling into place. Siddharth Shriram, chairman of Siel Limited, asked me to build a showcase golf event in India. I secured a ten-year sponsorship deal starting at $50,000, when the previous highest purse in India was $18,000.

Simultaneously, Johnnie Walker asked me to start a grassroot level club tournament. Today, the Johnnie Walker Inter-Club Championship draws over 4,000 participants from 50 clubs. The budget has crossed the Rs one crore mark.

I also tied up with ITCs Travel House for the promotion of golf tourism. As a consultant for Pradeep Jain, I had also been talking to him about the scope of building a golf resort outside Delhi.

In a strange quirk of destiny, Pradeep Jain tied up with Travel House to form Landbase India and the result is the spectacular Classic Golf Resort in Gurgaon. In 1996, I formalised my relationship with Landbase by forming a partnership in Total Sports Concepts.

This year I saw my dream come true as people poured into the Classic Golf Resort I am delighted to see golf catch on in India.

On my video camera case I have a sticker which says: Choose a job you love and you never have to work another day in your life. I really believe it is easy to be successful when you love what you are doing.

First Published: Sat, October 04 1997. 00:00 IST