Emerging golf nations seek Olympic funding
Administrators in developing golf nations claim Olympic recognition can elevate the sport to another level and provide a fast track for growth.
They’re keeping their fingers crossed that International Olympic Committee members vote to include golf in the 2016 Games.
Ashit Luthra, president of the Indian Golf Union, says Olympic recognition could spark grass-roots participation in the world’s fastest-growing nation.
“It will be a huge impetus for golf because right now golf is seen as an elitist sport in India,” he says. “If it becomes an Olympic sport, then that image will change.”
India’s potential is plainly evident: There are about 100,000 golfers in India, but the country has a population of more than 1 billion. There are 194 courses, 100 of which are owned by the army.
“The state government will have to get involved to provide land to develop more courses and driving ranges to improve the talent and the pool of players we’ve got,” Luthra says.
The Indian Golf Union, which operates on an annual budget of $400,000, relies on private sponsorship. The only government aid it receives is for overseas travel. Luthra expects that to change if the Olympics adds golf, but won’t speculate as to how much the union might receive.
“What we are doing is not enough. It’s just a drop in the ocean,” Luthra says.
Without Olympic blessing, there’s virtually no chance for golf to tap government coffers in some countries.
“The problem is that sports that are not in the Olympic Games are second-level sports in Slovenia,” says Gorazd Kogoj, general secretary of the Slovenian Golf Association. “Second-level sports get no money from the state.”
For now, SGA, which has 6,500 golfers registered, manages by collecting a levy of 20 euros (approximately $29) from each of its adult members. It also operates with levies from the 34 golf clubs that play on the country’s 12 courses, plus financial aid from the R&A. That yields an annual budget of 370,000 euros ($543,000), which is expected to increase by at least 50 percent with Olympic recognition.
Fledgling golf nation Bulgaria stands to benefit, too. There are only four courses and 150 registered golfers in the entire country. The Bulgarian Golf Association came into existence nine years ago.
“Bulgaria’s national sports center is a throwback from the communist era,” says Seth Underwood, the association’s general secretary, an Englishman who has lived in Bulgaria for 15 years. “It is government funded to train athletes in Olympic sports. Since golf is not currently in the Olympics, then we are excluded from using it.”
The BGA has an operating budget of 164,294 euros ($241,000) – about 65 percent from private donations and the balance from the R&A, the Ryder Cup Trust and corporate sponsorship. But it is counting on a one-time infusion of 100,000 euros ($147,000) from the government to develop a small golf facility.
“The deal hinges on the Olympic bid,” Underwood says. “If that comes through, rest assured, we will be knocking on doors on Oct. 10th to get the project up and running.”