Golf Industry Association President: ‘All sports, including golf, must be encouraged’
Deepali Shah Gandhi was unanimously elected President of Golf Industry Association (GIA) by the Board during the seventh annual India Golf Expo in Bengaluru. The Director of Zaverchand Sports takes over the reins of the association from Devang Shah, Managing Director of Navratna Group, who developed Kalhaar Blues & Greens in Ahmedabad. Zaverchand Sports Pvt Ltd. are pioneers in the field, having first developed golf club head production in India. As the business grew, Deepali became involved in the distribution of golf brands such as Titleist, Footjoy, Club Car, Bagboy, and Bushnell, which they continue to do today.
Born in 1959, Deepali belongs to the family of Zaverchand Laxmichand who were titled Raj Ratna Raj Mitra in Vadodara, Gujarat. In the absence of her father, Late Vinay Shah of Baroda Rayon, she was nurtured by her maternal uncle. She is also the granddaughter of Late K K Shah, Hon. Governor of Tamil Nadu in the early 70s.
Based in Mumbai, Deepali travels across the country and has personally visited a plethora of clubs over the years. She has served on the Board of Directors of GIA and was one of its founding members too. Here she is, in conversation with Amit Pandey of Golf Digest India…
GDI: How and when did you decide to get into the business of golf?
DEEPALI: I belong to a family of golfers; my father Vinay used to play regularly with Mrs. Mariwalla and Mr. Madan Mohan Ruia at Willingdon Club. I have seen the scarcity of products first hand. My uncle Ashok, a keen golfer in Baroda, played the sport and decided to produce clubs. I was sent to Taiwan for mould production and then to the UK for shaft production. I also trained at Golfsmith USA for fitment and assembly of clubs. We produced clubs till 1998. I felt we needed to broaden our activities and so we added the distribution of brands. Both my husband Anand – who played the sport at University in the US – and I are very quality conscious, and we decided to work only with the best. I closed the manufacturing activities in 1998 as it was not viable.
GDI: Please take our readers through your experience, having personally visited more than 100 clubs and courses in the country…
DEEPALI: India is my love. I am proud of the heritage we have, to be Indian, and to see what we have achieved. I was pleasantly surprised to see the variety of courses across the country! Golden Panther in Amritsar, Imperial in Ludhiana, Kalhaar in Ahmedabad, Memon Club in Pathankot, Oxford in Pune, and the ones Digboi, Margerita, Ooty, Udhampur, Gaya, Patna, and Jhansi, just to name a few… I have visited many distant locations and wherever I went, I received the same camaraderie and warmth. I would say that our courses are now of international standards. Of course, Kashmir is very special to me. I used to visit Royal Spring Golf Course when it was being built.
GDI: Your thoughts on how the business around the sport has changed in India over the years (since you commenced your career)
DEEPALI: When we started, there was no one in the organised sector! The IGU would import some clubs and balls. Mechanised equipment was not available. Neither were electric carts (for seniors). All that is a thing of past, virtually every product line is available here. Golf courses have improved tremendously and are at par with international standards.
GDI: What in Indian golf, or in the business of Indian golf, do you think needs to be attended to with utmost priority?
DEEPALI: The industry should work closely with clubs, the government, and IGU to increase participation and grow the sport in a sustainable manner. Likewise, with developers to promote the benefits of golf to the environment. Earlier this year, the government raised duty on sports goods (2018 Budget) just one day after declaring “Khelo India”! All sports, including golf, must be encouraged.
GDI: Your favourite golfers (among men and among women)— both, in India and overseas.
DEEPALI: Jordan Spieth and Michelle Wie are my favourite golfers. Among Indians, Shubankar Sharma and
GDI: What is your vision as GIA President?
DEEPALI: Grow golf in India, first and foremost. Our “India Learn Golf Week” programme has been successful, and the momentum has begun. Second, provide a platform – a knowledge base – where everyone in the industry benefits. And third, liaise with all agencies involved in golf so that we become dynamic and fill the gaps.
GDI: Given your experience with brands like Titleist, Bushnell etc. what is your opinion on the impact of technology on golf?
DEEPALI: Technology is a double-edged sword. It helps golfers to improve their game and further enjoy the golfing experience, but it also puts pressure on golf courses as they have to be longer or more challenging. Aerodynamics being one of the key factors, most golfers do not understand what goes on behind the products they use and how to get the best out of them.
GDI: What is the potential for golf development and tourism at the state level and how can India attract more golf tourists?
DEEPALI: Thailand, as you know, has become the favourite golf destination in this part of the world. I recall their tourism department hosting “Visit Thailand” shows and events to attract people. Similar efforts can be applied here. We have everything: the culture, food, dance and music, and coupled with golf, we could well be one of the go-to destinations. GIA has formed a sub-committee headed by a very experienced golf tour operator to work on these areas.
GDI: What do you envisage as the future drivers of new golf projects in India?
DEEPALI: Golf-centric community living. One no longer has to be in a city to go to work and make a good living. Thanks to the internet, one can live anywhere and yet be connected. Nothing like living in the midst of nature and scenic views, without the rush. People need to move out of cities. Wherever one goes — Kolkata, Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, etc. —traffic is a killer! In fact, a percentage of one’s life is wasted in the commute! People need to move out and live better. Projects around golf courses offer just that.
GDI: CSR will play a big part in bringing financial support especially for grassroots and junior programs. How is GIA leveraging this?
DEEPALI: To promote golf, an Olympic sport, at the school level, GIA is working closely with various institutions and corporate houses for increasing and maintaining better practise facilities. I am happy to share that J&K Bank is funding the reconstruction of Kashmir Golf Course, which was destroyed during the 2014 floods, under their CSR budget. Similarly, many corporates have shown interest to fund the development of various upcoming learning facilities.
GDI: What benefits does golf bring to the average club golfer? Or in other words… why, according to you, should people play golf?
DEEPALI: I have found that golf is the one sport that fosters a unique bond and camaraderie. Team spirit is found in most sports, but its depth in golf is different. And given the severe stress and competition today, one needs time to rejuvenate. What better way other than golf?!
GDI: What are the challenges facing Indian golf today?
DEEPALI: India is expensive in terms of land and there is a dearth of affordable facilities and pay-and-play facilities. The government needs to open more municipal golf courses and popularise them by conducting clinics. For instance, we need to replicate Delhi’s Qutub Golf Course in other cities and towns. Furthermore, we must make a concerted effort to lift the misconception that golf is a sport for select people.
GDI: Anything else that you would like to tell our readers…
DEEPALI: “Golfer grow golfer”. Make it your aim to add one more golfer.
(Read more in the July issue of Golf Digest India. Download here.)