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Even Golf Is Booming In Bangalore
RICK LIPSEY
May 28, 2007
Having started from scratch, the game is catching on among the upwardly mobile citizens of the city that's synonymous with India's economic ascendancy
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May 28, 2007

Even Golf Is Booming In Bangalore

Having started from scratch, the game is catching on among the upwardly mobile citizens of the city that's synonymous with India's economic ascendancy

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With an MBA from Allahabad University, Saran spent 21 years as an executive at a zipper company before starting SPT Sports, a marketing firm focused on golf, in 1998. His first project was to design a three-hole pitch-and-putt course on the Infosys corporate campus in Bangalore.

"Are you an architect?" I ask.

"No," Saran says, "but I never say no to a good offer."

Today Saran organizes corporate golf outings and owns a driving range, one of only five in India. The range, which opened in 2004, is on seven acres on the outskirts of Bangalore. "Everybody, even my wife, thinks I'm crazy," says Saran, "but my passion is golf. I know I can make it."

I don't need to ask where to aim on the 1st tee at the KGA (Karnataka Golf Association) Golf Course in downtown Bangalore. Only a blind man couldn't see the huge neon IBM sign atop the glass office building behind the 1st green. Nor do I have to ask where not to aim. There's a neon Microsoft sign atop the glass building to the right of the green, and a shot hit in that direction is OB.

"The history of KGA epitomizes the transformation of Bangalore," says Krishnakumar Natarajan, the CEO of Mindtree, a software consulting company, as we stroll down the 1st fairway.

Also designed by Thomson, the five-time British Open champ from Australia, KGA is a flat 6,786-yard par-72 layout on what used to be guava and coconut fields owned by the city. In the mid-1980s some golfers cajoled city fathers to lease them the land for a rupee (a little more than two cents) per acre a year. "Sounds like an anti-- Robin Hood story," I say.

Natarajan, a 22 handicapper who took up golf three years ago, smiles. "Things like that happen a lot in India," he says.

The gleaming five-million-square-foot office park to the right of KGA's first five holes is on terrain that also used to be farmland. It was owned by an indigent mute who collected errant golf balls and sold them to players through a chain-link fence. "That man is rich now," says Natarajan. "A developer paid him $2 million in the late 1990s."

Hearing such stories is more than half the fun of playing golf in India. On the 4th tee I ask my partners about the towering floodlights on the course. "Some guys here want night golf, so suddenly these lights appeared," says Ramesh Rao, a high-tech headhunter playing with us. "The project cost half a million bucks."

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