Toni Oberoi, a
vivacious 56-year-old Sikh, is a 10 handicapper at Delhi Golf Club, a demanding
6,882-yard par-72 layout full of ancient Mughal tombs and massive porcupines.
In 1990 Oberoi retired from the Indian Army Corps of Engineers as a colonel,
and for the last few years he has pursued a second career that his friends
think is bizarre: Oberoi is a golf course developer and architect. � I met
Oberoi over a dinner of lamb stew, chemeen thoren (stir-fried prawns with
coconut, mustard and tamarind) and curried vegetables at the Spice Route
restaurant in New Delhi. "Golf here has gone mad," said Oberoi. "We
have a pro circuit. We have golf magazines and TV shows. Everybody is getting
"Everybody?" I asked. "You have more than a billion
exaggerate," said Oberoi, "but in the last 20 years we've gone from
20,000 golfers to more than 100,000, while the number of courses has only risen
from 150 to 200, so there's room to capitalize."
Golf has a long
history in India. The British introduced the game to the subcontinent in the
early 1800s and built dozens of courses, including the four oldest outside the
British Isles. (Royal Calcutta, which opened in 1829, is the most venerable.)
But the cricket-mad Indians rarely played golf under British rule, so the game
virtually disappeared after India gained independence in 1947. Golf's recent
renaissance has dovetailed with India's staggering economic growth. While
several hundred million Indians still live in poverty, there are 10 million
people in the upper class and 300 million in the middle class, and in these
circles golf is gaining a foothold.
best place to see the golf boom?" I asked.
place like Bangalore," said Oberoi.
It's 6:30 a.m. at
Eagleton, India's only golf resort, and the tranquility of the dew-swept
grounds is a stark contrast to the chaos I witnessed seven hours earlier, when
my flight touched down at Bangalore International, perhaps the most dilapidated
and jam-packed major airport in the country. During a whirligig taxi ride
through the overcrowded city, as we swirled around rickshaws, bicycles,
squatters, cows, goats, dogs, cats and chickens, my driver told me that the
lure of jobs has doubled the population of Bangalore, to 6.5 million, in the
last two decades. But, he said, the city's infrastructure hasn't kept pace.
sleep deprivation and culture shock, I have a good excuse for lipping out a
three-foot par putt on Eagleton's 1st hole, a par-5, but my three Indian
playing partners show me no mercy.
Bangalored!" says Nandkumar Dhekne, a regional director of GE Energy in
that?" I ask.