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The New Year starts on a golfing high with the Tata Steel 112th Amateur Golf Championship of India. Under the aegis of the Indian Golf Union, the week-long tourney is all set to tee off at the Royal Calcutta Golf Club on January 7. “The tournament goes back to 1892 and is the oldest event after the British Open in the world. Till 1955, it was held at RCGC and then the Indian Golf Union was formed, so the tournament rotated around the country, taking it to courses in the other metros and centres like Bangalore, Chandigarh, Coimbatore and Pune,” said Jaydeep Chitlangia, council member of IGU and committee member of RCGC. “It is a huge encouragement to junior and amateur golfers,” he added.

“The tourney begins with a 36-hole stroke-play qualifying competition over the first two days from which the top 64 players will proceed to the match play event. There will be teams from Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh and they will also vie for the International Trophy,” says Brandon de Souza of BDMS, the organisers of the tournament.

Serious golf aside, there’s fun stuff for those who aren’t participating. Like prizes for the best entry to Tata’s slogan why ‘Golfers are men of steel’ as well as predicting the winner of the Championship. And to “recreate the legacy”, the top bosses of social clubs in Calcutta will come together on the prize presentation day — hosted by the MD of Tata Steel H.M. Nerurkar — to stand for what the tournament means to the city’s sporting fraternity.

Some of the biggest names that have emerged through the Amateur Golf Championship:

Mohinder Bal broke the stranglehold of foreign domination when he clinched the title in 1949 and repeated the feat in 1953. He passed on his golfing genes to sons Rakesh and Rajeev who play to single-digit handicaps. His youngest son Rohit Bal is better known for dressing India’s swish set.

Indian golf’s first family comprising IS Malik and Ashok Malik shouldered the legacy set by Bal. IS captured the title three times while Ashok won the title five times to set the bar. His contemporaries include the great P.G. Sethi better known as ‘Billoo’ and RK Pitamber who made the ’60s and ’70s memorable for Indian Amateur Golf. Billoo was the first Indian to win the Indian Open.

The trio of Vikramjit (four-time national champion), Alan and Lakshman Singh continued their legacy.

Winners include the likes of 2011 Masters Champion Charl Schwartzel from South Africa, Frenchman Christian Cevaer, India’s very own Jyoti Randhawa and South Africa’s Richard Sterne. Also, Amit Luthra, who won the title consecutively in 1994 and 1995. In recent times, its victors include the likes of Siddikur Rehman of Bangladesh and Himmat Rai.

H.M. Nerurkar, MD, Tata Steel, the company backing the tournament, talks about golf and the game:

Your take on golf as a sport?

Golf has become such an integral part of the social fabric of the city and played with such passion by the old and the just-initiated, that most people would automatically presuppose that I am a golfer too. Sad but true that I am not a golfer and feel like a fish out of water when in the company of my golfing friends. But being in their constant company I am sort of ‘educated on the job’ and have slowly come to understand the game and find it fascinating to watch the skill required to swing a club at little white balls aiming for 18 holes on a lush tapestry of greens and fairways. Of course, I also enjoy the festivities that follow the tournaments. On a serious note, I have often wondered why golf has taken on a cult-like stature in Jamshedpur. The answer probably lies in the fact that golf is a ‘gentleman’s game’ and the common thread that binds the two is a strong value system. Just as ethical standards, integrity, social consciousness and fairness are values dear to us, golf too is a game of integrity, honesty and the unwritten acceptance that one plays the game as he is supposed to play.

Which course defines golf in Jamshedpur?

Beldih with its notorious reputation of a hard and rocky course has come a long way. Over the years, the watering system has greened and tamed its rocky courses. Here, the ‘Machan’ has become a favourite haunt, and the Night Driving Range has seen many enthusiasts taking up the game. It is inevitable then that this culminated in Jamshedpur having an 18-hole golf green, now the pride of the Steel City. Jamshedpur has some young enthusiasts with potential to become good golfers. Tata Steel goes that extra mile to support them, without which it would be difficult for them to pursue the game. The Steel City Golf and the Tata Open have evolved into star-studded golfing events.

What is Tata Steel’s involvement with Indian sports?

The first step in the history of Tata Steel’s association with sports was forged by founder Jamsetji Tata in 1902 when in a blueprint for a steel city he reserved large areas for football and hockey parks. He believed that sport was integral to building the character of a nation and improving the quality of life of the community. Our first chairman Sir Dorabji Tata had a great fondness for sport and while at Cambridge won honours in cricket, rugby and football. He was a good tennis player and a good horseman. Most Indians are unaware that he was the first president of the Indian Olympic Association. It is only natural therefore that we see sport as a way of life in the Steel City, investing in infrastructure like the JRD Tata Sports Complex, a multi-purpose stadium of international standard in Jamshedpur. The company conceived the idea of setting up the Tata Football Academy where talent is trained through an intensive four-year programme. Its success led to the establishment of the Tata Archery Academy because it believed that large potential existed in this field in the hinterland of Jharkhand.

What is Tata Steel’s involvement with Indian Amateur Golf?

The IGU, which came into existence in 1955, is the central body promoting and managing golf in India. It is only under the governance of the IGU that the prestigious Indian Open has become a part of the Asian Tour. Tata Steel supports the IGU by being one of the chief sponsors of amateur golf in India. We will continue to sponsor Amateur Golf and the Sub-Junior Tour and may perhaps even be interested in spreading our sponsorship to the Junior Tour!

What ails Indian performance on the Olympic stage?

It hurts our national pride that we are a nation of a billion people and we fail to produce great champions barring a few recognised internationally — Viswanathan Anand, Mikha Singh, Jeev Milkha Singh, P.T. Usha, Geet Sethi, Saina Nehwal and, of course, the Indian cricket team. Sport in India is steeped in bureaucracy headed by octogenarians who have scant knowledge of the game while the crying need is to have dynamic people who are passionate about sport to head the various federations. It is important to ‘catch them young’, inculcate a competitive spirit and love for sport at school and university levels. Corporates and governments should join hands to build infrastructure, engage the best coaches, create a mass of enthusiasts and start Amateur Leagues for popular sports. In short, make sport available and affordable for the youth.

What is in it for corporates who associate with golf?

Corporate India must believe that sponsoring and patronising sport could be a ‘force’ that is good for society. It is integral to corporate reputation, employee morale and stakeholders at all levels. It motivates executives to become good leaders. The biggest reward is making the nation proud by helping to produce excellent sportspersons.

Which sports are you personally fond of?

Cricket, tennis and basketball.

Your sporting wish list for 2013?

To commit Tata Steel to produce talent for the Olympics in sports like athletics, archery, wrestling, and shooting. The grand Tata Open is on its way to becoming a championship that lures the best golfers with a purse outstripping any other ‘Open’ tournament in the fray at present. Finally, to one day lead the pack to the golfing pinnacle of playing the most challenging tours the world over.