Having picked up Golf at the age of 12, Champika Sayal, who is now the Secretary General of the Women’s Golf Association of India, has dedicated her entire life to golf. She has been one of the most prominent figures responsible for popularising the game for women in India; her biggest feat being organising the Women’s Indian Open. After having successfully hosted seven editions of the Hero Women’s Indian Open, Champika Sayal is all set for the eighth edition of the tournament, starting this December. GolfingIndian.com spoke to her about the Hero Women’s Indian Open, the players and the state golf in India. Here is an excerpt from the conversation.

This is the next bigger and better edition of Women’s Indian Open. What does it add this year?

Compared to the last seven editions, this year the number of players who request us for sponsor exemption has really grew remarkably. We have tried our best to reach out to players as fast as possible to give them exemptions so we can help them win the coveted trophy. Also, all eyes are looking at India right now so we are trying our best to make sure that the players’ hospitality, their food and beverages, which is all hosted by the Women’s Golf Association, are all taken care of and are in a top class shape.

This year we are expecting more spectators to come in and we hope that we are able to provide everything they need to be comfortable. With the number of countries that are participating this year, it should be a big success. We are all really looking forward to it and with both Delhi and the Delhi Golf Club being at their best charm at that time, we hope to have a great tournament.

How is the field looking to you?

We have some of the top players coming in from the Ladies European Tour to play. In fact it’s a younger field this time: we have decided to give the younger golfers from the Ladies European Tour and other tours across the world, a chance this year. We’ve got a lot of single players coming from different countries as well.

A big field is coming from Thailand and another big contingent coming from Korea, this time. Korean players have grown almost three times than the number that came last year, so that is going to be a very interesting field. On the other side, we also have lots of young players coming in from England and Scotland. So amongst the 45 places, you’ll see a lot of good players.

Interestingly, we will also be seeing an Italian model, Sophie Sandolo, who happens to be a great golfer. So you will be seeing a good gathering of beautiful women, who are skilled and who are fearless.

What’s your take on the government involvement in the sport?

I think that this needs to be viewed in a very different way now and the government has to play a very strong role. In a small country like Scotland, the government funds a programme right through the year, for 9 year old kids. So in a population of five million, it is estimated that there are 50 000 nine year olds who are exposed to the game of golf, 40%-50% of who continue with the game, half of them being girls. Taking steps like these is very critical.

Our government today is talking about the development of women. This would be the first step in that direction. They must come forward and help organisations like ours. It’s not just about playing tour golf; it is about investing into the development of players. They don’t just need help us with funding, they need to step up and give importance to infrastructure.

Only hard work can lead to good results. The government needs to partner up with the Indian Golf Union and other stake holders to help in taking this game forward to the next level.

How can more and more girls be encouraged to join golf?

The sport is slowly catching up now but the general perception remains to be that the game is very complex and difficult. This is not true. The first step is to tap the 9 year olds and the 10 year olds in a more informal manner and then get to the school level. There are very good trends showing up in schools. But like I said, the infrastructure is not in keeping with the number of students who are looking to become golfers. So the issue is not that we don’t have players, we just need better infrastructure to hold more and more junior events and better coaching opportunities. Once we get sufficient funding, all this can be taken care of.

This game inculcates fantastic etiquette, honesty, discipline, and these are all makings of a good human being. If the government joins us in this development, we can have a nation of fantastic, young, well groomed children.

I feel the perception of the game has not been corrected but we are making good strides now. Internationally, lots of girls from athletics, and other sports like tennis and hockey, are coming to golf.

At this juncture I think girls have become savvier, there are braver, they have no fear, and that is what you need for a game of golf. If a woman can head a bank or an institution, then she can do anything she wants. We can see the writing on the wall and we are seeing a lot of young golfers who want to make a career out of the game. So for them to sit in a room and look at a computer is an unhealthy way of life. I think if we can manage to change the perception then more and more kids will come out and play. They get to play in the nature and it’s a highly fashionable game. Infrastructure is vital though. We don’t want all of these enthusiastic girls coming out, ready to play and have no place to take them.

Who is poised amongst the Indian girls to win the Open on home soil?

It’s a difficult question. I would refrain from a judgment right now. I think there are at least four or five of our girls who are highly talented. I think they have crossed the stage where they got intimidated by international players; they are themselves, up there with the best. It has been a good season for all players who are out there and I think eventually a player who is good at planning well, will make it because the Delhi Golf Club is a thinker’s course.

It’s also a course where you can’t get too ambitious. If you get over ambitious you can get into trouble. So the girl, who does a lot of sensible thinking, will come out on top this year. At least five of our players have the potential to be there. So we hope for the best.

With such intense competition, how committed are the Indian girls to the game?

Our Indian girls will do well this time; they have got a lot more exposure this year. One of our players, Gauri Monga, from our Delhi Golf Club, put up a fantastic show last year and I think she is equally motivated this year as well. Besides her we have Vani Kapoor, who just finished 3rd in a world ranking Tournament. So this is a good sign.

We have Vaishavi Sinha who is highly talented and played the Symetra tour and almost every event this whole season. We have Ria and Taniya who are joining the event and of course, Simi Mehra. We also have Neha Tripathi and Shweta Galande, all of whom are just waiting to get onto the Delhi Golf Club and perform. We hope to see some of them coming in the top places.

Personally as someone who has been associated with golf for such a long time, where do you think the sport is going in India?

We have tremendous talent in our country. But I would say we are on the verge of getting the game for women in particular, to the next level. The younger generation looks very motivated. The girls and the younger players have fire in their belly, and they are going to be taking the game forward in the coming years. We are on a completely positive note, and we hope to see a lot more youngsters turning professional and making this a career option.

www.golfingindian.com is the digital partner of the Hero Women’s Indian Open