• Publish Date: Oct 1 2018 4:58AM
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  • Updated Date: Oct 1 2018 5:09AM
INVITING GOLF TOURISTS: Is the Host Ready?Kashmir Ink Photo

According to the J&K Economic Survey 2017, tourism sector accounts for around 6.98% of the State’s GDP. Having an inherent provincial balance in terms of potential, Kashmir region boasts of globally acclaimed tourist spots, Ladakh – the coldest desert in the world – mesmerises the visitors with its fresh water lakes, monasteries along with the host of beautiful paintings, sculptures and ancient books preserved in these monasteries. And Jammu – the land of temples – is attracting a large number of pilgrim tourists.  In fact, hospitality and tourism are part of the state’s culture.

Traditionally, natural tourism products including unique landscapes, gardens, dense forests, mountains, meadows and lakes etc. have been the centres of attraction for tourists across the globe for centuries. However, with the passage of time, as the competition among states to maximize its share in the country’s tourism-pie has become intense, tourism players have incorporated a scientific approach to marketing and operation of tourism industry. As a result, niche tourism - referring to a specific tourism product tailored to meet the needs of a particular audience / market segment – has evolved as an important segment in the tourism industry. Niche tourism segments include medical tourism, eco-tourism, cultural tourism, sports tourism etc. 

Within the niche sports tourism segment, Golf tourism is one of the latest trends. Golfers like Tiger Woods are fast replacing the traditional Ronaldo, Beckham etc. as heroes to the youth and there has been recent surge in the interest levels among youth the world over. 

In this backdrop, like other golf destinations in the world, golf tourism is seen to be a major tourism driver in the state of J&K which among others boasts of owning one of the best golf courses in the region – Royal Spring Golf Course (RSGC), the highest golf course in the world – Gulmarg Golf Course, 100-year old golf course - Kashmir Golf Club, which has been redeveloped by the prestigious J&K Bank under its CSR programme. 

As a matter of fact, golf courses in Kashmir possess competitive advantage in terms of cool weather with Chinar and Pine trees in the surroundings that allows longer hours of play. The peak season for golf in Kashmir starts from April every year. In the middle of the year, while most part of the country witness scorching heat, highest temperature seldom goes above 35°C in the valley, making it one of the best places to play golf in summers.      

With the aim of promoting the golf courses of J&K, the department of Tourism in association with J&K Golf Development & Management Authority, RSGC and PHD Chamber recently organized the second edition of PHD Golf tourism conclave and tournament. According to the reports published in the public domain, the conclave was attended by the officials of Ministry of Tourism, Embassies and High Commissions, Indian & Foreign Golf Tour Operators, State and International Tourism Boards, Hoteliers, Airlines, Indian Golf Professionals, Golf Event Managers and Media. The department claimed that the event will not only boost the tourism sector but also bring it on the international and domestic tourism map.                      

There is no doubt that the state golf courses are among the best in the world in terms of the scenic beauty, but is that enough to attract the golfers from world over? Do the golf courses of the state meet the international standards? How do the visiting golfers find places like Royal Spring Golf course?  

Raghav Khaitan, a Kolkatta-based professional and an amateur golfer, who has played on many golf courses in New Zealand, Portugal, Singapore, Bangkok etc. has also visited Kashmir’s RSGC twice – in 2011 and 2018.  Raghav who had played in RSGC for the first time in the year 2011 says, “There is a lot of deterioration in the quality of grass over the period from 2011 to 2018. While in 2011, I found RSGC to be one of the best in the country, this year the course looked ordinary.”

“Besides weedy grass, ‘the Green’ is quite patchy. It is no way near the international standard,” says Raghav regarding the standard of the golf course.  

On the facilities available with RSGC, Raghav says, “Even though I find RSGC as picturesque as Queenstown Golf Club New Zealand, but quality-wise and facility-wise it is an average golf course. There is no quality stock available in the proshop. Maintenance of the course is very poor. Moreover, food and beverage arrangements are not there at all. Golf being a leisure sport which takes around 4 hours to complete one round, hence availability of quality food and beverages is quintessential to any international standard golf course. In absence of these basic necessities, seldom would international or high-class national golfers prefer this course to play.”              

Raghav, a member of the Royal Calcutta Golf Club suggested: “In order to promote J&K as a world-class golf destination, the state golf courses need to have improved infrastructure meeting the current international standards, quality food and beverages facilities, well-equipped proshops, trained manpower and above all, a comprehensive annual maintenance programme, for which the owners should tie-up with an international golf-course maintenance firm.”  

A local golfer from the state, who besides being member of RSGC has played in all golf courses of the state says that the management should outsource the restaurants lying dead within the golf courses, enter into AMC contracts with reputed firms. 

Although institutions like J&K Bank have always been at the forefront of extending financial support to the defunct / ailing assets of the state, yet every economic entity needs to be self-sustaining for long-term development. And for golf-courses of the state, the focus should lie on revenue generation through corporate tie-ups, tournament hosting, establishment of paid golf-training courses, besides innovating other revenue generating avenues.  

To conclude, given the feedback I receive on the best golf-course of the state RSGC, I prefer not to mention the remaining. 

While the invitations have already been extended to the golfers across the globe, the question remains, “Is the host ready to fulfil the expectations of the invitees?”