India ready for team golf league

After successfully applying the pro-league formula in a revamp of domestic cricket, India is set to welcome international golf stars including two-time major winner Angel Cabrera, British Open winner Darren Clarke and 2005 US Open champion Michael Campbell in a franchise-based Golf Premier League.

Devised by local player Shiv Kapur, the new tournament comprises eight teams of four players — all hired in an auction system — in a shortened format at the picturesque Aamby Valley golf course near Pune from Feb. 8-10.

The Twenty20 Indian Premier League, now in its fifth year, has attracted top international players and millions of viewers around the world, and Kapur said the success of the cricket league ”firmed up my resolve” to create a competitive, team-based golf competition in India.

Campbell attracted the highest bid of $61,000 in the player auction, with Clarke and Cabrera getting bids of $55,000 each to sign for their respective clubs.

Among the other big names in the tournament will be 2002 PGA champion Rich Beem, 2003 PGA champion Shaun Micheel and 2012 Asian Tour money leader Thaworn Wiratchant of Thailand.

The 30-year-old Kapur, who played amateur golf at Purdue University, raised the idea of a golf league with a friend two years ago and the two co-founders of the league worked on a concept targeting a new audience in India, where cricket rules the sports landscape.

”The format is attractive for the non-core golf lover. Like in cricket, test matches are for purists, but Twenty20 cricket has a larger audience because it is played at night, at a faster pace and also has a glamor element to it,” said Kapur, who turned professional in 2004 and won the Asian Tour’s 2005 Masters of Asia.

The success of the IPL has already triggered a number of other Indian pro leagues in field hockey, badminton, tennis, volleyball and even the indigenous game of kabaddi, with mixed success. However, the IPL has also been blamed for falling skill levels as players work toward improving honing themselves for the short-form T20 cricket rather than the longer more traditional formats.

But Kapur is confident the GPL format will allow players to attack the course, without compromise on quality of golf.

”We’re wrapping up in three hours each day over 14 holes,” he told The Associated Press. ”But let me add that it will not trivialize the game since it is not a 6-7 hole `Mickey Mouse’ golf tournament.”

Kapur says having franchises will also help popularize golf in India, with each of the eight clubs will help fund a center of excellence. He said a trip to Jaipur for a friend’s wedding just before the Indian Open helped him see the vast potential for the game in India.

”I started hitting the balls in the countryside and within 10 minutes there were some 30 kids asking me what my `metal hockey stick’ was,” he said. ”I’m sure there are many potential champions out there.”

Players signing up for the tournament are also curious about the format and its potential.

Clarke, who has confirmed his participation despite being involved in a car accident last week, thinks the innovations will make the tournament unique.

”I’m a great fan of the team format and have always thrived under the pressure of playing Ryder Cup, playing for others and not just for myself,” he wrote in a column in Wednesday’s The Times of India. ”I feel that the experience I bring as a Ryder Cup player and vice captain can really help the team’s youngsters. It is always good to be able to give something back.”