Q&A with 'The King'

Thu 11 Sep 2014

Q&A with 'The King'

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Golf legend Arnold Palmer has set his eyes on Asia and believes the next Tiger Woods or Rory McIlroy will emerge from the region. He is also bullish on the prospects of new and upcoming players from the region. In a wide-ranging interview, “The King” spoke to Shaili Chopra of golfingindian.com at his summer home in Latrobe, Pennslyvania.
Shaili Chopra: It’s a real honour to meet with you. The new golf markets are in the emerging world. What’s your view of golf in markets like India and China?
Arnold Palmer: Well I am internationally oriented. I believe international golf is very important. For that reason I went to The Open in St Andrews at the start of my career. The idea was to promote golf internationally and the British Colonies are the reason why golf is truly international. One can say this of Indian history in golf as well [The British started the Royal Calcutta Golf Course, the second oldest in the world after St Andrew’s] Both China and India have shown signs of growth in the sport. The other countries strong in the sport are Korea and Japan. And my inclination is to grow golf outside the west. I built my first international golf course in China and even had an opportunity to build one in India. I am sure there will be more opportunities for me to design courses in these countries as time goes.
Chopra: You brought in modern facilities to build courses as well. What was your experience in these markets and how did people take to your philosophy and capabilities to design?
Palmer: I believe we need to make it as simple as we can for the international golfers. And of course a lot of the Indian people travel all over the world and learn to play golf in other international cities whether in Europe or America and that is very important. They in a way take golf back to India, specifically Delhi where most golf courses are today. I have met several Indians who are professionals in America and I have been impressed with them whether they are doctors or whatever. I think what they take back to India is also important in shaping the future of the sport.
Chopra: In your experience golf has seen its peak in the US. From a country like India, do you see the next Tiger or Rory coming off the region?
Palmer: No question about it. The population as it is and the opportunity that there is now for young people to start playing golf, there is no question about that. I believe there is a possibility of a young golfer rising very quickly and soon.
Chopra: What’s key to making golf popular and what aspects could emerging nations focus on in for a solid tee off of the sport? India is a very important link to the game in Asia as a whole.
Palmer: India needs to create more facilities and have more people working towards and around the sport of golf. I understand there are not enough golf courses in your country but the more we can produce and the more young people we can have exposed to golf, the higher the possibility of creating an icon or a person who will call attention to the game of golf in India. There are few Indian golfers who are making their own in the golf market. They will be instrumental and will continue to create an interest with the Indian people and eventually create enough facilities for them to play on.
Chopra:  You are not just Mr Arnold Palmer but a brand. You are the original golf-entrepreneur. You carried the brand overseas and Asia also benefits from your clothing line and your designing for courses. How are you planning to extend that business in our part of the world?
Palmer: I am very pleased to see the extension of the Arnold Palmer brand in Asia, and that there is great interest in the line of our products. The fact that people are buying them, in some cases it’s popular enough – people didn’t even know I played golf or was a brand without being a sportsman. We hope we can make a mark in India as we have in Japan, Korea and have them play the game, look great. We hope more Indians can play golf not just in their own country but also wherever they travel and imbibe the sport in its entirety.
Chopra: Golf is slowing in America and growing elsewhere. What’s your outlook for golf here – in the developed world and what changes do you anticipate?
Palmer: I think it will continue to grow even though we are seeing a bit of a slowdown in America. We are building more golf courses as young America has started to play again. I don’t think it will be an explosion of rapid ascent to popularity. It will be gentle and I think it will be better. As time go by we will do things that make golf courses we are building more interesting and fun and appealing to all the people. We will have ways of improving the timing that it takes. We will have to speed up some of the older golfers that are a bit slow and take time to get around the course but we will make it so it is more convenient for them to play and enjoy the game. That means we will build some golf courses that are slightly different in style and types than others in due course of time.
Chopra: It’s probably a hard fight out there at the moment. Competitive golf is one thing and then we have the game getting re-inducted into the Olympics starting 2016. Gamechanger?
Palmer: I believe its very high and it’s very good that the competitiveness is out there for everyone. The international team formats such as Ryder Cup where we have European countries participate is being watched more and more. Additionally, one thing that’s going to have a major impact on competitiveness is the Olympics of 2016. This should really help the spotlight on the golfers as they remain competitive to play in what is a very solid pool of golfers. Competitiveness is a factor of keeping the international community interested in the sport and Olympics
Chopra: At 84, and still going strong, you are a brilliant ambassador of the game for global golf. What would you say has been golf’s biggest contribution in the last six decades of playing?
Palmer: The international community and the association with global events is such an education in itself. The fact that people can interact from different walks of life and together deal with each other is a great idea of friendliness. Golf has brought the international community together through say the Ryder Cup and other team events.
One of the things we should do is promote togetherness through golf and have competitions in golf or other sport rather than shooting wars. We should continue to share that aspect of golf to contribute to peace.  I think everyone in the world should give golf that heavy consideration given how it promotes togetherness and team.
Chopra: So when you, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus get together – what’s your conversation like? And what’s it about? Food, health, sport?
Palmer: It’s about all of those. We are all big eaters. We like good food and we like the comfort of having a friendship that has been going on all our life. We discuss a lot of business, the participation of golf courses and the new equipment and all that is changing the golf landscape.
Note: This article is courtesy of Shaili Chopra, who is the founder of golfingindian.com which hosts the India Golf Awards.