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Golf Premier League

And now, slam bang golf

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NEW HORIZONS: Shiv Kapur, a regular on the Asian and European Tours, digged deep into his golf bag and came up with this new trick of an IPL-like golf tournament that is bound to attract the eye-balls

The IPL bug that has caught other sports, seems to have had its impact on the previously-starchy game of golf too. Two golfing buddies got together to show how a perfectly good walk can turn into a canter.

One balmy evening in Delhi, two years ago, two golf buddies sat down to watch an Indian Premier League game. Like most IPL games, this too went down the wire. As the excitement began building, empty beer cans started piling up. By the time the match ended, the duo was in high spirits.

"If they can do it in cricket, why can't we do something similar in golf, " they wondered. The next two years they worked on the concept - spoke to fellow pros, took inputs from everyone concerned, calculated the financial implications and studied other professional sports leagues across the world - before coming up with the final product: an IPL version of golf.

The inaugural edition of the Golf Premier League, a brainchild of golfers Shiv Kapur and Neeraj Sareen, will be played at the floodlit Aamby Valley course, near Lonavala, from February 8-10.

As the name suggests, there are many things similar between the IPL and GPL. There are franchise-owned citybased teams, player auction, a mix of international and Indian stars - crucially, a changed format - the glamour quotient, big prize money etc.
Kapur admits that they borrowed heavily from the IPL, and US-based leagues like the NBA and the NFL while finalising the GPL draft. "Well, we took IPL as a business model, as we found it quite attractive and inspirational, " he says, adding, "We wanted the team owners to get returns on their investments while also making a viable business out of it. I am also a big fan of the NFL and NBA, and it was from there that we derived the entire draft/auction process. The original part about it is that something like this had never been tried out in golf before. Golfers had never been treated as commodities that could be bought, so that's a first in the world. We hope the GPL will prove to be a game-changer. Kapur, a regular on the European and Asian Tour circuits, will also be representing one of the eight teams in the GPL. At the auction, the franchisees spent around Rs 3. 83 crore to buy the 24 players, most of whom were sold way beyond their respective base prices. The impact of cricket can be seen in the ownership of the teams as well, with Sri Lankan cricketers Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara buying the Colombo franchise of GPL - Colombo Sixers - while Indian offie Harbhajan Singh is believed to be a co-owner of Uttarakhand Lions. There was also talk of VVS Laxman being interested in buying a team.

The three-day team event will be a day-night affair - another first in Asian golf.

In a global first, there's a change in the format too - it will be a 14-hole contest instead of the regular 18. While the teams will play the first two rounds on stroke-play format, the final round would be on the basis of four-ball, like the one seen in the Ryder Cup. To speed up the proceedings and make it more exciting, a 30-second clock rule is being introduced, as in the NBA and the NFL, where a player has to complete his shot within 30 seconds.

Says 2005 US Open winner Michael Campbell: "It's the most unique concept in golf that I have seen in my almost two decade-long career as a professional. Playing under lights will be a first for pros, and the 30-second rule for each shot will be quite challenging and exciting. I have been to India before, but this trip would be unique in many aspects. " The 43-year-old New Zealander bagged the highest price of $61, 000 (Rs 33. 55 lakh) at last month's GPL player auction.

Sareen, a former top-flight amateur golfer whose sports management firm Sportsmantra is managing the GPL, says it wasn't easy convincing people to buy the concept. "It took us a long time to get the partners on board. In fact, we were not even sure till about a month ago whether we would be able to pull it off. But once we got Pearls as the title sponsor and Aamby Valley as hosting partner, who were gracious enough to understand our vision and goal, things became a lot easier. Still it took us over a year to get the necessary partners on board. Shiv (Kapur), despite his busy season, has worked tirelessly to make our dream a reality. We did suffer setbacks on the way, but we never lost sight of our goal and kept working towards it. We hope our hard work will pay off and this event will set a new trend for the game, " says Sareen.

As many as five international stars, who between them have won six Major crowns besides a host of European and Asian Tour titles, would be playing in the event alongside some of the top names from Asia and India. "Never before have so many major winners come for a single event in India. The day-night concept will both unique and challenging, as seven holes will be played in sunlight and the return leg under lights. Accuracy will be paramount, as there's a two-shot penalty if the ball gets lost. We shall see how it goes. We may try out neon balls in the future, " adds Sareen.

One man who looks the happiest with the development is Col SK Sinha, the general manager of the award-winning Aamby Valley course, which will be hosting an event of this magnitude for the first time. Barring an Asian Tour event in 2006, the butterfly-shaped course has failed to attract big-ticket events, despite the great infrastructure or surroundings. "It's a big boost for us. For long we have been trying to get big events here, but somehow the event promoters never seemed interested. It really pained me to see such a beautiful course lying empty. The GPL is a big challenge for us, as it will be the first time we would be holding something under lights. We hope it will be a big hit, " says Sinha. Kapur says this is just the beginning. "Our aim is to get players of the likes of Tiger Woods or Rory McIlroy to play the GPL. We also plan to expand the league each year and take it to other cities, and add one or two teams each year. "The response this year was overwhelming and we were sold out fairly quickly. I was thrilled when I got a call from Jayawardene, saying he was in and would love to be a franchise owner. That really spurred us on. "

FORMAT


Eight teams comprising four players each Two day-night rounds of stroke-play, followed by a round of best-ball format (four-ball scoring system) Each round will be played over 14 holes - seven in daylight, seven under lights

HIGHEST BIDS


INTERNATIONALS

Michael Campbell (New Zealand), bought by Shubhkamna Eagles for $ 61, 000 Angel Cabrera (Argentina) and Darren Clarke (N Ireland), bought by Maharashtra 59ers and Uttarakhand Lions, for $ 55, 000 each Thaworn Wiratchant (Punjab Lancers), Chapchai Nirat (Uttarakhand Lions), Daniel Chopra (Shubhkamna Eagles) fetched $ 37, 000 each

INDIANS


Shiv Kapur (Maharashtra 59ers) and Gaganjeet Bhullar (Punjab Lancers) bought for $ 58, 000 each Anirban Lahiri (Shubhkamna Eagles) bought for $ 52, 000

THE TEAMS


SHUBHKAMNA EAGLES

Anirban Lahiri, Daniel Chopra (Sweden), Michael Campbell (New Zealand), Shamim Khan

DELHI DARTS


Rahil Ganjee, Scott Barr (Australia), Johan Edfors (Sweden), Ajeetesh Sandhu

MAHARASHTRA 59'ERS Shiv


Kapur, Scott Hend (Australia), Angel Cabrera (Argentina), Ashok Kumar

PUNJAB LANCERS


Gaganjeet Bhullar, Thaworn Wiratchant (Thailand), Shaun Micheel (US), Rashid Khan

GUJARAT UNDERDAWGS


Digvijay Singh, Jarmo Sandelin (Sweden), David Howell (England), Gaurav Ghei

UTTARAKHAND LIONS


Shankar Das, Chapchai Nirat (Thailand), Darren Clarke (N Ireland), Mukesh Kumar

COLOMBO SIXERS


Chiragh Kumar, Jason Knutzon (Australia), Simon Dyson (England), Mithun Perera (Sri Lanka)

TAMIL NADU PULLEES


Himmat Rai, Siddikur (Bangladesh), Rich Beem (US), Harendra Gupta.

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