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Tee Time

Birdies & chicks

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Jaiseema is a housewife who, till last month, didn't know a thing about golf. Today she spends six hours daily at the DLF Golf & Country Club learning what a birdie is, and the difference between a sand wedge and a driver. She's one of the six women, out of 21 applicants, shortlisted for training as a caddie.

While women players are no longer a strange sight on golf courses, female caddies definitely are. On the international professional tour, Nick Faldo used to have Fanny Sunneson caddy for him. Sunneson now caddies for Henrik Stenson on the European Tour. Jan Squire, the only other woman caddy on the European Tour, caddies for India's Jeev Milka Singh.

Once a regular sight on American golf courses in the early 19th century - 14 women were trained to be caddies by Franz Rickaby, an English professor at the University of North Dakota - the few female caddies who do exist today, are called "caddy chicks" and "caddy mates", and are invariably young women, often scantily dressed, working on courses in Las Vegas and Scottsdale, "cleaning clubs, keeping score and ordering drinks".

The intentions of the Women's Golf Association of India (WGAI) which, in association with the Ministry of Tourism, has launched the Incredible India Golf Training Program, are more noble.

For a country that gets 6. 29 million tourists, the ministry wants to capitalise on the massive tourism potential that golf offers. Along with its money-spinning abilities, it also opens the windows of employment. It is thought that this training initiative would work towards enabling the lesserprivileged with only a minimal education and limited skills to become employable as golf assistants.

"Our objective is to make these unskilled and less educated people employable and have a respectable career, " says Champika Sayal, a former national champion and currently the secretary general of the WGAI. Sayal, who grew up in Gulmarg and had to make do with a hand-me-down set from her mother, has been one of the louder voices seeking the recognition and respect the women's game in India deserves. "Women have never had this opportunity before, " she adds.

The Incredible India Golf Training Program, part of the tourism ministry's 'Hunar se Rozgar' campaign is open to candidates who have a minimum education till class eight and between the ages of 18 and 28. After the ministry put out an advertisement in national dailies asking for applications, 21 women applied and about 150 men. After a round of interviews, these numbers were whittled down to six women and 40 men. While the DLF golf course trains the women, the Qutub Golf Course, the country's first public golf course, will educate the men.

The trainees will study theory together and after six weeks of instruction will sit for an exam. The training would combine practical learning with some necessary theoretical classes, for apart from learning how to carry and balance the bag, flag the hole, hand the clubs, understand and use the lingo and keep score, they will also learn about the ethics of the game. They will also be paid a stipend of Rs 1, 500 per month. The trainees will be absorbed by the two golf courses after they receive the necessary certification. The WGAI aims to gradually introduce the initiative to other parts of the country and states like Jammu & Kashmir and Tamil Nadu have apparently already evinced interest.

Being a caddy involves giving just as much direction as a coach would without the authoritative benefits of being one. As golfers would attest, it takes a special kind of person to do the job. Unaware of the traits one needs to become a good caddy, for these women it's the opportunity and a sense of doing something new that attracts them.

Jaiseema's husband wasn't keen that she apply for the program but she went ahead and did it anyway. "He didn't want me to come here, and told me that I should sit at home but I wanted to do this, " the bespectacled Jaiseema said.
For Poonam, having read about golf in the newspapers, the advertisement was enough to pique her curiosity. "I saw the ad and called up the WGAI to ask what we would be required to do, " she says.

The stories of caddies making a successful transition from assisting to actually playing the game has not gone unnoticed. It's a claim that even the ministry seems to be backing. "About 95 per cent of the best players are caddies. In fact at most courses, scratch players are mostly caddies and these women and men could be among those, " Sanjay Kothari, Special Secretary (Tourism) said when launching the programme. Add to that the fact that the sport is a part of the 2016 Olympic programme and the sudden impetus all makes sense.

Moonmoon Bara, a former state-level handball player, was encouraged by her hockey coach dad to not let this opportunity pass her by. Moonmara, who lives in Hari Nagar and spends 90 minutes on the Metro to reach the course, is very sure that golf could help her where handball couldn't. "My father thought this could help me do a lot more in life, " she says.

Sayal, who has designed the instruction module for the trainees, harbours bigger plans. "We will create a database of caddies, male and female and put it up on our website so that these people are free to be hired by anybody in the world, " she explains.

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