Lords of the greens

Lords of the greens

The cream of India Inc. came together to play golf at the 13th Business Today-Honda Pro-Am of Champions 2008.

Business Today Editor-in-Chief Aroon Purie with the overall winner for Day 1 and Day 2
Aroon Purie with the overall winner
After what seemed an interminably long winter, the summer has made a brutally swift appearance this year. Not that it deterred the movers and shakers of India Inc. from teeing off at the Grand Finale of the country’s only stand alone Pro-Am. The ITC Classic Golf Resort, a half-hour’s drive from the mall-dominated skyline of Gurgaon, and the event’s home for all but one year, looked picture-postcard pretty, and provided the wonderful (and challenging) backdrop for the two-day event. The BT-Honda Pro-Am is never less than enjoyable for the recreational golfers, but once on the golf course, these men are loath to give an inch to each other. They’re competitive, often fiercely so, yet more than happy to be the target of merciless but good-natured ribbing about their golfing skills (or the lack thereof). And walking towards their golf balls on the fairway, or over a post-round glass of chilled beer, these men might be talking golf, business or money—and life (not necessarily in that order). Golf, after all, is just an extended male bonding session; it begins in the clubhouse and ends there, too.

“It’s a good day out,” says Akshay Kilachand, Director, Kesar Enterprises. “This is an event that’s always organised well.” Kilachand, winner of the Mumbai leg (0-8 handicap category), is a 5-handicapper who plays at the Willingdon Sports Club in Mumbai. He has become a familiar face at the BT-Pro-Am—“I have played five or six times.”

Business Today Editor-in-Chief Aroon Purie with the overall runner-up for Day 1 and Day 2 pro Ashok Kumar
Aroon Purie with the overall runner-up
The tournament is great for picking up tips from the pros. Kaushik Dutta, Partner, PricewaterhouseCoopers, was playing the BTPro-Am for the third time. “I had a lot of fun,” he admits. “The pro in my foursome was very good and friendly, too.” For Gaurav Seth, MD, Standard & Poor’s, it was both a learning experience and an eyeopener. Seth is also a three-time participant. “It reminds us amateurs how long we have to go, literally, to reach the level of the pros. But it was great fun being out there playing with the pros.”

“The event is phenomenal, and BT is doing a great job,” lauds Rahul Khanna of Cleveland, the golf equipment maker. There were plenty of thoughts flying around on how Indian golf, riding the crest of a wave following the successes of S.S.P. Chowrasia and Arjun Atwal in the European Tour events this year, can maintain its upward swing. “Get industry to interact with the pros on a regular basis, so that there is an increase in sponsorship,” says Cleveland’s Khanna. “We should have more such events; industry should help out golf and golfers more.” The BT-Pro-Am, believes Khanna, can be a perfect platform for Indian corporates and professional golfers to meet.

So, does the well-worn cliché of fairways and greens doubling up as places for networking actually hold true? “It may be so in one’s immediate foursome,” says Mukul Bahri, Joint Managing Director, Jaipur Golden. “Not really,” feels Khanna. The golf course is more a place for hooking up with new buddies or renewing old acquaintances. “It is a great way to make friends,” seconds Bahri.

The Pro-Am’s second and final day coincided with the International Women’s Day, and it was fitting that the 13th edition saw the participation of a woman professional for the first time. Shalini Malik, pro, got the chance to pit her game against the men. “I loved playing the BT-Pro-Am,” says Malik, who was a special invitee.

Malik, who played the Emaar MGF Ladies Indian Masters in December 2007, an event on the Ladies European Tour, adds that the only downside of an otherwise memorable experience was that she had to play off the men’s tees. That left her at quite a disadvantage. Not that the amateurs minded much. “The guys were thrilled when they hit their golf balls past mine. And they also enjoyed it when they beat me on the ‘beat the pro’ (the second) hole!”

Take a bow: Rekha Purie with winners (L to R) Deepak Talwar, Nikhil Chopra, Naman Dawar and Vijay Dhawan
Rekha Purie with the winners
For the record, journeyman golfer Sanjay Kumar took the honours amongst the professionals. Kumar got drunk on birdies on the first day, firing 12 of them in a 12-under-par 60, and followed that up with a 68 for a 36-hole total of 16-under-par 128. The stocky pro from Lucknow ended the event richer by Rs 1,75,000—he won Rs 1.2 lakh for the best score and an additional Rs 55,000 for his first-day fireworks—the best round over the two days. Ashok Kumar, the leading money winner on tour during the 2006-07 domestic season, took home Rs 55,000 courtesy his nine-under 63, the lowest card on Day 2, and Rs 80,000 for finishing overall runner-up.

In the team event, Naman Dawar, pro, led his foursome of Nikhil Chopra, former Indian cricketer; Vijay Dhawan, Partner, S.N. Dhawan & Co; and Deepak Talwar, Chairman, DTA Consulting, to victory. They finished on 124 Stableford points, with Dawar earning Rs 70,000 for his winning efforts. In second place, four points behind, was Shamim Khan’s team of Ravinder Saroop, Director, Ministry of Finance; Arvind Sethi, Managing Partner, Cap M Consulting; and Raj Verma, Vice President, Reliance Energy. The pro, Khan, won Rs 40,000. The lucky amateurs from both the winning and runner-up teams got an all-expenses-paid trip to South Africa, courtesy Sun International; the winning trio will be flown there by South African Airways, and their stay will be taken care of by ITC.

Meanwhile, Andrew Horne (Day 1) and Harinder Sikka, Senior President, Nicholas Piramal, (Day 2) walked away with the Honda Longest Drive Prize; Sandeep Malhotra, ICICI Venture, (Day 1) and Deepak Verma, MD, Sheffield Vermark, (Day 2) bagged the ITC Straightest Drive award; while Upen Roop Rai of Indiatimes (Day 1) and Ashok Jaidka, CEO, South-Asia Hellmann Logistics India, (Day 2), took home the Avaya Closest to the Pin prize.

Picture perfect: Rekha Purie with the runner-up team (L to R) Arvind Sethi, Ravinder Saroop, Shamim Khan and Raj Verma; Sanjay Diwan of Avaya Global Connect
Rekha Purie with the runner-up team
But, for the 13th successive year, the sexy and much-desired Honda CR-V car had no takers. But that wasn’t so, one can be assured, for any want of effort on the part of the competitors. The car was the prize on offer, for the amateurs, on the par-3 fifth hole at the Jack Nicklausdesigned golf course. Instead, Arvind Wable, Executive Director & CEO, FCB-Ulka Advertising, (Day 1), and Gen. J.J. Singh (Day 2) walked away with the Honda Hole-in-One ‘Almost Made It!’ prize.

The BT-Honda Pro-Am keeps on growing every year, and the business fraternity looks forward to its springtime date with the pros. Once the day is done, they swap stories and reminisce on what was, and also what could have been, at the prize ceremony and dinner. And as ever, this was held at ITC The Maurya, and was a corporate-starred and glittering occasion.

The BT-Pro-Am is sponsored by Honda Siel Cars India and cosponsored by Avaya Global Connect, ITC Hotels. ColorPlus is the styling partner.