Callaway Golf Co., the U.S. golf equipment manufacturer, is opening an Indian unit, Callaway Golf India, and has signed Jeev Milkha Singh, India’s most famous golfer, as a brand ambassador in an effort to tap the growing popularity of the sport in the world’s second most populous country after China.
George Fellows, chief executive, said in an interview that the company viewed India as a nation on the cusp of a marked shift in terms of the size of its market for the sport, with an increase in golf course construction, interest in the sport among younger Indians, and rising wealth among India’s middle class.
Vivek Mehta, Callaway’s India country head, said, “India has a long tradition of golf. The Royal Calcutta Golf Club opened in 1829. But up to now it has been largely an elite sport, dominated by retired military officers, high-ranking government officials and senior business executives. In the past few years that has begun to change. The number of golf courses in the nation has risen to about 250, up from 80 courses five years, and another big increase is expected in the next few years.”
Mr. Fellows estimated that there are some 500,000 golfers in India, some 150,000 of whom are termed “avid,” meaning they play more than a round a month. The number of golfers overall is growing by up to 30% a year which before long could translate into “a marketplace in India of several hundred million dollars of equipment sales,” he said.
Callaway’s India team will be modest to start with: up to 15 people based in Gurgaon, a suburb of New Delhi, responsible for building the brand, cultivating newcomers to the sport, and selling Callaway equipment through all 200 golf and sporting goods outlets in the country, including pro shops.
Mr. Fellows said India is a key international market for the company as the U.S. market is projected to grow by 2% to 3% annually long term. Already more than 50% of the Carlsbad, Calif.-based company’s revenue comes from outside the U.S. The golf equipment industry also is coming off a rough couple of years because of the recession in the U.S. and Western Europe, two of its major markets.
“Callaway Golf’s international business spans more than 110 countries and accounts for over half of the Company’s annual revenue,” said George Fellows, President and CEO, Callaway Golf. ”We see great potential in the Indian market and are looking forward to introducing our products, which are the most innovative and technologically advanced in the game.”
Mr. Fellows said he was cautiously optimistic about prospects for 2010 and is hoping 2011 will see the industry return to its traditional rates of growth. The international popularity of golf may get a boost from the 2016 summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, he added, because golf will be included as an Olympic sport for the first time since 1904.
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