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Putting away stress

Yusuf Begg | September 27, 2003

What's it about golf that attracts the top honchos of the corporate world? Is it the thrill of strolling along -- and swinging a club -- on rolling greens that are extremely pleasing to the eye? Is it that you don't have to race from one end of a field to another at speeds that are almost certainly dangerous after a certain age? Or, is it simply a social affair?

A place where you'll find more power players gathered on a weekend than what you'd find at a top-flight business summit.

"Do I really need the greens to network?" asks a bemused Sunil Mittal, chairman,  Bharti Enterprises.

Mittal insists that deals may be struck, but the main reason why corporate honchos head for the greens is to get away from deal-making and the fast pace of life.

"I'm not going to refuse business if I get one on the course, but that's not the reason why we come here," says ad man Nures Sayeed.

Most golfers insist that the image of high-powered corporate tycoons wheeling-dealing on the greens is one that is dreamt up by the media. They say it's a getaway.

Take Ranjan Bhattacharya, managing director, Country Inns and Suites, who says that the golf course is "a place to relax". Or, look at Sanjay Sharma, the youthful country manager, Swarovski India who insists grandly that "golf is meditation".

People like Mittal, Bhattacharya, Sayeed and Sharma speak in unison when it comes to the reasons behind choosing golf as a sport. Firstly it is a sport that even middle-aged men can play.

"You can play it throughout your life. You don't need speed and stamina," says Sharma. It's also a game, which brings you close to nature.

"Golf courses are green, quiet, pollution free. You can concentrate on your game as well as enjoy your surrounding. There is no smoke or noise," remarks Sayeed.

But remember that even the most high-powered player has to follow the rules of the greens. One can't come late for tee-offs or carry more than the scheduled number of clubs or hitch a ride in the buggies, if you're playing a pro tournament.

"It's basically a mind game where you're playing against yourself. For most of us it is an endeavour to improve our game and in the long run ourselves," remarks Bhattacharya.

Nevertheless, it must be said that large numbers of players do take up golf in a bid to meet their social peers.

Golf experts say there are two types who play -- people who've reached and settled, and the wannabes.

And rarely do the two meet; at least not in the first few months. If there is networking, then it is a slow and laborious process. Most golfers tend to stick to friends they've  known for some time.

"I only play with friends. That's the only way I can relax. We come from similar backgrounds, we know each other and we are comfortable in each other's company." says Mittal.

"At a certain age one doesn't hang out at pubs with friends. After a work week and being cooped up in the office or meetings, one needs to come out and have a relaxed time with friends," says Bhattacharya.

Golfing buddies Mittal, Bhattacharya, golf pro Brandon D'Souza and Hardeep Singh, managing director, Cargill Seeds India swear that they have nothing to prove to each other.

"The only competition is in the game; there we are both competitive," says Mittal.

Golf is both exclusive and elitist. "And that's why it draws a crowd with a particular social profile," remarks Sharma.

"Obviously I'm more at ease playing with my peers. That way the atmosphere is more relaxed and one can enjoy both the game and the company," he adds.

If there is any competition, it is at the golfing level. Mittal, Bhattacharya and Sayeed all have handicaps that range from 18-20. For them weekend golfing is the only way to improve the drives and puts.

In a year's time they hope to have a handicap of around 10. For Sharma, however, the aim is to reach 2 in a year's time. With a present handicap of 5, he's already a pro among the corporates.

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