Above par for the course

Above par for the course

Rishi Narain’s involvement with the sport of golf has lasted over two decades. From his days as a professional golfer to founding Gurgaon-based Rishi Narain Golf Management (RNGM), his endeavour has always been to place India on the golfing map. “I spent close to eight years in the U.S. where I was exposed to a mature golf industry. Ever since my return to India, I have wanted to bring our golf industry on par with those abroad,” says Narain. Post his stint as a golfer, Narain ran a golf academy for 10 years, an experience that allowed him to be closely associated with some of the sport’s biggest names in the country. Prior to RNGM, he also served as Senior Director Golf Business, South Asia, IMG, for five and a half years, where he was a consultant for several golf related projects. In 2003, Narain established RNGM with a three-fold agenda – creation of golf tournaments, design and construction of golf courses and promotion of golf tourism.

RNGM follows a business model that is services based and hence not capital intensive. At the very beginning, Narain invested his personal capital into the venture and turned the basement of his home into a plush office space. Initially, the focus was on acquiring clients. Even his addition of office staff happened on an as-needed basis, for when a larger number of clients came on board. “Fortunately, as I was a known name in the industry, people sought me out to be introduced to the golfing circles,” says Narain. Within two months of commencing operations, RNGM was able to conduct national level golf events. The largest benefit to clients is that an association with these events gives their brands a premium positioning. “There are a number of factors associated with golf such as meticulous planning, devising strategy and also values such as patience and dedication that corporate brands would like to be known for,” says Narain. In addition to this, association with golf events allows corporates to build their networks amongst high networth individuals and better their customer relationship management. RNGM’s clients include British Airways, CNBC, Ernst & Young and Oracle amongst several others.

In the next five to six years, I see us reaching thirty times our current revenue with a majority of the revenue coming from golf course development

What sets RNGM apart from its peers is that its effort has been to own golf events as opposed to managing golf events. “I wanted to create event properties that we owned as opposed to earning a management fee. As what our events offered was distinct from what others were offering, multiple sponsors backed our events,” says Narain. “The greatest advantage of owning our events is that we are not at the mercy of the business fluctuation of our clients,” he adds.

Course by course

While golf events were one component of the business model, another significant revenue churner was golf course development. “A decade ago, real estate developers did not see how building golf courses made commercial sense,” says Narain. However, Narain believes that media exposure and greater interest in the sport has led to a situation where nearly every large player in real estate is interested in building a golf course. “Today, the presence of a golf course leads to a significant increase in the value of the real estate,” says Narain while estimating the increase to be close to a 30 per cent premium. RNGM functions as consultants to real estate developers and is involved in conducting feasibility studies on golf courses and the additional revenues they will generate. That is not all. “Nobody else can offer the gamut of services that we offer as we are involved in conceiving, designing, building and operating a golf course,” states Narain.

Snap Shot

RNGM
Founders: Rishi Narain
Industry: Golf management
RNGM benefits from owning its golf events and a strategic alliance with SGD allows it greater expertise in the area of golf course development
City: Gurgaon, Haryana

RNGM also has a strategic alliance with the U.S. based Signature Golf Design (SGD), a leading golf course design and architectural firm. “As far as the division of labour goes, it is 90 per cent us and 10 per cent SGD,” says Narain. He also adds that on request from real estate clients, SGD is more actively involved. The project that has seen maximum participation from SGD is the development of an 18-hole golf course in Hyderabad for DAX Properties. Narain observes that at the moment, real estate developers show interest in building golf courses on residential projects, but, that could soon extend to townships and other commercial projects provided the developers procure required permissions.

Golf tourism is another area of interest for RNGM. “For many years, I have been observing how lucrative golf tourism has been for countries like Thailand and Malaysia,” says Narain. And this made him approach the Government Ministry for Tourism in India to ask for their support in promoting India as a golf tourism destination. Narain’s efforts paid off as the Ministry organised the ‘India Golf Festival’. Today, the festival enters its sixth year and has generated a lot of media coverage that highlighted the potential of golf tourism in India.

Emerging trends

Amongst RNGM’s latest initiatives is player representation. From Jyoti Randhawa and Shiv Kapur, to golf’s newest sensation, Gaganjeet Bhullar, RNGM manages India’s top professional golfers. Narain certainly pegs this as a space to watch out for. “As Indian golfers taste international success, brands are keen on signing them on,” he says. He adds that RNGM has been successful in procuring endorsement deals for Bhullar with brands such as automobile giants Mercedes Benz and Hero Honda and retailer, Indian Terrain. Narain highlights that the worldwide positioning of golf attracts brands to players in India as well. Their price positioning vis-a-vis cricketers who are highly priced, is an added advantage. Narain adds that sports management as a concept is one that will surely catch on in India with football, golf and tennis serving as viable alternatives to cricket.

RNGM has also stepped into the production of custom-made golf merchandise for corporate clients. These include apparel and accessories besides golf equipment. “Our hands are full with the other aspects of the business to venture into retail,” says Narain when asked if plans are afoot to sell their merchandise through a retail format.

For RNGM, one of the most significant challenges of growing the business has been finding the right people. Knowledge about the sport amongst people leaves a lot to be desired. “There are no educational institutions that specialise in golf that can help locate talent that will grow the business,” says Narain. At present, RNGM has a dynamic team of 16 individuals who are involved in the various facets of event management, marketing and business development.

Looking to the future, Narain is optimistic about the growth prospects of RNGM. He is confident of doubling year-on-year revenue by the end of the current fiscal. “In the next five to six years, I see us reaching 30 times our current revenue with a majority of the revenue coming from golf course development,” he adds. Narain also sees golf event management revenue growing by 50 per cent, year-on-year.

Narain’s growth plans for RNGM include proposed joint ventures in the area of golf facility development. “We are looking at creating driving ranges with social amenities around the range that help in making it economically sustainable,” he says adding that the driving ranges will be stand alone ventures and not part of residential projects. “Our aim is to spread golf and sporting culture throughout the country through the development of the right kind of facilities to motivate people to get involved,” says Narain. And given the pace of RNGM’s growth, his aim does not seem out of reach.