SRINAGAR: The Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed ordered the formulation of a Concept Plan for maintenance, operations and marketing of existing golf courses so as to make them self-sustained assets. The aim, according to the CM, is to make J&K a global golfing destination.
On the face of it, this is all well and fine: modern management concepts and ideas are being employed by the government for the upkeep and improvement of a public facility. But probe a little deeper, contradictions emerge. Not only contradictions but the whole exercise seems ethereal-out of touch and sync with the needs of the needs of the people of the state.
At a time when the state is facing a fiscal crunch and when there is desperation on the streets of Srinagar fed by the 2014 floods and a yawning governance deficit which impacts the welfare of people and when people are more concerned about bread and butter issues, the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir is worried about developing world class golf courses in Kashmir.
To be fair, the golf obsession of the government is not peculiar to the current ruling dispensation; it is a theme that cuts across and permeates various and different administrations. This makes it all the more puzzling and curious.
Golf, is in the final analysis, an elitist sport which is played more for networking than anything else. It is not a mass sport which animates, arouses and involves the masses. Branding Kashmir as a global golfing destination will then neither lead to the promotion of tourism nor promote Brand Kashmir given that the target audience will be inherently small. Niche tourism efforts will not lead to mass tourism, by definition. Moreover, there is immense and tremendous competition in the golfing and golf course sphere. There are gold courses in Australia, Scotland, United States and even Dubai which are facilities par excellence; our golf courses are pedestrian and ordinary by comparison.
Why would a high end tourist prefer conflict zone of Kashmir over other more beautiful and better facilities which are complemented by supporting infrastructure? So even as a business proposition, the idea of the government to promote golf and Kashmir as a golfing destination is flawed.
There are other but nonetheless even more important issues with the idea. Instead of promoting popular sports like football and to some extent cricket in Kashmir, the government is promoting a sport that is neither popular nor connected to the sporting milieu of Kashmir. The reasons appear to be obvious: these sports are not sexy enough for the government; they are not eye catching enough. But given that these are popular, the governments avoidance of promoting these sports is puzzling. All in all then the governments branding and brand promotion strategies are flawed and disconnected from reality. The price for this is paid by common Kashmiris.
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