It’s one of those weekends when long travel is on the cards. Headed to Orlando from Mumbai so you can imagine how hectic that promises to be. Hop airports, business lounges, instagramming, reporting, writing, shows and tweets. But all for good reason. An appointment with Tiger Woods.With all those gazillion moments one has wanted to cover the Warren Buffett of golf, this is it. Up, close and conversational. Woods will be hosting his annual charity tournament, the World Challenge and this time it’s special because an Indian sponsor is leading it. The Hero Group. So this is the Hero World Challenge and Tiger Woods is making a comeback for the year to play, returning from his back injury. The $3.5 million tournament leaves a full million dollars for the winner to cream.For Pawan Munjal, the CEO of the Hero Group this is big stuff. Despite all his scandals and controversy Tiger Woods remains a superlative athlete and associating with him will mean a blockbuster branding exercise. Tiger recently posed with Hero bikes on a Golf course. Having launched their bikes recently in Bogota, Colombia last week, Hero is accelerating plans to expand in the US. By 2020 Hero aims to be in over 50 countries with 20 plus assembly facilities globally. A golfer lover himself this effort to engage with Tiger Woods is strategic and not just a show of support for the sport. This is a branding exercise into carve the Hero brand in minds of Americans. He is looking to pick on American fantasies for two wheelers given how few they are in that country. If the target is to sell 1.2 million bikes internationally then all efforts will remain in new markets to extend the brand and the bikes.For Tiger Woods, India has been a long shot with respect to playing in the country but that should be changing soon. India doesn’t host tournaments with enough purse to afford the star player. But realising that India and China is where the sport is growing and that corporations here have an appetite for global brands, Woods has made some exceptions. In February he was in Delhi on the invite of Munjal to play an exhibition match. In what was a by invite event, it drew about 4,500 people on the golf course. The number would have been much higher if it were a public event. Tiger Woods remains by far the most popular face of golf despite the rise of Rory McIlroy and other winning talent.At the Hero World Challenge 18 of the worlds most prolific golfers will be in attendance. Tiger isn’t alone who is looking at countries like India. Just recently the golf legend Arnold Palmer- who I interviewed in July- opened up an India office with the intent to bring in his course design and possibly his apparel brand here. The grow markets remain in the east even though in absolute terms we still find USA to be the market with a golf appetite. Golf brands in India are turning the corner. Callaway’s team tells me they are selling much better than before and now expanding the business. So what’s clear is that there is business to be won.For a country like India where golf is often considered elitist (even though there is enough evidence to prove its no longer so) opening up possibilities for Tiger’s influence can mean a great deal in expanding the sport. It’s done so in China, and in Turkey where Tiger has played some high profile tournaments. Like cricket golf needs icons to grow and even as young Indian professional golfers are winning international tournaments, it’s more about bagging the mega events consistently to sustain brand recall.Watch this space for more as next week there will more from my conversations with Tiger Woods.
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