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High Indian Golfer Anirban Lahiri on Beginning Baan Basis and Giving Again to the Group

High Indian Golfer Anirban Lahiri on Beginning Baan Basis and Giving Again to the Group

As Anirban Lahiri worked his way up the LIV Golf charts, playing a pivotal role in taking the Crushers GC to the team championship last season, he had another project taking shape in his home country India. It involved giving back to the sport that defines him, but unlike his career taking flight again, care has been taken that the efforts there stayed well under the radar. Anirban Lahiri, who’s now gearing up for the Hero Indian Open from March 28 to 31, tells us more about his latest venture: Baan Foundation.

After months of brainstorming and “work behind the scenes”, Lahiri launched the Baan Foundation this January in the western Indian city of Baroda. The title goes with his nickname ‘Baan’, but the vision goes far beyond the man.

Anirban Lahiri on what he hopes to achieve with Baan Foundation

Lahiri had been keen on an initiative like this since his days on the PGA Tour, but “[his] mentors asked [him] to wait,” explains Lahiri on why he took time to roll out what promises to be an exciting project aimed at growing the sport at the grassroots level in India.

It isn’t about ploughing resources and knowhow into the foundation, the desire to give back is borne out of Lahiri’s first-hand experience of growing up across the country, including Tier 2 and 3 cities courtesy of his father’s army background, and the struggles at getting better despite being part of a “broken system”.

The plan is to skip the country’s golfing hubs, and focus on making an impact where it is most required. These are early days, but he hopes the pilot project at Baroda’s Gaekwad Baroda Golf Club gradually expands on a larger scale.

“Proof of concept was very important in an initiative like this,” says Lahiri in an exclusive interview with Prestige Online. “The endeavour is to achieve short-term goals and showcase our vision to the world.”

From the drawing board to execution, Lahiri, his long-time coach Vijay Divecha, and other board members fleshed out thoughts, taking care of minute details, and after 10 months of deliberations, it was “time to pull the trigger”.

Going back to his roots

Among the factors that led Lahiri on this path are of course his junior and amateur days in the sport, along with his being “a product of charity”. Hailing from a middle-class family, resources weren’t always available and golf remains an expensive sport in the country.

Lahiri terms himself a late bloomer in amateur golf, but the rapid strides he made after a chance encounter at 14 with coach Divecha helped him get noticed. Benefactors like Mahendra Agarwal (the founder of Indian logistics company GATI), and watch brand Rolex’s grant to the Indian Golf Union (the national federation) — which helped promising players like Lahiri to pay their coaching fees — were like building blocks that helped Lahiri get to world golf’s highest level.

It’s now time to give back, and Lahiri is confident the foundation will sustain itself and grow in a way that it outlives him and his family. In the hope that the non-profit Baan Foundation will be an example of perpetuity, the dominant theme is to grow golf where the sport is yet to take root, hence the tactic of steering clear of Tier 1 cities.

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Anirban Lahiri playing at a Baan Foundation event. (Image: Baan Foundation)

The Baroda pilot project has kindled interest, and Lahiri is happy to share that quite a few golf clubs across the country have expressed interest to develop their junior programme with guidance from the Baan Foundation.

The model Lahiri and the other board members have in mind is one where the foundation has no physical presence at the centres it operates, and work with the golf clubs is on the lines of a cooperative.

Why Baroda?

There’s a tale behind how Baroda became the foundation’s first stopover. A charity golf tournament for marginalised women and children with Down Syndrome in the nearby city of Ahmedabad in January 2023 brought together several like-minded golfers.

Lahiri was a part of the event at the Kalhaar Blues and Greens Golf Club, and he got to play with a couple of golfers from Baroda, who invited him to visit their city and play with the patron of the Gaekwad Baroda Golf Club and current Maharaja of the city, Samarjitsinh Ranjitsinh Gaekwad.

An accomplished first-class cricketer, the Maharaja is also passionate about golf and his Laxmi Vilas Palace overlooks the Gaekwad Baroda Golf Club. The driving range and short game area he built there was the perfect launchpad, and so the Baan Foundation was born on January 19, 2024.

Attention to detail

The junior programme is proving to be a runaway success in a city that has seen little action on a golf course.

Already, 36 children have signed up under the first batch, and 40 are on the waiting list. Equipment and golf balls are being provided by the foundation, and coaching is imparted by three assistant coaches of the golf club who have undergone training under three “core teachers”.

Abhishek Jha, Saaniya Sharma and Rohan Manhas are renowned teaching professionals based across the country, and are the ones overseeing the pilot programme in Baroda. Other than frequent visits to the city to keep tabs on the children’s progress and coaching methods, the trio also does site visits and prepares reports when a golf club expresses interest to collaborate with the Baan Foundation.

In India, the perception about golf as a sport for the affluent is a major deterrent and it is here the foundation aims to make a difference by giving access to juniors irrespective of their economic background. Golf balls and equipment are taken care of, and Lahiri ensures the coaches have the knowhow to groom the children. “It is a huge undertaking and there is no point in giving equipment to the children if there aren’t good coaches,” he says, adding there’s an emphasis on keeping the coaches up to date with the latest methods, including advanced training tools.

One step at a time

A go-slow approach is what drives the Baan Foundation. It’s not about being in a stage of infancy, even the way forward will be governed by a cautious outlook. “We want the pilot project to succeed first, there’s no point in biting more than we can chew,” says Lahiri.

The 36-year-old is constantly busy with his LIV Golf schedule, which requires him to crisscross continents, but he’s dedicated to being hands-on in terms of time and effort. Aware he needs to strike a balance between his professional commitments and working towards making the foundation a success, Lahiri is certain that a ripple effect is what he is looking at — “Definitely not a tsunami where too many projects pour in quickly.”

On the financial front, the foundation can sustain itself for at least 18 months. “I want to put my blood and sweat into the project and we, the Board members, have put in a certain sum which won’t require us to look for external help immediately,” says Lahiri.

The aim is to let the foundation’s work speak for itself, hence the financial buffer to start with. “Once we have established a system and have some results to show, we will definitely do some fundraising activities and reach out to people who feel the same way as us. To make the foundation sustainable long term that will definitely be required; especially if we are to reach more parts of the country,” says Lahiri.

Multiplier effect

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A Baan Foundation event. (Image: Baan Foundation)

In a space where similar projects are trying to make a difference at the grassroots level, Lahiri clarifies that the Baan Foundation is “not a threat or competition with anyone”.

“We want to add to this ecosystem, and are keen to reach out to pros who have foundations and work in tandem,” he says. “Being a part of a system that’s broken and making it [to the top] despite that, I understand. Hence, the bottom line is to broad-base the sport and not act as a disruptor.”

LIV Golf a catalyst

Lahiri does not shy away when asked if his shift from the PGA Tour to LIV Golf in 2022, and playing for more prize money and his marked rise in earnings has helped hasten the formation of the foundation.

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Since his debut in September 2022, Lahiri has notched five top-10s on LIV Golf, including three runner-up results, and the one-time World No 33’s financial success has the potential to translate into a ground-breaking project for junior golf in India.

Lahiri, however, is not looking too deep into the future. All he wants is to make a “small” difference to a sport in a country where golf is still perceived as elitist.

Find out more about Anirban Lahiri’s Baan Foundation here.

(Main and featured images: Jason Butler/ Getty Images)

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How much is Anirban Lahiri getting from LIV Golf?

In 2022, Lahiri became the first Indian to join the Saudi-backed LIV Golf League. It was reported that Lahiri had accepted a USD 7 million contract from LIV Golf.

How much did Anirban Lahiri win?

Lahiri made his LIV Golf debut at the Invitational Boston in 2022, and went on to finish second in a three-man playoff. In 2023, he finished top-three thrice and was part of team champions Crushers GC for the entire season. So far, Lahiri’s total earnings from LIV Golf exceed USD 17 million.

How many international titles has Anirban Lahiri won?

Lahiri has two wins on the DP World Tour (formerly the European Tour) and five on the Asian Tour. He has won 12 times on his home tour, the Professional Golf Tour of India.

How many Major appearances does Anirban Lahiri have?

With 18 appearances across The Masters, PGA Championship, The Open Championship and US Open, Lahiri leads the list of Indian pros at the Majors.

How old is Anirban Lahiri?

Born on June 29, 1987, Lahiri is 36 years old.

Source: Prestige Online

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