February 2004




February 2004 


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Gyan Marwah

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India has the world's highest 18-hole course; also the oldest one outside Great Britain; a course with the Taj Mahal in the backdrop; another one on the banks of the holy river Ganges; one in the Palace of a Maharaja and there are the sprawling golf courses in deserts and beach resorts. Most of these are well connected by road, rail and air offering excellent accommodation facilities and welcome a visitor on their fairways.

A trip around the golden triangle of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur - three of the most popular tourist cities of India - can be a very fulfilling experience for a golf enthusiast. The Delhi Golf Club is spread on an area of 220 acres and is as historical as the city itself. The fairways are dotted with medieval tombs and monuments belonging to the fourteenth century Afghan and Lodi dynasties. Besides, the Golf Club is visited upon by 300 species of migratory birds and, during monsoons, it is not unusual to see the splendorous spectacle of a peacock performing the rain dance.

Over 500 keen golfers of varying nationalities trudge upon history as they play on this 6,320 metres, par 72, 18-hole golf course which offers unusual hazards. Players have to negotiate thorny bushes, bunkers, plateaus, troughs, mud hills, steep dips and slopes making it a memorable golfing experience.

Since it was a sport born in Scotland, the British set about making golf courses in key cities of India they inhabited. But as it was not possible to make one in proper Shimla because of its rocky terrain, a course was laid out in Naldera, 23 kilometres from this hill resort which was the summer capital of the British.

The par-68 Naldera golf links is covered by groves of thick deodar trees and has nine holes which can be back-played to 18. The hazards include a water tank, cliffs with greens on the edges and a temple. A word of warning: The game can be interrupted by the local tribesmen taking a leisurely stroll through the course making it one of the most `sporting' links in India.

For those who prefer the spiritual heights to the geographical ones, a visit to the Varanasi Gorkha Golf Club can be an uplifting experience. This is the most holy city of India and Hindus believe that a dip in the sacred river Ganges cleanses them of all their sins. Here, on the breezy banks of the river, a great game of golf is an experience one will never forget.

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Royal Golf Club, Kolkata

However if the destination is not north India, there are lush green golf courses to be found in almost all parts of the country. Kolkata, for example, has The Royal Golf Club - the first one outside Great Britain. It was in Kolkata that the Royal Golf Club was set up and has since been visited by golf pros, heads of states and other dignitaries. In 1911, King George V and Queen Mary who visited India, conferred upon it the title of `Royal'.

The Kolkata Club has strategically located water tanks and natural water hazards. The most significant are the two large tanks across the tenth fairway, a 457 yards, par four hole. From the tee, the tiger line is over the first tank and must carry all of 230 yards. Though the greens at this club are small by modern standards, undulations make them tricky. It also has a Bowling Green section founded in the early 19th century. Here members can indulge in bowling their woods along the grass.

Across the road from Royal Kolkata is the Tollygunge Club. The extensive grounds of the club were originally an indigo plantation, laid out in 1781 by the Johnson family, the pioneers of the planting industry in India. Besides maintaining an 18-hole golf course, the Tollygunge Club also pioneered equestrian sports. Steeple chasing and show jumping are still held annually here. Tollygunge also has two well-appointed bars, dining room and restaurant, seven tennis courts, two squash courts, two swimming pools and billiards table.

To the north of Kolkata lies Shillong, one of the earliest outposts of the British in north-east India. It is also India's best-known hill resorts set amidst a landscape of heather and pine forests that support a variety of flowering orchids. The Shillong Golf Club was laid out by a group of British civil servants in 1898. It was only after the First World War that Shillong gained popularity as a golf resort for European golfers from East Bengal and Kolkata and it was in 1924 that the 18-hole course with its picturesque clubhouse was inaugurated. Shillong is just 56 kilometres from Cherrapunjee, one of the wettest places in the world with the highest recorded monsoon.

Besides Shillong and Shimla, the other hill resorts where one can tee off in hilly backgrounds include Kodaikanal, Wellington and Ootacamund all in South India, which has some of the country's finest and most picturesque courses, primarily due to the efforts of the tea and spice planters who popularised the sport in the region.

The Kodaikanal Golf Club is at an elevation of 6,000 feet in the Palani Hills, surrounded by nutmeg, cinnamon and pepper groves. The 18-hole, par-66 course, is laid over natural grasslands and is criss-crossed by streams.

Coimbatore is at the base of the Nilgiri mountains and is the gateway to the famous Ooty hill resort. Primarily an industrial township, Coimbatore is often referred to as the `Manchester of the East' because of its large number of textile mills. The Coimbatore Golf Club’s new 18-hole course promises to be one of the finest in the country. Between Coimbatore and Ootacamund is Wellington, a small army settlement which has a nine-hole course maintained by the Wellington Gymkhana Club.

The other big Indian cities like Mumbai, Chennai and Bangalore too have excellent golfing facilities and like all metropolitan places offer comparable comforts and luxury. The Mumbai Presidency Golf Club set up in 1897 is spread out in an area of 110 acres and its greens are undoubtedly the best in the country. The real test here is the variable and shifting sea breeze which could perplex even the most experienced player.

Similarly, at the Chennai Gymkhama Club, by palm and casuarina trees, a gentle sea breeze keeps the players cool. It is unique in that it is situated within the 2,400-meter oval of the Guindy race course, and offers a challenging game.

The golf club in Bangalore founded in 1896, is the second oldest in India. It also has the distinction of hosting the oldest inter- club tournament in the country. In the days when railways and aircraft were still things of the future, golfers often travelled as much as 300 km on horseback and in bullock carts to participate in the tournament.

It is this exotica which makes India such a quaint golfing destination. In fact golf can be played in any part of the country. Even if a town doesn't have a private golf course, it is sure to have one in the cantonment, maintained by the defence services.

But wherever it is, the flavour of India is visible everywhere. One can stroll off the course and have a cup of piping hot tea at a roadside stall or wait for an elephant to pass before teeing off. Golfing is an experience in India -- an experience of the country in its unique, exotic way.




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