In the background of Tiger Wood’s deal with Hero Motors, there’s again a surge of international interest in Indian golf. But compared to, say, Thailand, which would have leveraged the public relations opportunity that such an association brings to lure even larger droves of golf tourists, India’s relative lack of accessible layouts scuppers any such spin-off. India is not a golf vacation destination yet. Unlike any of her neighbours, including the likes of China (which is witnessing a golf boom like nowhere else in the world) and especially tiny Thailand, which packs over 500 golf courses—most of which are accessible to visiting golfers—India has just over 250 layouts. And more than half of those are run by the Armed Forces and are off-limits for civilians and tourists alike. Also, a large number of courses are private clubs and require visiting golfers to check-in as members’ guests.
With that disclaimer in place, this writer would submit that the lack of multitudes is more than made up for by character. And for the intrepid itinerant golfer, there’s no dearth of interesting layouts to tee it up at. Don’t let all this dire sounding advice dampen your spirits. Much like the country itself, it’ll take some serious air miles and more than a few trips to explore India’s golfing firmament. And along the way, you’ll find more off-course distractions to keep the missus and children (if you’re travelling with the brood) occupied while you sneak away to get in a few rounds.
Delhi and around: Indisputably the hub for golfing action in the country, Delhi and the extended capital region offer a plethora of choices. The Lodhi-era, tomb-littered Delhi Golf Club in the heart of the city is the nostalgic favourite. Further afield north, Jaypee Greens Golf & Country Club is arguably the country’s only genuine ‘golf resort’ with accommodation and a world-class spa. If you’re a links specialist, consider teeing it up at the undulating and very challenging Golden Greens Golf & Country Club at Gurgaon. The Classic Golf Resort is another world-class layout on the southern periphery of the city. Last but not the least, the Noida Golf Club and the Qutab Golf Club are perhaps the only genuine pay-and-play facilities in the country.
Kashmir: The jewel in India’s golfing milieu, the Royal Springs Golf Course, sits majestically framed between the magnificent Dal Lake and the Zabarwan mountain range. While the course maintenance can be sketchy, a round amidst the deciduous forest and fruit orchards lining the fairways is an unforgettable experience. Further north, the Gulmarg Golf Club is another beautiful imperial legacy in almost Switzerland-like climes and rolling hills. The Lidder Valley Golf Club in Pehelgam is another picture-perfect addition to India’s northern-most state’s golfing repertoire.
Bengaluru: The new darling of Indian golf and home to the venue for the 2012 Indian Open, the Karnataka Golf Association Golf Course in Bengaluru has emerged as the country’s new golfing hub, with its temperate climes and choice of four competitive layouts . The Bangalore Golf Club, with more than a century of history is the oldest, while the fantastic world-class Prestige Golfshire is the newest. Eagleton Golf Resort on the outskirts is short and, not surprisingly, loads of fun to play.
Kolkata: The traditional home of golf in the country and home to the iconic Royal Calcutta Golf Club (established 1829), Kolkata has added just one more notable layout in the past century: Tollygunge Club. The duo, which sit right across the road from each other, still retain a charming colonial ambience and laidback atmosphere.
Mumbai and around: The commercial centre of the country has two courses of note: the Willingdon Sports Club and the Bombay Presidency Golf Club, with the latter emerging as a genuine championship layout after a recent renovation. But if you’re in Mumbai, it’s entirely worth the effort to drive a couple of hours to the city of Pune to play at the outstanding Oxford Golf & Country Club. Another gem is the David Hemstock design—Amby Valley Golf & Country Club set in the stunningly verdant Sahyadri mountain range, an hour’s drive out of Mumbai. And what about the stunning Oxford Golf & Country Club in the outskirts of Pune? Embedded in a bowl in the Western Ghats and constantly buffeted by winds, this treeless layout, embellished with sand and water hazards, is one of only true international golfing experiences one can have in the country.
Goa: Further afield, Goa makes a pretty strong case for a second home, especially if you’re one of those for whom the pre-shot routine for New Year involves bringing it in at the popular beach haven. It’s no small reaffirmation of Goa’s significant charms that even golf addicts, including the likes of this writer, head for an annual vacation to the coastal state, which invariably involves an enforced exile from the game. To be fair, there is one course—the nine-hole layout at The Lalit Golf & Spa resort in south Goa—but getting a round there, especially if you’re based in north Goa, is a full day’s affair. Still the Col Bagga design makes an interesting enough proposition with a combination of tight fairways and competent greens set against the impressive backdrop of the Arabian Sea. And mercifully, you don’t need to be a resident at the hotel to tee it up here. No small break that.
A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game