The folks at ITC don’t like to talk about it, but for the benefit of every golfer who’s spent time being torn between the urge to go tee it up at the finest Jack-Nicklaus-design layout in the country, and the fearful trepidation of the bone-crunching ride that it took to get there, let me get this out of the way right at the outset: the craters are gone.
The lunar landscape that tenacious players in low-slung sedans had to navigate on the last 10-km stretch from NH8 in their golfing quest to Tauru (where the Classic Golf & Country Club, or CG&CC, is located) has been replaced by what even cynics will grudgingly agree qualifies as tarmac. Sure, it’s no Autobahn, and there is still a surfeit of determined speed bumps that need to be surmounted with utmost gingerliness. But, relatively speaking, it may as well have been a superhighway. That evolution, coupled with the drastic reduction it effects in travel time from Delhi, is almost as significant as the sybaritic allure of the ITC Grand Bharat: an all-suite extravaganza of gastronomic indulgence, wellness, and supremely deluxe habitation that would make a regular five-star property look and feel like a slummy hole-in-the-wall.
But this writer is jumping the gun here: for players who haven’t yet taken divots out of the CG&CC’s surprisingly (given the arid landscape) lush fairways, the Golden Bear’s original three Nines—Canyon, Ridge and Valley—present as much of a golfing challenge as they did in 1998. As the Thai pro—Chapchai Nirat—proved with his record-breaking 32-under-par performance at the 2009 SAIL Open, the championship layout—comprising of the Ridge and Valley courses—can be tamed by power hitters.
You’ll always have an advantage if you can thwack it long off the tee at Classic: whether it’s carrying the fairway hump on the 18th fairway—ensuing which the ball rolls down the hill to set up a reachable-in-two green to the closing par-five—or carrying the fairway bunkers that lurk between 200-250 yards down the fairway on literally every other hole. But that applies more to lower handicappers teeing off the championship tees: move down to the yellows and the blues, and the course changes in character. No longer a leviathan, it rewards precision placement, strategy and a sound short game.
For that reason alone, players, irrespective of abilities, will enjoy playing from different tees on subsequent rounds just to get an insight into Nicklaus’ golf-course-design genius. Shorter isn’t necessarily easier—often it requires a completely different strategy. And the legend’s vision hasn’t been diluted in the least bit either: not as much as a shrub can be moved on the layout without getting Nicklaus’ design firm’s approval first. To cut a long story short, the CG&CC’s golfing pedigree is well established. And to the club’s credit, maintenance standards have been consistently amongst the best in the country—even during lean phases in the past when the number of players teeing it up wasn’t enough to warrant the effort and expense.
But all that’s water under the bridge. There are no off-course hazards to thwart the itinerant golfer’s drive any more. The one-hour transit from Delhi is literally true on the ground and, most importantly, there’s no reason to leave once the day’s golf is done. Actually, there’s every reason to stay: while it’s beyond the scope of this article to delve into the multifarious charms of the ITC Grand Bharat (it can’t be encapsulated in a nutshell), here are the pertinent details: this lateral retreat’s large acreage spans over 100 suites (which come either with a semi-private pool or a terrace); top-notch restaurants serving up everything from traditional Mewati to European cuisine; a 35,000-sq-ft spa (which offers a couple of golf-specific therapies) that could, hypothetically speaking, keep the missus in good humour; and a host of outdoorsy activities—which you’re likely to spurn to get in another round—but which might interest the kids. All in all, a picture of familial bliss on a staycation which, incidentally, also happens to involve 27 holes of golf. There’s also a spanking new clubhouse (where the range once stood) and golfers can look forward to a much more expansive post-game repast. The old clubhouse has been converted into a sports complex with refurbished squash and tennis courts et al.
This writer’s experience of the 27 holes—one night, three meals and a long evening at the ‘Peacock Bar’—is enough to incriminate him on charges of prejudice. Of course, he’s gushing, but to his defence, he must present the fact that preceding the check-in, his partner and he proceeded to take a respectable sum off their playing partners (who happened to include a single-handicapper). The world is a beautiful place on triumphant-in-golf days. But even if the game had gone the other way, the Aussie bartender at the Peacock Bar had an empathetic ear and a talent for amnesia-inducing cocktails. Drowning one’s golf sorrows wouldn’t take much effort at the Grand Bharat.
A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game.