Lockdown was hard on my golf swing. But considering that I wasn’t exactly setting the course on fire three months back, the coach thinks the break has been exactly what the doctor ordered. “ Your bad habits are so deeply ingrained, it needed an enforced three-month golf layoff to get those out of your muscle memory,” he proffers. Not sure how to react to that. Thanks coach.
My summer golf trip that had been planned in January 2020 has been well and truly stymied. So, for a post-lockdown soiree, my buddies and I settled for something a bit closer to home—the Jaypee Greens Golf & Spa Resort in Greater Noida (NCR). It might seem like a natural choice given the proximity to the Capital but we went through a checklist of factors to determine where to play. Here’s a quick reckoner for those of you who’re considering travelling to play golf in the near future.
Where to Play
If you’re thinking of skipping town then do check if the state you’re planning to enter is allowing visitors. Most states are insisting on a week or two-week quarantine that isn’t particularly conducive for golf unless you’re planning to binge watch instruction videos. And from my experience, the more instruction you watch, the worse your game gets. For us the choice came down to Rajasthan or the NCR: golf isn’t really a big part of Rajasthan’s considerable allure, which made it an easy decision.
Where to Stay
Your first choice ought to be a golf resort because that reduces travel, and therefore unnecessary interaction. The only reason we didn’t opt for that was my paranoia of golf balls crashing through windows. Most hotels are offering fantastic staycation packages and we stayed at the Crowne Plaza in the vicinity of the course.
Are all your buddies on the same page when it comes to going out? It wouldn’t help if one person wants to head for a bar while another isn’t comfortable with self-isolation. Check what areas you’re planning to visit are accessible and which are off-limits. Reconfirm all safety protocols regarding masks, policies on touching and so forth.
How many people?
Most of us are part of large golfer groups; some groups regularly organize tourneys and matchplay events for members across cities and even countries. This is not the time for those large group outings. The larger your group is, the more difficult everything becomes: from social distancing, arranging proper accommodation, and even getting tee times.
The country is opening up but things are still very uncertain. And going by the experience people had with airlines and hotels when the lockdown was imposed it would be prudent not only to check on refunds but to get that in writing. Hotel and travel bookings with airlines and resorts are all quite flexible now, but you’ll still need to confirm the details. Considering the various options you might actually be able to save by skimping on travel insurance.
Don’t expect leeway in tee times though. The gap between groups has increased to a minimum of 12 minutes at most golf courses. You’re unlikely to get another tee time if you miss yours.
Book well in advance
It follows that bookings for tee times need to be made well in advance. Most courses are no longer taking walk-ins, and you’re unlikely to get a group booking unless you do it at least a week in advance. Those using their co-branded credit cards to book rounds need to add another week for that.
Forget dining in, even golf course restaurants are only allowing takeaway these days. Even the few places that are allowing dining require reservations so make sure you call and book before landing up. Take it easy on the alcohol: the last thing you need while travelling right now is to get careless.
Gone are the days of renting a van from Suvarnabhumi Airport and driving around Thailand playing courses around Bangkok, Pattaya and Hua Hin. Cloistered spaces with little ventilation are being considered the most dangerous environments to be spending time in. Consider taking separate cars.
Carts, Cups, Pins, and Clubhouse Rules
Unlike courses overseas where countries or states have mandated policies that must be followed on every golf course, in India that’s been left largely to the courses themselves. If your trip involves multiple courses then do get in touch to get a heads up on specific protocols before you play. Cup liners in particular do influence how forgiving the greens can be: if those are elevated then you really do have to hit the ball firmly into the middle. Similarly, while you might find food and beverage points operational at some courses, you might not at others.
Most courses, at least in the NCR are still giving you the option of taking a caddy. Now this, at least for me, is a real dilemma. I really don’t mind pulling my clubs in a trolley, and not having a caddy forces me to swing within myself that usually translates into better scores. But what are caddies supposed to do? How are they expected to make a living if no one uses their services? At Jaypee, my caddy sanitized himself thoroughly before taking charge of my bag and did not ride in the cart. I insisted on him not wiping down the clubs that I did myself.
In north India the summer is finally on the wane but hydration is still key. This has got a bit complicated because a number of courses have removed or blocked access to water fountains and water coolers. Make sure you carry your own water bottle.
Yes it’s complicated, and it certainly is a pain. But spare a thought for cricketers, footballers, and other team sport players for whom getting to play their sport is just a pipedream right now. Golfers are really lucky; we’d do well to realise that and not mess it up for everyone.
A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game