Readers will appreciate that as someone who’s been playing and writing about the game for over two decades now, there are hardly any layouts in the country that are completely unknown to your columnist.
“You should come over to my village. The Peermade Club Golf Course is close by and it’s practically empty on most days,” said Ouseph Chacko, observing with more than some amusement my extended practice swing sessions every evening. Chacko and I were on a four-day road trip from Delhi to Goa last week and experienced, in that order, the blistering chill of the extended cold wave that’s raging in north India; the almost-perfect cool climes of Udaipur; and, finally, the ideal temperate zone along the coast, all the way from Daman and Diu down to Goa.
Now, Chacko, who till recently lived in Mumbai, has relocated his ancestral village—an hour’s drive from Kochi. Still, remote as it is, I was taken aback because I’d never heard of Peermade GC. Readers will appreciate that as someone who’s been playing and writing about the game for over two decades now, there are hardly any layouts in the country that are completely unknown to your columnist. It was also perhaps the first time I’d heard ‘village’ and ‘golf course’ used in the same sentence. I mean, yes, there are villages that figure as landmarks en route to golf courses on the outskirts of Gurugram, but these hamlets also have residents who drive luxury cars and own condominiums in the tonier parts of town. But ‘village’ in his case, Chacko assured me, was not a euphemism.
To cut to the chase, I’m taking up Chacko on his invitation and heading down to Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Coorg to play some golf later this month. A number of courses have been added to my itinerary over the past week of planning my trip and shortlisting places and layouts. It’s a veritable treasure trove, the coffee terroir in the south, when it comes to quaint layouts, most of them harking back to the colonial era. So, for the benefit of golfers in the national capital, who are longing for a bit of sun and balmy climes, here’s a short, and by no means comprehensive, list of courses that I’m going to be teeing it up at down south.
I’m going to start in Kerala’s capital city Thiruvananthapuram that has a historic nine-hole layout. Members argue that it’s the oldest golf course in the Commonwealth and, while the jury is still out on that one, there’s no doubt that the Trivandrum Golf Club is one of the oldest in the country.
Once part of the Maharaja of Travancore’s hunting lodge, the course’s clubhouse has been deemed a heritage structure by the Archaeological Survey of India. Barely an hour’s drive from the beaches of Kovalam, the promise of sun, sand, surfing and golf is precisely the foil needed to Delhi’s grey, gloomy skies.
From Kerala, I’m going to move north to the foothills of the Western Ghats in Tamil Nadu and set up base in Coimbatore. With six golf courses within 200 km, the city is strategically located for someone looking to take a golfing holiday in the south of India, each offering a completely unique golf and holiday experience. Amongst the lesser-known clubs on my shortlist are the Kovai Hills GC, Wellington Gymkhana, CIAL GC and Jayachamaraja Wadiyar Golf Club.
I’ll start with Coimbatore GC: this par 72, 6973-yard golf course has matured over the last three decades into one of India’s most challenging tracks. The main test of this track, as well as the panoramic vistas that it offers, is on account of its location in the Palakkad pass—where the Western Ghats break for a few kilometers and allow a constant gale to buffet the course all year. The Coimbatore GC probably is the windiest course in the country to tee it up at and the greens are amongst the finest you’ll find.
The weather in Coimbatore, other than for two months in the summer, seldom crosses the mid-30s (centigrade) and the golfing season never ends.
From Tamil Nadu, I’ll travel further north into Karnataka, but instead of heading for Bengaluru’s tried-and-tested bouquet of golf courses, make a beeline for the quaint historic courses in Coorg. Mercara Downs, located in Madikeri, the capital region of Coorg, was established by the British over a century ago. This parkland course offers golfers a glimpse of links golf, with its wide open fairways, rolling hills and menacing bunkers. Apparently, the course retains its original layout and harks back to how golf was first played at the very beginning in Scotland—the home of golf.
Also in Madikeri is the Tata Tea GC—a nine-hole facility located amidst the rolling hills of the company’s sprawling 20,000-acre tea estate. Although it’s a private course, I’ve been assured that the management is usually kind enough to accommodate itinerant golfers who make the journey to tee it up here. A surefire way to get a tee time is apparently to book a stay at one of the numerous Victorian-era bungalows around the course.
Given the surfeit of courses in the region, my itinerary has been increased from a week to a fortnight. And I’ve yet to accommodate some of the better-known courses in the region that include the Ootacamund Gymkhana Club, Coonoor GC and Kodaikanal Club. Even though I’ve played at these courses in the past, it seems a shame to give them a miss when travelling in the region. Chacko tells me that the weather seems fine and fair, and that I must extend my trip for as long as possible to include the art Biennale that’s going on in Kochi. At this rate, I might just end up following his cue and relocating down south. Heck, if you can live in a village and play golf, then that’s a picture of bucolic bliss if there ever was one!
A golfer, Meraj Shah also
writes about the game