Golf haven

As I drive into the “heart of India’s golfing country" on a sticky afternoon, a grateful heart goes out to those who came up with mobile air conditioning. There’s a story about the Goldberg brothers hitting upon the idea and then flogging it off to Henry Ford for a few million around the time India was heading towards Independence. A big payout then, but the Goldbergs deserved double. Triple, I say.

Having done the stretch innumerable times over the years, I was pretty smug behind the wheel despite having been warned about the route. After all, my transportation was on stilts and I was fine till the time of pesky potholes, gravel, slush and dust that reduced visibility to a few feet. Then the road came to an abrupt end. One set of truck tyre prints fell away into a muddy gorge and another rose sharply along the side of a hill. I chose to plunge into what I could see. Wrong move. My underside (almost felt like that) started to scrape along the rocks masked by loose earth. Repair bills flashed before me. After what felt like a long time, I finally came on to something which, for the sake of argument, could be called tarmac.

I drive past the ITC Classic Golf Resort, the first heavyweight golf facility in the country. Jack Nicklaus didn’t make the trip but gave his name and expertise to this 27-hole layout in Gurgaon. Good thinking, Jack. Some 15 years later, there is now a humongous hotel coming up on the property. As things stand, I strongly recommend a helicopter service. Across the “road" is the 9-hole Tarudhan Valley Golf Resort. A common name in both these properties is Pradeep Jain. He was a joint promoter in the first and is the main man in the second, which is a real estate-cum-golf project with a catchy sales line that says, “In the heart of India’s golfing country".

It kind of is. Getting to them is an issue, but all said and done, Gurgaon does list nine courses (10 if you sneak in the Border Security Force course in Chhawla, just across the Delhi border). I can’t think of any other district in the country that can boast of such a number. The “Millennium city" has been touted as a corporate hub. There are a couple of industrial zones in the area with substantial manpower from Korea and Japan. Their fondness for putting club to ball is well known. Few branches of the armed forces have residential camps in the district. All of which have contributed to the golf courses.

There are the big banner names. After Nicklaus, DLF sought the services of Arnold Palmer for their 18, part of which is now giving way to a state-of-the-art Gary Player playground. Between the two, Golden Greens Golf Club was carved out by Martin Hawtree, the official “tweaker" of the British Open venues. The DLF turns back non-members from its well-fortified gates, while the Classic and Golden Greens welcome your wallet.

A short distance past the DLF on the Gurgaon-Faridabad motorway (actually motorable, the cows notwithstanding), is a 9-hole course squeezed into one corner of The Energy and Resources Institute or TERI campus ( 400 on weekdays, 500 on weekends). Decently maintained, the track is good practice for your irons and short game with narrow fairways and small greens. “Squeeze" being the operative word here. You involuntarily tend to squeeze your butt cheeks as you gingerly lash at the ball on the tunnel-like ninth, with a busy thoroughfare on the one side and rows of trees and heavy undergrowth running along the other.

The Industrial Model Township (IMT) in Manesar, about 25km out of downtown Gurgaon, has a fairly well laid out nine holes. Unveiled in 2010, young trees and small mounds line the fairways. Well-placed bunkers and large wastelands give the Manesar Golf Club some character. Course upkeep is what you would expect from a government facility but then for 200 on weekdays and 100 more on the weekend, you get to free your arms. Can’t complain.

Not far from there coming back towards Gurgaon city is the Unitech Karma Lakelands. Again 9 holes, but this is designer stuff. Aussie Phil Ryan, popular in this part of the world, has put this together with gently undulating fairways and lots of water amid high-end villas. The day I dropped by was a public holiday and of the 25-30 golfers out on the course and practice range, not one was an Indian face. “My family is in Japan and I live in Gurgaon. There’s not much else to do in my spare time," says Adachi, a general manger with Lumax Industries Ltd. Green fee is 800 for nine holes and 1,200 for 18 on weekdays, and 1,100 and 1,800 on weekends (including caddie fee).

The National Security Guard, the Air Force and the Border Security Force all have courses but only the last one welcomes civvies. The 13 greens, 18 tees course is well worth 200 and is, therefore, packed on the weekends. As for the other two, you need an insider to get access. If you can’t swing that, fret not. You aren’t missing much.

Prabhdev Singh is the founding editor of Golf Digest India and a part-time golfer.

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