Thomas Marr took a work trip to Delhi, India and discovered an unusual golf course amid the buzz of traffic and the majesty of temples.
When my work took me to Delhi, India, I left my clubs at home and didn’t give a second thought to playing golf.
Curiosity got the better of me and after a few calls from the hotel concierge and a white knuckle rickshaw ride through bustling traffic and non-existent lanes, I ended up the magnificent Delhi Golf Club. What I discovered was a fine golf course with a fascinating history and some of the most unusual architectural features a golfer is ever likely to see on a course.
There are 27 holes; the par 73 championship course, the Lodhi (named after the Lodhi King of Delhi and a famous battle in 1473) and the shorter 9-hole Peacock course. The Peacock was built during World War II when many Allied soldiers were based in northern India and needed recreation.
The phrase ‘boom and bust’ springs to mind when assessing the impact of the war years on golf in this area. Demand for golf was high during the war but by 1948 all the soldiers had gone and the membership at DGC had slumped to just 80.
With the threat of closure looming, the club managed to recruit a number of new members and got the cash together to fend off the local government, which intended to develop the club’s greenbelt land into new facilities for the fast-expanding city. Since it became a private entity in 1951, the club has become a popular retreat and has around 3000 members.
The championship course has been remodelled several times, most recently by five-time Open Champion Peter Thomson in the early 1970’s. The current layout is certainly a challenge with dense undergrowth surrounding every hole and fast undulating greens requiring steady nerves.
It plays host to an Asian PGA Tour event each year and has a reputation as a good test of golf. On arrival, my colleague and I hired clubs and bought several litres of water to last our round played in the afternoon sun.
Having taken a last minute decision to play we hadn’t booked a tee time but were warmly received and unsurprisingly, the course was quite empty in 35 degree heat. Caddies were an extra and compulsory cost and we ended up with four of them. One each for our bags, one for water and one to act as fore caddie and ball spot.
The main things I remember about the round are the beautiful temples sited around the course and the quality of the springy turf we were playing from. The course is in the heart of New Delhi and so the traffic noise is relentless.
The thickness of the trees means that there are no panoramic views to take in but that didn’t matter, we had temples to admire. Almost every hole had a partial ruin or rust-coloured monument offering a distraction from the next shot. The hot air balloon styling of these buildings really is beautiful and we found ourselves photographing them endlessly.
As the round progressed it became clear that the ball spotter was still in training as he didn’t find a single ball for us.
The only balls we recovered were those we located ourselves (a cynic might question if our ProV1’s were being made available for the next visitors to buy) but we were having too good a time to worry.
By the 13th hole my colleague was running low on balls and so the fore caddie was dispatched to the Pro Shop to get some extras. We didn’t lose so many balls after he had gone. Strange that!
The caddies were useful and knew the lines on the greens and my chap also had a reasonably good eye when it came to telling me the yardage and which club to take. He had a chuckle when my unfortunate companion suffered with a couple of shanks.
Our Indian experience proves that caddies are the same breed the world over and there are characters at any course, in any given country. Towards the end of the round, we were joined by a local student golfer who was out for a quick 9 holes by himself.
He was a talented player and his arrival was welcome and well-timed as he was able to offer advice on the level of tip for our chatter of caddies. When the round was over and the caddies had been paid, we got the distinct impression that they felt short changed but any bad feeling was directed at the student whom they felt had given us too much information about normal pay rates.
We said our goodbyes, returned our clubs and left through the main gate where we shared a rickshaw back to our respective hotels. It had been a great afternoon and although our play was generally poor (Joe 90 lives in Delhi too) it was a pleasure to play on such a quality course with so many distinctive features to admire.
Playing in an alien setting, with borrowed clubs, temples decorating fairway and green and the sound of traffic ringing in my ears, I enjoyed one of the most-fun rounds of golf of my life.
For more about Delhi Golf Club: www.delhigolfclub.org