Golf may appear an expensive sport from a distance but there are cheaper routes to the greens

Almost every day, a senior gentleman goes horse-riding around the Naval Golf Club in Willingdon Island. The backwaters and the lovely greenery offer a refreshing change from the clanging swirl of city life. He packs in a few hours of golf during weekends and some tennis too.

“I've been playing golf for nearly 25 years. And I've been riding horses for more than 40 years,” says Israel K. Mani, the Oriental Insurance Company's Kerala Head. “My wife is a golfer too.”

Breaking barriers

Playing golf brings some of the top honchos of industry, Services and sport together. It breaks barriers too. At the Navy course, which is also open to civilians, sometimes one gets to see Israel teeing off with the Vice Admiral K.N. Sushil, Flag Officer, Commanding-in-Chief of the Southern Naval Command and in another corner, the Vice Admiral's wife Letha has a round with the young Aradhana Singh. A group of youngsters are focused around another hole.

“Many women have now started playing here, after I started almost a year ago,” said Letha Sushil, who, like the Vice Admiral, hails from Thiruvananthapuram.

The Navy course is a very busy one these days.

“We have tournaments almost every weekend,” says S. Balasai, who won the top honours at the Oriental Insurance Golf Cup the other day. A retired Commander, Balasai is a member of the Golf Addicts Society and frequently travels to tournaments. “The Navy course is a very compact one,” says the former Calicut University sprinter who became addicted to the greens six years ago. “You need to play precise golf here.”

On the other hand the CIAL Golf Club, the State's new course near the Cochin Airport at Nedumbassery, gives a very different feel.

“The fairways at the CIAL course are very long,” says Kurien C. George, a tennis player who switched to golf five years ago when he found the on-court action a big strain on his knees. “And there are many water hazards too which make it a very challenging course.”

The best thing about the CIAL Club is that it offers an all-season course.

“You can play all through the year at Nedumbassery, it has been planned professionally,” says Jacob Kuriyan, an architect and a builder. “But the Navy course, being very close to the backwaters, sometimes turns slushy during the monsoon.”

Golf seems to be an expensive sport, only open to the rich elite. But it is not, says Balasai.

Invest your time

“If you look at it, most of our Indian winners are caddies, they didn't invest money but they invested a lot of their time,” he explains. “At the Naval Golf Club, a beginner has to pay around Rs.1,000 a month. Coaching camps are not very costly and you can get a second-hand golf set for something like Rs. 5,000 to Rs. 6,000.”

But if you want to live king-size, golf turns into a very expensive passion.

“For people who want to have it big, to be showy, it is a very expensive affair,” says Tilak S. Kalyanpur, the Administrative Officer of the CIAL Golf and Country Club.

“But if you look closely, you will see that the students and the children of the people who do the maintenance work at the Naval Club are very good players, much better than many of the regulars,” he says. “Normally, all golf courses allot a day every week for caddies to play.”

The CIAL Club, despite its 1,400 members, is yet to introduce the ‘caddies day'.

“We have just about 10 to 20 people playing during weekends and around five to seven during other days,” says Kalyanpur. “And we're trying to appoint a coach. Once we settle down, we will surely think of having a day for caddies.”

Plans are also on to have a driving range, which could be a big boon for beginners and a summer camp for youngsters in April or May.

The nine-hole CIAL Club will host its first competitive golf event, an inter-club tournament, on March 13. It is likely to be a 36-player affair.

The golf course in Munnar is the oldest in Kerala.

“It was built during the British period. It's a small course and the difficulties (or hazards, as they say in golf) are less,” says Balasai. “Bolghatty, which had a nine-hole course earlier when it was very active, now has just about three holes. And the Trivandrum Club course is a normal one.”

It's good to be a golfer in Kochi these days. And for those keen to putt, it's a nice time to race to the greens.