The scenic Naldehra course, close to Shimla, is full of unique hazards to lure the keen golfer.
“The ardent golfer would play Mount Everest if someone would put a flagstick on top.” Pete Daye
You don't have to go all the way to Mount Everest for that golfing high! Playing at Naldehra's challenging hilly course with its unique hazards is quite enough, for me at least. The Naldehra golf course - located just 20 km from Shimla at an altitude of 2200 m - blends the charm of a Himalayan landscape with history and legends.
Recently I took a road trip from Chandigarh to Naldehra on an exciting three-day golf holiday. The drive through dense deodars offers panoramic views of the Shimla hills. The cloud-veiled peaks and green hillsides, thanks to the monsoon, transport you to an ethereal world.
At Naldehra, natural meadows have been transformed into a scenic golfing ground with towering deodars encircling the course. The club house, built in 1905 and later renovated, is a quaint timber-framed English cottage with a cosy bar, lounge and a dining hall displaying memorabilia of the club's fascinating colonial history. This is the first attraction. The next is an excellent Chinese meal served by the legendary owner-chef manager ‘Mishra Sahib'!
Though I've come with my golf set, I have no partner. It's afternoon and all the regular golfers, who usually play in the morning, have left. But luck favours the keen golfer! A man returning from a walk in the forest overhears my lament and, like a true gentleman golfer, offers to play a few holes with me! One look at the daunting course, and I meekly confess, “Look, I'm no Tiger Woods.” He sportingly answers, “Don't worry! I'm a tiger mostly in the woods!” After this initial bonding, we tee-off.
My caddy-cum-mentor Hari Dayal is a local hill man with a deep knowledge of the tricky course. Without his guidance, it would be impossible for a new-comer to tackle the steep slopes, obstructions and the rolling slopes. Once initiated in the mysteries of the Naldehra golf, it's time to head for the proverbial 19th hole: the bar!
While I'm sitting in the club house verandah with a chill beer, enjoying a grandstand view of the course, the friendly manager Pratap Singh Verma enlightens me about the club's history. In 1905, the Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon was enamoured by Naldehra. Legend has it that he named his third daughter “Alexandra Naldehra”. Also he established what is today one of the highest, oldest and most scenic golf courses in the country.
On the second day, I'm more familiar with the terrain and know how to tackle the hilltop holes located over mounds. The trick is to scoop the ball high with sand and pitching wedges, instead of hitting long drives or with fairway woods. Also, one has to hit very accurate shots, as a little extra distance will take the ball downhill!
There is even an ancient temple located between the holes. You have to loft the ball really high to make sure that the ball carried well above the temple shikhra all the way to the putting green. The other unique hazards are the water tanks located in the fairways and the ‘green bunkers' filled with uncut grass instead of the usual sand.
The most trying and difficult holes are fifth and ninth where you can't see the flagstick on the greens because of the tall deodars in between. Unless you hit a very lofted and accurate shot, the ball will be consigned to the deodar forests or roll back into a valley. So say a little prayer before you whack the ball with a seven-iron shot!
Suddenly a haunting mist descends from the Himalayan peaks onto the undulating fairways; reminiscent of the Scottish Highlands from where this game originated. Then I see an apparition! Was it really Lord Curzon swinging his club or just too much of beer gone to my golfer's head?