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Go for golf

The young and the upwardly mobile in the city are getting into golf, which offers a cocktail of fun, workout and socialising in sylvan environs.

If you think playing golf is easy, ask Mohanlal. The superstar, on a visit to the Trivandrum Golf Club, is said to have recounted to a club member that once, forced to play golf for a movie shoot, he had taken a dozen swipes at the ball and missed every single one of them.

The city has a spirited community of golfers. The game, once played by royalty and the British, and later by officers of the Defence Services and top bureaucrats, is now being played more by corporate honchos and the upwardly mobile. For them, golf offers a tidy package of relaxation, physical exercise, networking, business and social stature.

The Trivandrum Golf Club, with nine holes as against the standard of 18 and spread over just 25.38 acres, is small, but beautifully designed. Peter Thompson, who had redesigned the Bombay Presidency and Delhi Golf clubs, had been happy with the design here.

Over 120 years old, the club is one of the oldest in the country. It is also among the least expensive and less crowded places to play.

P. Jayachandran, formerly a high-flyer with a U.S. multinational, says he has settled in Thiruvananthapuram precisely for these reasons.

A. S. Sasikumar of Monsanto flies down from Mumbai almost every week to play here.

The club has come a long way. From 78 in 1979, the membership has risen to 498 today. "Eight years ago, we had two members from here to the Addicts Society, an apex body of quality players from the golf clubs in South India. Now, we have 25 members from Thiruvananthapuram. They are strong contenders in golf tournaments in the South," says Balan Nambiar, a general council member of the society.

Golf continues to be elitist and expensive, and a golf course needs acres of land. But today, it is definitely no "fogey's game". While George Varghese at 78 years is the oldest, 17-year-old Rohan Eapen Isaac is the youngest. "More youngsters are on to golf now," says S. N. Raghuchandran Nair, secretary of the club. For P. Pradeep of Powerlink and Gopi Mohan Nair of the South Park hotel, who had taken to golf recently, it has been a re-education of sorts. "We now realise that it is not a dull, easy game. It requires power, precision and the ability to plot strategies," they say.

Employed golfers arrive by the break of dawn. Retired hands come in the evenings. Dr. Bharathchandran of the Sree Uthradom Thirunal hospital drives straight to work after a couple of hours of golf and R. K. Jain, chief commissioner, Customs and Central Excise for South Kerala, tidies up his work and heads off for the course in the evenings, not dropping home for a cup of tea.

Golfers say golf is a game one plays against oneself. But it seems to help each in its own way. It helps scientist Chandrakant Gupta to avoid "burnout", Jain to be "focused" and Dr. Bharathchandran to "keep sanity intact". For Susheela Abraham of the National Insurance, the lone woman golfer, "it helps build teamwork". A round of golf, which entails a walk of about five km, provides Grp. Capt. P. V. Mathew, the workout he wants.

The sport aids "networking", a key to success. While a passion for golf had brought Wg. Cdr. Narayan into close association with his superiors, for Jayachandran, it had ensured access to the headman of his company in America. For Gupta, who needs to market his patented inventions, a love of golf keeps him in touch with the business and management gurus.

Business deals too are struck on golf courses today. "Could we meet for golf in the evening?" is often a prelude to teeing off successful deals abroad. Golf is also a way to gauge a person's integrity.

"No one keeps tabs on a player's score and the temptation to cheat could be great. So the game offers an index of a person's honesty," says Thomas Kurien, a planter.

Many golfers have been injured on the course, almost always hit by zooming golf balls.

"A speeding ball slams in like a bullet," says Susheela, who has been badly injured once. The balls are made of solid compressed synthetic rubber with hundreds of dimples and the risk is compounded, as players have to criss-cross the small course.

A "hole in one" by a golfer means part-time at the club. One earns a "hole in one" when one hits the ball into the hole with one stroke. The odds of getting a hole in one for the average golfer is over 8,000 to one.

Children keep off golf.

With a set of golf clubs costing upwards of Rs. 20,000 and the cost of balls and "green fee" being high, golf for their kids is way above the means of most parents. The Trivandrum Golf Club wants to change that. "With sponsorship, we plan to conduct a coaching camp for school children," says Raghuchandran.

S. Karthikeyan, the club's Captain adds, "To produce world class players we have to train children from the age of seven."

Golf's icon and top-grosser Tiger Woods is said to have started off with a sawed-off club when 11 months old.

"A public course is required to popularise golf," says P. S. Thomas, who has played for years in South Africa.

The club runs on membership and subscription fees.

"The Government has stopped its annual grant of Rs. 1.20 lakhs," says Karthikeyan.

"The potential for golf tourism in Kerala has to be explored. Golf tourism, a money-spinner, could bring in loads of tourists from abroad where golf is prohibitively expensive, especially from golf-crazy Japan," he adds.

"On the contrary," Raghuchandran says, "some politicians raise the demand that the golf club grounds be converted into housing quarters for Government staff."

As the city's golfers, chip, drive, lob and roll, the golf course, with over 3,000 trees, parrots, wood-peckers, mongoose and more, acts as a sink for the city's pollution, for those who cannot afford to play.


Photos: Aloysius Andrew

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