NostalgiaMalini Srinivasan recalls the freak mishaps that took place at the golf courses of Madras

Golfers may not be at risk for major injuries, but they have more serious problems to deal with. Having played golf in Madras for about four decades, I can't help this gloomy outlook. Mishaps — often freakish and, occasionally, harrowing — define a large part of my memories about the sport.

One day at the Gymkhana Golf Course, Rani Chadda was having the time of her life. Nothing was going wrong for her. After putting the ball into a hole, she appeared to have gone into an ecstasy over the delectably executed shot. From a distance, we saw her perform an impromptu dance. Watching another lady golfer slapping Rani hard on the back, we thought she was being urged to end the unladylike victory dance. When we stepped closer to find out what caused the flurry of excitement, we all rolled on the green with laughter. A bee had sneaked into Rani's shirt and was stinging the life out of her. She was writhing in pain. Her friend was trying to crush the bee and end the ordeal.

Having seen worse, we did not have a smidgen of sympathy to offer Rani. To give just one instance, a snake took to S. Lakshmi during a game at the Cosmopolitan Club. Before she realised what was happening, the speckled reptile coiled around her ankle. She shouted for help and soon the snake slithered away. Having been in an almost similar situation at Gymkhana, I could empathise with Lakshmi.

In those days, the rough at Gymkhana was exactly what the name suggests. Overrun by tall rushes, it contrasted sharply with the rest of the course. Deepa Veeraraghavan narrated how she was once petrified to notice that three women golfers had disappeared suddenly. Reading her mystified look, her caddie said, “Amma, they have gone into the rough to retrieve the ball.” The rushes were taller than the ladies.

Barring the fairways, the Gymkhana golf course was strewn with thorns. They would get trapped in the golfers' socks. To get rid of the problem, Padmini Raghavan suggested we collect all the thorn-ridden socks and courier them to the men's captain of the course.

Death by embarrassment was another possibility on the golf courses of Madras. Just before the 16th tee box on the Gymkhana Golf Course, a puddle would unfailingly develop during the rainy season. Once, when I planted my feet on it by mistake, I was sucked into it, up to the neck. After being pulled out of the slush, I was doused with jets of water from a hosepipe. As the other golfers were eagerly seeking details about the misadventure, I was mortified with shame.

Caddies acted as surrogate coaches. With their forthright comments, they would at times plunge you into an emotional low. Unhappy at the way I was playing in a tournament, a young caddie told me, “Amma, if you continue to play like this, I'll stop carrying the bag for you.”

Why didn't we turn to coaches and break the tyranny of caddies? Colonel C.V. Pratap — a man of great erudition and a brilliant communicator — was unequalled in his ability to explain golf techniques, both with words and golf clubs. One of the sweetest coaches the golfers of Madras have worked with, Pratap however did not tolerate indiscipline. If he sensed a golfer was not being attentive in a class, he would fling a club to get his attention.



Conversations between non-Tamil golfers and caddies led to new phrases. When a ball hit a tree, Megan Utley — who was with the British Council — would tell her caddie, “Maram patti!” The mispronounced words gained acceptance as a phrase for “a golf ball hitting a tree”, among the golfers of Madras. Sometimes, the semantic confusions resulted in hilarious misunderstandings. When Padma Devi, with a heavy Telugu accent, asked a caddie, “Gundu poduthu”, he shook his head. She meant “throw the ball for me”, but he thought she wanted him to “drop a bomb”!

MALINI SRINIVASAN Born in 1944, she has distinguished herself as an organiser of women's golf in Madras, besides playing the sport with distinction from the early 1970s. A single-digiter from 1979 to 1981 and a 22-time winner of “the putter of the year” title (between the Gymkhana and the Cosmopolitan golf clubs ), she was instrumental in getting the two courses in Madras — in addition to the one in Kodaikanal — recognised for their ladies' lengths by the Indian Golf Union (Ladies Section). She has held many terms as captain and secretary of the women's sections of the two golf courses in Madras.