Catch ’em Young : Lucknow Golf Club’s New Mantra
There was a time when some members of the club played golf wearing dhoti-kurta and a Gandhi cap. Now the club’s members come in denims and Bermudas, and the latest in golf fashion accessories. From humble beginnings to heights of popularity… followed by a phase of intrigue and controversy, Lucknow Golf Club has seen it all.
This ball game in Lucknow is different! It all started with handicaps and hazards (terms used in the game of golf)…but over the course of a few years attracted the cream of the society in Lucknow. Funds poured in as the list of members grew. Along with money came greed and corruption. While the serious golfers putted it out with each other on the greens, some wily office-bearers siphoned off whopping amounts of money from the club’s kitty to their personal coffers.
Intriguing, isn’t it? Surprising, perhaps not!
Welcome to Lucknow Golf Club! Situated in the high-profile area that is part of La Martiniere College, the greens at the club have suddenly developed a greener tone and a bounce…a bounce that is evident in the club’s newly-elected captain, Adesh Seth, and his new team of office-bearers.
At the helm of affairs are the suave and lanky bureaucrat Navneet Sehgal and a stern-faced senior police officer Subhash Chandra. And, of course, the man on the ground, Adesh Seth, who is into his sixth term as captain.
It all started way back in the late 1940s, around the time when British exodus began after India gained Independence. The long strip of land near La Martiniere College, the present Lucknow Golf Club, was previously known as La Martiniere Golf Club. With the British gone, and not many serious golfers around, the golf course languished.
One fine day, Prantiya Raksha Dal (PRD) Commandant Prakash Narain Mathur, a golf enthusiast, approached his friend, Ram Advani, who had just migrated from Pakistan and set up a book shop in the Mayfair building in Hazratganj.
Recalls Advani, “Mathur came to me and asked for 50 rupees. I wondered why he wanted money, but I did not ask him the reason. I promptly gave him the money.”
Mathur then said, “Congrats! Ram, you are a member of Lucknow Golf Club.”
That’s how Advani became founder-member of the club, though he admits he had never played golf, nor had an idea what the game was all about!
For a couple of years, the founder-members contributed small amounts towards the upkeep of the golf course. Through a little bit of publicity and personal coaxing they began enrolling new members. Good luck smiled on the club when Keith McKenzie of Burmah Shell (now Bharat Petroleum) began playing golf at LGC. Around the time McKenzie associated with the club, came Brig Piguet of the Indian Army. They both were golf enthusiasts and took keen interest in running the club. Soon there was a renewed vigour evident among the club’s members.
Adesh, who took to golf in 1965 at the age of 12, says, “When I started playing golf here, there were no greens as such. It was flat, barren ground, sort of brown. In summers, not a blade of grass could be seen. Of course, during monsoon grass would certainly come up, but the course remained rough and slushy,” says Adesh.
“There was no fence or a boundary wall. It was free for all. There were people coming to learn driving, or play gulli-danda, cricket, football, patanbaazi etc. Then we began to take serious interest in the club,” he adds.
In 1975, President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed visited the golf course during his Lucknow visit. He came and played golf. Appalled by the lack of watering facility at the golf course, he sanctioned a tubewell and ordered the state government to bear the expenses. However, the tubewell project remained in limbo for years until the club members took up the matter with then Irrigation Minister Lokpati Tripathi.
“In 1979, Tripathi got a tubewell dug on the golf course land. That solved our water problem. Until 1979, we used to get fire-brigade to water our course at night, courtesy Shravan Tandon was then inspector-general of police. Tandon was president of the club then,” says Adesh.
Later, every now and then help came from politicians and bureaucrats, some of whom were members of the club. “For instance, Kalyan Singh gave us some money. When Mulayam Singh held a rally on our grounds, the course was damaged. He, however, gave us money and we got our underground pipeline laid. Motilal Vora, too helped us.”
All went well for decades thereafter, though the club’s activities were not much publicised, except when tournaments took place during the season. The elections for the post of office-bearers and captain were held regularly, but not much importance was attached to the elections. It was considered a routine affair.
Though clubs like these are known to attract the elite, they also are good breeding grounds for wheeler-dealers. Lucknow Golf Club is no different. A lot happens at the course between long shots and putting.
Insiders tell us that business deals that get stuck in red tape in the corridors of powers, are easy game at the golf course. But that is another matter!
With 1700-odd members, Lucknow Golf Club, which until about three years ago was supposed to be running in the red, is now flush with money. According to reports, the club has over Rs.4 crore in fixed deposits.
With a new team in place, leading the charge is Adesh Seth. On top of his priority list is development of the course to international standards and training for youngsters. He is interested in promoting golf among more and more youngsters.
“So far youngsters who joined the club started off by playing on their own. This year, we plan to begin courses for children and the International Golf Union (IGU) is helping us. They have given us two-three golf sets for children. Now, we are approaching some top schools in Lucknow to send their wards here and we’ll give them free coaching. The IGU will provide us some funds and we, too, will pitch in,” says Adesh.
“We’ll send our coaches to get advanced training from IGU to become certified coaches. They will come back and coach the children. Additionally, IGU will send their coaches down to train the youngsters. This will happen soon, just before the winter vacations begin. Then we’ll start taking in children for short-term courses,” he points out.
Seth has already sniffed a much-in-demand issue. The issue was highlighted to this writer by a member of the managing committee and a champion golfer Dr. Rashmi Dhaon. “The toilets stink!!!” she said twirling her nose.
“Ladies’ toilets are in the list of priorities. We are going to spruce them up to five-star standards,” Adesh assures female members of the club.
Dr. Dhaon has been given charge of housekeeping, so she has all the freedom to improve the club’s facilities, he adds.
“We are also going to change a lot of other things. For instance, the bunkers on the golf course. They become unplayable during monsoons. We’re going to re-do them. Instead of the sand, we will be using six inches of marble dust over a lining. It is a costly affair, but it lasts for a long time. That will add to the beauty of the course.”
Describing the golf course, Adesh says, “Our course is pretty difficult. It is very tight. The greens are small. There are too many trees, obstacles. There is no fairway where you can hit out freely. You have to control your shots. Normally in golf courses, trees surround the course. Here every fairway has trees or some obstacle or another. Either it’s a dog-leg, or trees right in the centre and very well-guarded by bunkers. You go a little haywire and you land up in the bunker.”
We only hope that this time around, the club would avoid hitting obstacles and land in a bunker of mismanagement and misappropriation of funds. Of course, hazards are many but equally efficient are the men at the helm to overcome the hazards! Happy golfing….
ADVANISPEAK : When challenge became passion
Ram Advani recalls his days when a game of golf would cost just one rupee
In 1947 when I migrated to India from Lahore. I was madly in love with cricket. But my wife wanted me to devote more time to my business, my book shop. Then came Mathur, who asked me for money and I gave it to him. One day Mathur Saheb brought me a golf stick and took me to the golf course. “He said Ram since you are good at cricket you can try your hand at golf, too.” I had no clue, anyway.
I tried hitting the ball a couple of times, but it went in all directions except the one I wanted it to land. That became a challenge, which gave me the urge to improve and hit the ball straight… that urge became a challenge. And the challenge turned into a passion.
There were only six members then, including Mathur and myself. Each one pooled in five rupees each month to cover the cost of the upkeep of the course. The monthly subscription was later increased to 10 rupees. In those days, one could play a golf game for a rupee. That also covered the cost of caddie.
Then good luck came our way. Keith McKenzie worked for Burmah Shell began playing at the club. Around the same time, an Indian Army officer, Brig Piguet, captian of Indian Army’s golf team, started playing. Soon they became the pivots around which the club’s activities began to revolve. They introduced the golf culture to other members. The etiquette, the behavioural pattern: how you conduct yourself, how to play, how to behave with other golfers, how to dress and how to promote the game as a disciplined golfer.
I will tell you an interesting thing. Imagine a man playing golf in dhoti-kurta and a Gandhi cap. There was a Congressman, Babu Sampoornanand, with whom I used to play golf a lot. He used to come in dhoti-kurta. One day, I jokingly dropped a hint to him: “Babuji, ab aap patloon pehenkar golf khela keejiye.” The next day he turned up in khadi shorts.
Like mother, like daughter
Where in the state could you meet a woman golfer who has hit a hole-in-one? Stop hunting around. Dr Rashmi Dhaon can be seen putting it out at Lucknow Golf Club at the break of dawn every day.
Rashmi seems to be a fountain of intellect and talent. She did her PhD in Chemistry from the Central Drug Research Institute in Chemistry and is an avid golfer, cyclist, badminton and basketball player. Her traits are quite evident in her daughter Srishti and son Indra, who are not only keen golfers, but also champions of sorts.
Rashmi and Srishti started playing golf in 1998. “When we went to Lucknow Golf Club to enrol as members, I saw no women around. We felt slightly discouraged. On top of it, one of the members asked me what sort of handicaps did I have?” says Rashmi.
“Shocked! I said I have no handicaps. I am fully fit, not realising that handicap is a term used in golf, which every golfer has,” she says candidly.
Till 1998, Srishti had been participating in swimming and diving championships in state as well national championships.
“Whatever we take up we do it with total devotion. We took to golf like a fish takes to water. From the third day itself we were hitting long shots,” Srishti points out.
A couple of months of practice was enough for Srishti to make her presence felt in the golfing circles. “In February 1999, I won the tournament at LGC, outputting other women golfers who had been slogging on the greens for years.
Since then the mother-daughter duo has participated in golf tournaments in Delhi, Calcutta, Chandigarh, Bombay, Chennai, Nainital, Kodaikanal.
“As compared to golf courses in other cities, Lucknow Golf Club course is the most difficult,” pat comes the reply from both of them. “Such small greens. One has to be very accurate. So many trees, so many obstacles. If you get saved from a tree, then you are likely to fall in the bunker. Or if you are lucky not to fall in a bunker, then there is a water hazard.”
Sharing their experiences during golfing in other cities, the mother-daughter duo point out that not many people believed that women, too, played golf in Lucknow.
“We noticed that women golfers from other major cities were treated very cordially by the organisers and all. They probably thought that Lucknow was some village or something like that. One senior woman golfer even wondered whether there was a golf club in Lucknow,” says Rashmi with a sneer.
Rashmi and Srishti have a voracious appetite to do more and more things, and with perfection. Besides being a qualified dental surgeon, Srishti is a Provincial Civil Services (PCS) officer and is preparing for Indian Administrative Services (IAS) examinations.