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The Lodhi - Delhi Golf Club

Tee off on a trail of history. Spray your shot and chances are - particularly if that damned hook persists - that you'll be looking for the ball around turns of a tomb. Every golf course boasts of its hoary past, but few can compete with the Lodhi. Here lie the end of dynasties, the relics of mighty empires, ruins which bear testimony to an age of glory. Sometimes your ball might fly unexpectedly; be sure the spirits are active, they hold you in awesome grip. Playing from the bunker short of the old seventh in the 1968 Indian Open, Stan Peach topped his explosion. The ball rose like a rocket, but hit the dome of the Barah Khamba and dropped back within inches of the pin for an easy birdie putt. Stan smiled, not the spirits. Having burnt up the course till then his game suddenly fell apart, his six-stroke lead disappeared and Kenji Hosoishi won the crown. Don't tremble, just get the ole riblick going and let history destine your play.

Our present century had just about entered its teens when for reasons which have been put down already on paper by many for more skilled than mine. It was decided to shift the capital of India from Calcutta to Delhi. The charter given to those two eminent architects, Sir Edwin Landseer Lutyens and Sir Herbert Baker, was that the planning and design of the new capital should be in every way worthy of the ancient and beautiful city of Delhi, and so New Delhi was germinated.

At that time the concept of speed was more in keeping with that of the tortoise: the hare days were still to come and even though the intervention of the First Great War was an extenuating circumstance it was not until 1928 that New Delhi was born officially as the nearest capital city.

During those days in Delhi is boasted of two golf courses. One alas since defunct, was located in the area which now houses the Delhi University campus and the other meandered its way around the area which was to become as the Princes Park, the Central Vista and the India Gate.

Sir Edwin, who was possibly not a golfer, decided that the location of the New Delhi course would require shifting to further the cause of architectural beautification and intimated all concerned accordingly.

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Background

Consequent upon the decision, the usual Committee was formed with the CHD (Chief of the Horticultural Department) in the Chair. The Committee was given the task of selecting a site for a 18-hole golf course and laying it out.

The CHD, who was a golfing Scotsman with a secret passion for excavation, cannily arrived at the conclusion that should the new course be laid out in an area where buried archaeological finds were a possibility, the coming generations of Greens Sub-Committees siting bunkers, helped by many grave-digger golfers, might well unearth a sensational fact.

Musing on this agreeable prospect, he borrowed a couple of elephants from a landlord friend, unhit by estate duty, and set off through dense undergrowth until he came to Humayun's Tomb, where he started his reconnaissance.

What a panorama lay before him! To the west, the broad Jumna; to the east, close foliage through which wild pigs rooted about and monkeys swung in gay abandon. Nothing much doing here, but wait a moment! What about that narrow winding strip running past the Barah Khamba, the Lal Bangla which shelters the tomb of Begum Jan, daughter of the Shah Alam, and then on to the Central Vista? Surely that strip is the now disused railway track between Nizamuddin and New Delhi. (Author's aside: Nizamuddin railway station was in 1923 located on the present 13th fairway). During last week-ends's pig stick, had not someone mentioned that this was the area where the army of the Lodhi King of Delhi in 1473 lay in wait for the attacking forces of King Hussain of Jaunpore and later was this area not a vast burial ground of Moghul nobles? Just the thing. Surely the area bounded by the Barah Khamba, the Lal Bangla and the Lodhi Gardens would be full of exciting hidden relics and perhaps many a good, stirring invective would die on a player's lips in such awesome surroundings.


First Captain

A few days of more detailed survey, a few hundred pages of noting, and the deed was done. The CHD had himself nominated as the first Captain of the Lodhi Golf Club but, in spite of constantly re siting bunkers and flattening mounds, was unable to bring anything more to light than several angry snakes and scorpions. After three years, he died of despair. 

The remaining members of the Committee had by then appreciated that water, or rather lack of it, was the chief problem because the Jumna had shifted many miles westward since the days when the Lodhis played kabaddi on its banks while waiting for their foes. Since all this occurred when tube-wells were as scarce in India as foreign exchange is now, they approached the Public Works Department and succeeded in handing the Club over to it for management. 

From 1931 until the beginning of the Second World War, the Lodhi Club did its best to overcome the inherent disadvantages of a municipal course with limited patronage. Officialdom's annual summer exodus to Simla left only a few diehards to keep things going. However, the PWD began to treat the course as a nursery for training up-and-coming malis, with beneficial results. 

Then came the war and things changed. The course took on the same crowded appearance it has on a present Saturday afternoon. Since a large number of allied personnel were using it, every effort was made to maintain a high standard and an extra nine holes were added to keep up with the overflow. The then Viceroy, Field Marshal Lord Wavell, presented a green (the 2nd) and for a long time it carried his illustrious name. The course at that time extended to what is now called Golf Links Area on the east and four of our better hole were sited in what is now known as Kakanagar. 

The end of the war, followed by the partition of the country, however, brought about a slump in membership. By 1948 the number of players dropped to 80, with disastrous results because of inadequate financial support for the upkeep of the course. The Municipality gave an ultimatum to Delhi golfers; fund a self-supporting club with a minimum of 120 members, or the course will be closed.


New Design

The challenge was accepted and the present Delhi Golf Club came into being in 1951. However, hardly had we teed off when we were in the rough. The once sedate seat of the Government was now a throbbing city growing every day as more and more people poured into it. Covetous eyes cast on our green acres and finally it needed the Prime Minister's intervention to grant us the present 30 year lease over a somewhat diminished area. 

The course had to be re-laid as a result, and when this was done came the era of consolidation. First a tube-well, then a fence to keep out the predatory cattle that made the greens resemble the battlefields of the Somme, then another tube-well followed closely by fresh greens, more tees, more hazards and finally, the luxury of a new club house. 

When all this had been done, an oasis had been created in the heart of New Delhi where one may woo the game of golf, or simply feast his eyes on the fresh green vistas that confront him, or join the bird watchers in the sanctuary where over 300 different species are found. 

Here then is a course formally patronised by viceroys; where kings, or at least princes, including the Agha Khan, bet their golf balls in matches with those who are possibly a little less blue-blooded than they; where diplomats take their evening stroll and discuss affairs of state; where generals, who have discarded their polo sticks for golf clubs are to be found; where the burra sahib and his fair lady play a Sunday afternoon foursome with the chota sahib and partner, and where Jai Das learns to take the rough with the smooth as "a matter of course."


The Course

Before you come for a stroll with me around our 220 acre course you will no doubt want to see the card. Here it is. Your outward journey is 3,632 yards with a par of 38 made up of three 5's, five 4's and one 3 shctter. Coming in 3,340 yards par 35 with two long holes, three short and the rest par 4's. Somewhat imbalanced you say. Perhaps yes but our course architects have always striven to retain its old character of narrow scrub and tree-lined fairways with dense undergrowth and, any large scale reconstruction would rob the surroundings of their natural beauty. A paradise in the heart of a teeming city. For those of you who thirst after statistical knowledge, the course record is held by Graham Marsh, the Australian, who in the first and second rounds of the 1971 Open paved his way to victory with two consecutive 66's - a fantastic seven under part on a none-too-easy course. 

Now let's walk out of the dressing room, through the car park and onto the 1st tee. A long one with no sign of the green which is dog-legged to the left. 527 yards in length, you are tempted to cut a corner like a La Mans driver, any misjudgment and dense rough is your fate. The Green is long and slim and demands accuracy. The 2nd is intriguing, if you take the tiger line you have a long carry over some grasping trees but then an easy shot to a sporting green - freshly laid; some parts fast, some not so. Over another clump of trees on the 394 yards and this becomes one of the easier one if you have hit a longish drive, otherwise a brace of trees stand like Gog and Magog guarding the entrance to a banked up green on which three putts is not uncommon. 

The 5th is a spectacular, long hole with traps so statistically located that you will be lucky if you do not have to play either your second or third, or worse both, from out of the soft and clinging embrace of the Jumna sand. When finally you get on the green, somewhat worn, you find gentle ripple all over, created possibly by the mirth of a ghastly guardian who slumbers in the tomb above you. Heigh-ho - another three putts. The 6th is one of those chorus-girl waist fairways. Even if you keep along the straight and narrow you are required to play a blind second because of a ridge that screens the green. Here again a tricky putting surface will exact it toll. Much depends here on the Fickle Maid. A wolf in tiger's clothing once described the 7th as a drive and a kick. It is, if you are of the Nicklaus family, but beware of the cavernous bunker which guards the entrance to the pin. Once in it, and you may well ruin your card coming out. Possibly the most imposing monument on the course, the Barah Khamba umbrellas the 8th tee - this is a short one but usually the wind is against you and if you dodge the many protective bunkers you find yourself on another tricky putting surface. The 498 yard 9th is the pro's delight and many of them reach the crafty keyhole green with their second shot. If the pin is placed at the back you putt up two tiers which normally call for a few more (tears). The 4th tee is dominated by a noble edifice no doubt the last resting place of some Lodhi warrior and here your skill meets a real test. Should your drive not be hit just so, if drifts to the right down a sloping fairway and the 412 yarder suddenly assumes much longer proportions. Should you slice, your troubles have started and you might well wish yourself keeping company with the gentlemen whose resting place you have just left.


Coming In

After quaffing your thirst you tackle the back nine. For the average club player, the 416-yds 10th hole is just out of reach of the second shot. A sloping and fast green adds to one's problems. The par 4 - 11th is a beast, its 455 yards stretches you to the utmost and even the better amongst us are happy to save their par with a chip and putt. The 12th is the longest of the short ones, well guarded by a number of traps and another sloping green which needs careful reading and tests your breaking ability. 

The next hole in the longest on the course and a delight for the big hitter who does not hook. At the 14th the Club House looms into view and you reach for one of your shorter irons. Do not underestimate the shot as here is another plateau green and if your ball does not have enough air one of the many bunkers will catch you. Past the Club House and the heat is on. The 15th fairway looks narrow - it is, and the cunning fall away of the fairway lures your ball to its doom if you are at all reckless off the tee. One of your longer irons may put your second on the green where several rolls often spell three putts. 

The 16th is the last of the short holes but if you do not carry the green with your tee shot you run the risk of having your ball deflected or stopped dead by a series of pimples which have been placed for this purpose just in front of the apron. The penultimate hole is a dog-leg par five. If you take the short-cut over some trees the green is in reach of your second if you are a big hitter. Terry Kendall the New Zealander and Ozaki, the Japanese played this hole with a drive and six iron in the 1971 Indian Open but then it is a lot different for mere mortals.


The Finish

The last hole has all the ingredients to get the gallery off their shooting sticks. You drive along a narrow fairway towards a hidden green and are then faced with a long fading second shot. Any error here and you are deep in thorny trouble.

Well that's that. Come along to the 19th and we can re live our stroll under stimulating circumstances.


(The Lodhi – Delhi Golf Course: this article was written by Brig. E.T.C. Sen in 1973. Since then the course was redesigned by Peter Thomson in 1976-77 and some of the holes have been re-laid. A new short nine-hole course has also been carved within the same area).

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Much has changed at the Delhi Golf Club to meet the needs of its ever- increasing population - well over 3,300 compared to the 80-odd soon after - Independence – but its basic character remains the same. The course that existed just prior to Independence covered a much larger area, including parts of Kaka Nagar and Golf Links, both nearby housing localities. It was a secluded spot in the midst of thick jungle. “Sometimes, as one searched for a lost ball, one stumbled upon lovers,” recalls a withered member with a glint in his eyes. Another scene of old is that of golfers arriving on bicycles with their golf bags strapped on at the back. May not be as exciting a sight as the former, but unusual all the same.

Although some land had to be sacrificed, founding member Dharma Vira did manage to convince Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, much to the consternation of other officials, to save 220 acres from being concretized.

In the early 1950s, the flat greens gave way to raised platforms, a change that did not go down very well with Peter Thomson, who was less than diplomatic when he described them as eyesores. The Aussie great made sure they were done away with when he redesigned the course in the early Seventies.

The Championship Course he carved out in 1976 had greens that merged into the landscape and did not stick out like blimps. They had gentle undulations to match the gradual slopes of the fairways. When Thomson all but won the Indian Open 1977, it was jocularly said that he had designed the course to suit his game to a tee. It was another matter that he duffed the easiest of chips from the edge of the green to lose the title to his compatriot Brian Jones.

Mercifully, even when the short nine-hole course was created alongside, the designing skills of Thomson and the replacement of felled trees ensured that the forest character of the course was retained. The tree – lined fairways have been there for as long as one can remember -- only the density and the hues change with changing seasons.

Some of the holes of the old course that were sacrificed to make way for the new had a lot of character and old-timers still talk about them with nostalgia. The ‘Monkey hole’ (the present 13th, so named because of the presence of monkeys) was notorious for the mysterious disappearance of perfectly executed shots. On one such occasion, to which I was witness, even the affable Billoo Sethi was not spared by the furry fiends.

Hundreds of enthusiasts saw Stan Peach’s ball roll back on to the green after hitting the dome of the ‘Barakhamba’ monument which provided the backdrop for the charming seventh, also known as the ‘Platform Hole’. This is now the 16th hole. It was a two-tiered green perched on a platform and surrounded by high bunkers. Because of its short length, it looked deceptively easy. One way of playing the hole was through a sand trap, hoping the ball would climb the steep bunker wall and make the green. Some did manage to pull off this game plan.

The process of re-grassing the greens with Tif-Dwarf Bermuda has just been completed. Some of the nine greens (Fourth, ninth, 10th, 11th 12th, 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th) that were taken up for change of grass, were also re-designed the re-contoured. These greens were opened recently and will settle down before the start of the Hero Honda Masters 2003. The look of some of the holes has changed as a result of the recent exercise. The greens are now surrounded by a series of mounds and grassy hollows, demanding more precise play. What the DGC lacks in length (6802 yards), it makes up in its demand for precision.

The 10th green is now double-tiered. A pin placement on the top tier leaves two options-either go for a heroic shot right at the stick or play it safe to the lower tier and then face the uphill task of putting to the top of the greens. The 15th green now has three tiers, besides the hollows and the bunkers. It’s a short par-four but a sadistic pin placement can cause trouble.

Ramesh R. Kohli in Golf Digest India , Dated: November 2003..


 


 


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