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Are golf courses in India women friendly?
16th January 2012

Dolar Vasani's sister tees off at Conoor GC

Generally when one thinks of golf in Asia, countries such as South Korea, Thailand, Malaysia or Singapore spring to mind. These countries have many wonderful courses and for many years have been part and parcel of the growing Asian golf tourist and professional circuit. India on the other hand lags far behind but things are changing fast with the sport increasing in popularity and attracting more and more young people. With the continued growth of internal tourism, there are many new opportunities for existing golf courses to market themselves. The question remains, "How geared up are they?"

It is always fun to play on new courses and when this extends international borders and continents, the excitement is even more thrilling. During a recent family trip from the UK to south India, my sister and I travelled with our golf bags and played on three different courses in the states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. In addition to the general enjoyment of playing and shooting a respectable score, we extended our mandate and reviewed every course from a woman's perspective. We considered criteria such as the level of friendliness and openness towards women golfers, the standard of changing and club facilities, the course layout finally concluding with some general impressions and tips for improvements.

Picture at Bangalore Golf Club

Coonoor and Ooty courses are set in the Nilgiri Hills, which tower over 1700ms above sea level. Tourists from the larger cities are attracted to the natural forests, cooler climate and a much slower pace of life. It is a popular place for retirement and increasingly for buying that precious holiday home. Nestled in the undulating green landscape are rolling tea plantations, which remain the main economic activity of the area. Coonoor also hosts a military base and their personnel constitute a sizeable proportion of the Wellington Gymkhana club, which includes an 18hole golf course, a small gym and a very active social club. The golf course is located in a valley with many blind holes. Some of the greens are shared and due to limited land, one has to backtrack which at times gets confusing. A caddy is essential, as without one, one will get hopelessly lost. The signature hole was number 5, known as Horse Power. A par 3, with an elevated green behind a large tree made it a challenging blind hole. In general, the greens on the course were poorly maintained. The women's changing was clean with facilities like showers and lockers. The course was sadly littered with rubbish (plastic bottles, sweet wrappers) strewn everywhere. Its advisable to carry plenty of water and a snack as the tea stop on the course may not be operational. The staff and caddies were very hospitable and we finished our round with the most delicious thali lunch in the club next door.

Ooty, most fondly known as the 'Queen of hill stations' has boasted a golf course since 1896 and unlike Wellington, it is possible to 'pay and play' as a non-member. I had a fantastic caddy, who was very knowledgeable and extremely helpful in guiding the uninitiated around a very hilly course and its many blind holes. The course is very picturesque, with long par 3's. Once off the fairways, the course has an abundance of gorse, introduced from Scotland, which thrives as an aggressive weed despite regular efforts to clear and burn it.

Accuracy is essential to avoid zigzagging from one gorse bush to the next but also from the ample Eucalyptus trees, which border the fairways. The clubhouse is spacious with a generous dining area where one can enjoy a traditional Indian breakfast or lunch. Sadly the changing rooms for women were well below par, both in terms of facilities, cleanliness and ambience. It was clear that not many women play on this course.

And this is the rubbish!

As with Coonoor, the course was littered with many empty plastic bottles and no bins in sight. The friendliness of fellow players, staff and caddies however made it a very enjoyable and physically tiring experience.

Our final round was at the Karnataka Golf Club, close to the old airport and numerous five star hotels in the city of Bangalore. Established in the early 1970's, this course provides players with a welcome respite from the humdrum of the city, the traffic and noise. A flat course with lots of lakes and sloping greens, the course is extremely challenging with long par 5's for women (500 yards).

Dolar Vasani touring India at Ooty GC with her "wonderful caddy" - I shot 10 over

With over 4000 or so members (less than 10% are active), it was refreshing to see fellow women golfers on the course. The changing rooms were excellent both in terms of facilities and cleanliness with a nice addition of a massage chair and massage jets in the showers. It was clear that some thought had gone into designing the various amenities on and off the course. The toilets at the various stops on the course were clean and well maintained. The course in general was well managed although it was disconcerting to smell the raw sewage on the opening holes on the back nine. The course has a diversity of trees and flowerbeds that were well looked after. It was also nice to see eagles, kites and other birds than just the ubiquitous black Indian crow. The 19 th hole is a large semi-open area from where one can relax with drinks and watch fellow golfers finishing on the 9 th and 18 th greens. Once again, it is important to have a caddy and it was unclear whether the club has a 'pay and play' policy for visitors.

View of Bangalore Course

In conclusion, golf in India is growing in popularity with many new courses coming up everywhere. Cities like Bangalore with many young IT professionals, corporate members are plenty and more and more women are also starting to play. While the facilities were not always geared for women golfers, the experiences were positive and like everywhere else, the hospitality was second to none.

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