The story of SSP Chawrasia — the golf pro who represented India in Rio Olympics — is an inspiring one. His rise from the servant’s quarters of the Royal Calcutta Golf Club to becoming the country’s ace golfer who went on to beat the likes of Ernie Els, the former world no.1 is not just a rags-to-riches tale but one that shone the limelight once again on one of the few cities in India that harbours a well-preserved golfing culture. As you may have guessed it, we’re talking about Kolkata.
Regarded as a culturally opulent hub of the nation, every street and corner of this ancient, colonial-era eastern metropolis exudes rich history, heritage, and tradition. One such legacy is Kolkata’s age-old culture around golfing. The city not only hosts some of the historical golf venues in the world but is also home to a number of well-known golfers like Chawrasia.
But where did this all start from? Let’s find out.
Kolkata’s Tryst with Golf
Kolkata’s golfing culture started long before Europe and the US had golf courses. In 1829, the city got its first golf club — The Calcutta Golf Club. The club became the Royal Calcutta Golf Club after King George V and Queen Mary conferred the ‘Royal’ title in 1911, to commemorate their visit to Calcutta. The Royal Calcutta Golf Club’s 6978 yard, 18-hole, Par 72 course is the first in the country and the oldest outside the United Kingdom.
Today’s Dum Dum airport area was the first venue of the Royal Calcutta Golf Club (RCGC). Later, the club shifted to Maidan, and finally, in 1910, it moved to its existing location at 18, Golf Club Road, in Tollygunge. RCGC’s Maidan Pavilion opened in January 1885, and in 1887, the club laid down an exquisite bowling green. In 1892, the Royal Calcutta Golf Club organized the country’s first golf championship, which saw the participation of golfers from Singapore, Penang, Burma, and Ceylon. The club, in 1912, inaugurated its 18-hole golf course in Tollygunge for play.
Greeneries at the Royal Calcutta Golf Club are at par with modern international standards. The ground’s undulations and strategically located natural water tanks make RCGC one of the trickiest courses in the world. The natural water hazards are something that makes the RCGC unique and special.
Before 1955, RCGC acted as the central body that assumed all administrative powers related to golf in India. This responsibility was later transferred to the Indian Golf Union (IGU) when it was established as a means to promote the growth of the sport across the country.
The Oldest Ladies Golf Club in the World
The Calcutta Ladies Golf Club (CLGC), established by twelve lady members on May 7, 1891, is the first-of-its-kind golf club in the world, only for lady golfers. Managed by an all-lady team, the Calcutta Ladies Golf Club features a picturesque 9-hole golf course in the Maidan area of Kolkata.
Back then, Lady Victoria Curzon, wife of the Viceroy of India Lord Curzon, Lady Frazer, wife of the Lieutenant Governor of Bengal, and other lady members subscribed Rs 3000/- to erect a canvas tent, which served as the first clubhouse of the Calcutta Ladies Golf Club.
CLGC’s clubhouse, in 1931, got its first wooden structure built on rails and wheels, to comply with Maidan’s rules that allow no permanent structure in the area. The Calcutta Ladies Golf Club’s memberships grew to 433 by 1953, and it became necessary to add extensions to the clubhouse in the form of dressing rooms, washrooms, cafeteria, and other amenities.
In 1905, the Calcutta Ladies Golf Club organized the first-ever All India Ladies Amateur Golf Championship and presented the ‘Walker Trophy’ to the winner. Ms Anjani Desai, in the year 1970, became the first Indian woman to win the All India Ladies Amateur Golf Championship event, conducted by the CLGC at its Calcutta ground.
Ms. Desai, recognized as a pioneer of women’s golf in India, played a pivotal role in encouraging ladies golf in the country. She became a role model for the city’s lady golfers like Simi Mehra and Vandana Agrawal. Inspired by Ms. Desai, Kolkata-born Simi Mehra went on to become the first woman from India to win the membership of the world’s leading golf tour for women — the U.S.-based LPGA Tour.
Today, the Calcutta Ladies Golf Club hosts several golf tournaments throughout the season. CLGC organizes some tournaments at its 9-hole golf course, and some at RCGC’s 18-hole golf course. The Calcutta Ladies Golf Club also enrols aspiring golfers and makes training arrangements for these junior members.
Golfing at Kolkata’s Prestigious Tolly Club
Established in 1895, the 124-year-old Tollygunge Club, with an illustrious sporting legacy, ranks amongst the top 20 clubs in the world. The esteemed club, spread over a 100-acre with a 220-year-old clubhouse, is home to a range of sporting activities, such as indoor and outdoor swimming, squash, tennis, billiards, golf, and amateur equestrian. Internationally famed golf architects designed the club’s golf ground, which is an 18 hole, 70 par, championship-level golf course.
Nested in the city’s heart, the natural golf course provides a one-of-a-kind golfing experience. Maintained by dedicated staff, the golf course with an illuminated putting and a floodlit driving range offers golfers an opportunity to refine their skills even after sunset. The club maintains ultramodern equipment and an underground irrigation system to keep the golf course in great condition all year round.
Golf Tournaments in the City
When it comes to golf tournaments, the clubs in Kolkata have always hosted some of the most prestigious ones. The Amateur Golf Championship of India, the second oldest golf tournament in the world after the prestigious British Open was RCGC’s flagship tournament that used to be held in Kolkata, until 1958. After the formation of IGU, this tournament was held at the Delhi Golf Club.
Another premier tournament, the Indian Open (now known as the Hero Indian Open) has been held at the Royal Calcutta Golf Club for many years.
Of the newer tournaments being held in the city, some of the most noteworthy are the Kolkata Classic Golf Championship, All India Ladies Amateur Golf Championship and Royal Premier Golf League, which is currently one of the biggest amateur golf tournaments in the country.
The latest name added to the list is that of Bengal Open, which has been launched in 2019 by West Bengal Department of Tourism, Tata Steel, and Tollygunge Club.
Golfing in Kolkata’s Eco-Tourism Park
Many youngsters in Kolkata want to learn and play golf but cannot enter the city’s golfing circuit because of the long waitlist for membership in most of Kolkata’s premium golf clubs. If you are one of many who wants to swing it like a pro, there is good news for you.
Until now, an elite class of people used to play golf in the city, but the recently launched, open-to-all golf course at New Town’s Eco Park will allow everyone to enjoy the beautiful game of golf.
Developed by the New Town Kolkata Development Authority (NKDA), the 20-acre golf course has 12 training stands, where golf enthusiasts can practice the game. Trainers are also available all day long to help budding golfers strengthen their skills.
If you have a golf kit, you are good to go. But register your practice slot at the Eco Park’s Office, next to Gate No. 2.
Tolly Club’s Affordable Golf Academy
The Tolly Airtel Golf Centre aims to provide world-class infrastructure to city golfers. The state-of-the-art Golf Centre incorporates an equipped classroom, which helps trainees with 3D swing analysis, the K-Vest, Tomi-Putting analysis, and four-camera video analysis to improve their technique. The stadium-like golf course, with a two-tier driving range and 33 bays, has floodlights positioned at a height of 90 feet to cover the full flight of the ball.
The positive initiatives undertaken by the NKDA and the Tolly Airtel Golf Centre will play a leading role in nurturing the next generation of city golfers, who will uphold the legacy of Kolkata’s golfing culture in the years to come.
While the golf industry has changed a lot in India since the time it was introduced here, the City of Joy has shaped up and continues to influence the sport’s popularity and growth in the country.