Last week, a friend in the UK wanted to send golf memorabilia, it being the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations there. However, I politely declined, and said us golfers in the city were gearing up for the 125th Year Open Tournament at the Madras Gymkhana Golf Annexe in Guindy. It was held on June 12 and is a one-of-its-kind tournament, with a connection specifically to the UK and Scotland, dating back centuries.
The strokeplay event, held on a hot Sunday afternoon, attracted many entries. The tournament was instituted in 2002, when officials from the prestigious The Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews (R&A) visited the Madras Gymkhana Club and presented a silver shield to commemorate 125 years of the Madras Gymkhana Golf Club and its affiliation to R&A.
Although a few Chinese and Danes claim that the sport was invented by them, it is widely accepted that Scottish shepherds started the game of golf. So popular was the sport that two of the Scottish kings banned the game, with James II complaining in 1457 that golf was keeping his men away from archery practice! By the 18th century, golf rules were clearly laid down and from 1800 onwards, The Royal & Ancient Golf Club has been formulating rules, keeping abreast of technological changes and amending rules when needed.
The Madras Gymkhana Golf Club was formed in 1877 and the commemorative shield from R&A is thus a prestigious one in the golfing world, a doffing of the hat from the august body to the city of Madras for keeping the spirit of the game high and adhering to the rules.
The East India Company (EIC) men, who brought the sport to the country, developed golf courses in whichever city they started a social club, including Madras. Initially, the city did not boast a full, 18-hole course. Nothing deterred the early golfers as they rode their horses back and forth to complete a full round. One can only visualise the deliberations on course conditions, the deep discussions on the application of the rule if the ball went into, say, a rabbit hole or a hoof mark.
In many ways, the golf course in Guindy is a distant cousin of the original links in Scotland. The course is a hardy terrain, and if you leave the fairway, you are a goner. The ball would end up in the dry bushes. The few trees that dot the course hardly have any canopy or branches. On hot summer afternoons, you will know when Chennai’s sea breeze sets in – it will kiss your face, and you will have to quickly regroup your skill sets and make a big strategic choice. Would you be wiser rolling the ball or should you risk playing a high arc shot correcting the direction for the wind factor? The first choice is inelegant but effective while the second would be pretty to look at but is fraught with uncertainty.
Last Sunday, the sea breeze played truant, while the sun was sweltering overhead. The golfers fortified themselves with perfectly cooled water and refreshments and took on the challenge of taming the course. Apart from an occasional shout of ‘fore’ from a caddy – which is nothing but a warning to other players to watch out for a ball possibly winging in their direction – the competition was keen. There was a tie and it went to better back nine with local stalwart Nikhil Cherian winning with a gross score of 74. The second spot was hotly contested for with a multiple tie at 76 and Karun Jacob was declared the runner-up, based on the time honoured tie-breaker criteria of “better back nine”. There were several other prizes in different categories, making it interesting for all.
With the sun setting, an aircraft flying low for touchdown at the airport, and the last few golfers putting in their final hole, all stood in relief, like a perfect shot from PC Sreeram in a Mani Ratnam film.