Volume: 7, No: 07 ; July-2013
(The first part of this article is by the legendry Ram Advani, who is not only the founder member of The Lucknow Golf Club, but a very keen golfer himself and a revered personality from Lucknow. This particular piece was written by him for Hindustan Times in a series of his own memoirs.)
After Kalidas Marg, first thing that comes to mind is Lucknow Golf Club and my association with it – for about 64 years now. Till 1948, I would be busy at my bookshop and on Sundays I used to play cricket. Till then I had never played golf.
One fine day, my good friend Prakash Naraian Mathur, commandant of Prantiya Raksha Dal (PRD), walked into my shop and asked me for Rs 50. I handed it over to him thinking that he had forgotten his purse. But, in turn he said, “Congrats you are a member of (La Mart) Golf course.” I said to him, “Mathur saheb I don’t know golf ?” But, he promised to teach me. Next day, he handed me an old sack that had some rusted iron golf clubs (sticks) for which I paid another Rs 50 to him.
The British had moved out of then. There were just six members of the club – PC Chatterjee, his wife Lola (pet name), Burmah Shell chief and his wife Joanna, PN Mathur and myself. Six of us used to shell out Rs 5 as monthly subscription. From the Rs 30 thus collected, we used to pay Jagdish (a zoo employee who doubled up as a peon in the club) Rs 15 The club land had no building and under the tree used to be placed a ‘ghara’ (earthen pot) for drinking water.
The lease amount for the entire club land was then Rs 250 which was the big sum for us. Keith Mckenzi joined as Burmah Shell chief manager at Lucknow after his predecessor died in a crash. He was among the top 10 golfers in the country and his wife Barbara too was a good player. He was in fact my golf guru in true sense and he played a big role in increasing the membership of the club.
Around 1950, Congressman Babu Mangla Prashad, who used to reside at 1,KD Marg, and was also a golf addict and a very social person. We used his bungalow for chai-pani and to relax. He was such a jovial person that he would come to the ground to play wearing dhoti-kurta and Gandhi cap. He helped to get the game of golf registered as a sport that helped the club to get financial support (Rs 5,000) from the government. The fund was utilized in fencing the club boundary and that stopped grazing of cows.
Renowned wild-life expert Billy Arjan Singh and his Brother Balram and Jaswant also got associated with the club. Thus started the period of ‘sittings’ under a tree in evening after the game. The brothers also helped in bringing Army golfers to the club.
Once for a political event, the entire ground was dug and spoiled. We brought this to the notice of the then chief secretary Raj Bhargawa. He helped us get a grant of Rs 500,000 which was raised to Rs 800,000 and thus the green belt and the club building came up. I remember we bought a fridge for Rs 1,400 on 14 monthly installments for the club.
In the late 50s, La Marts wanted to open its Junior School but then the land was on lease with the club. So in a barter deal we vacated the land and got the present area that was then servant and the staff quarters. La Mart staff and boys could play golf without paying any green Fees.
Caddies, mostly Martinpurwa boys, used to hover around bureaucrats and rich businessman. Senior army personnel got hardly got an attention by their caddies. So, in around 1962-63- when I was the captain of the club – Lt Gen Sen decided to open Mauribagh golf course. The area was called ‘Chandmari’ and the land was under the Army Medical Corp. I am lucky to have been a co-founder member of this club.
Golf club was in its full glory by now and we used to have matches with Kanpur and Allahabad Golf Clubs. Talking about the game spirit, once Lucknow men lost while our women’s team won. We were feeling dejected when a Kanpur official announced, “The Game is tied – men lost but women won.” This was enough to live our spirits.
Coming back to Keith, he got transferred to South Africa. In protest, he took long leave and applied for world’s oldest St. Andrews Royal & Ancient club in Scotland. He became its secretary and soon a world – fame personality.
Babu Mangla Prasad helped the club get Suchitra Kriplani Trophy (intra-club) and Babu Sampoornanand Trophy (best golfer). Raja Saheb Maharaja Singh Trophy used to be played on January 26 every year. Olympics Marathon runner Zatopek came to Lucknow as guest and P.N.Mathur. Zetopek Cup was thus introduced. Unfortunately, one year the Cup was never return by the winner and was discontinued.
So much for my association, that’s still strong with, both the clubs–Golf and Mauribagh!
Golf’s nursery near La Martiniere.
– by Raj Saran Varma
(Raj Saran Varma is a senior journalist from Lucknow. He is the Editor of a weekly news tabloid The Lucknow Tribune, and this article appeared in this tabloid first.)
If you happen to be driving towards the city’s premier educational institution, the La Martiniere College, set up 150 years ago by a Frenchman, Maj-Gen Claude Martin, you cannot miss this unique sight. Children in the age group of ten and twelve playing golf with twigs shaped like golf clubs. Some even using broken hockey sticks for putting.
This is the amazing hamlet of Martin Purwa, nestling in the backyards of the expansive grounds of the La Martiniere college, where golf is a way of life. Known as the ‘nursery of golf’ in this part of the country, Martinpurwa, with a miniscule population of nearly a thousand villagers, whose fortunes swing between hope and despair, has produced some of the biggest names in the country’s golfing history.
Says Vijay Kumar (36), a school drop-out and a national champion four times, ‘We open our eyes and start playing golf.’ A one time caddy, who used to carry golf bags for affluent people who visited the Lucknow Golf club, Vijay says that the proximity of the Lucknow Golf Club to the village has given an opportunity to the youngsters to hone up their skills. Beginning golf nearly thirty years ago, Vijay Kumar is now grosses over a million in earning.
Says Ramchand, a former national champion of the sixties, ‘Golf has really come of age in Lucknow and the major contribution has been made by residents of this village.’ He now lives a retired life and imparts lessons in golf.
Tamator, (16), who plays four handicap, is a school drop-out, who now doubles up as a caddy and a waiter in the Lucknow Golf Club. ‘I could not pursue studies beyond class four as my parents did not have the paying capacity,’ he says while swinging a five iron. Youngest of the four siblings, three of whom were girls, he was forced to quit studies and take to golf to supplement his family income.
Dheeraj (12), another school drop-out from Martin Purwa, says he was forced to give up studies as his parents could not afford to pay his fees. So one day he too became a caddy and carries bag charging Rs 25 for a round of the 9-hole golf course. Every morning he walks barefoot in wet grass infested with snakes and poisonous insects even in Lucknow’s severe winters. Two or three similar rounds may earn him a meager 75 per day and help augment his family income. Other youngsters from the same village, who are yet to perfect their swing, earn a modest living by retrieving lost golf balls and reselling them for a lower price.
Hariram, another golfer, who plays with a single digit handicap and is a familiar face on the national golfing circuit feels that there is something special about the village. ‘We are exposed to golf from early childhood and begin by becoming caddies.’ Today Hariram, who has his roots in Martin purwa, is earning a decent living by playing professional golf and by imparting training to up and coming golfers after charging Rs 100 per training session.
With golfers winning big prize money, winds of change have swept over this desolate hamlet. Concrete double-storied buildings have replaced the thatched roof huts. Bicycles and scooters have been replaced by swanky cars. Vijay Kumar, for example owns a Honda City, an Esteem, and runs the pro – house in the Lucknow Golf Club. Others too, have been able to run small businesses or send their children to school out of their golf earnings
But while the financial status may have changed, attitudes haven’t. The four time national champion still prefers to ride a Hero Honda, to the club. Says Raj Kumar, who plays at the national level, ‘we feel handicapped as we are unable to speak English.’ This is one of the reasons that Martin purwa, golfers have not been able to make a mark at international level.
Besides this, rues Bhoop Singh, another single digit handicapper, ‘no big houses come forward to sponsor the golfers from Martin purwa, maybe it is because we do not conform to the hoity toity glamorous image of an international golfer.’
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