Golf has a huge fan following across the world and now even in our country. What started out as a game during the reign of the Scottish King James II in the 1457 quickly gained popularity so much that the later rulers had to issue out statutes against golf for the next two centuries to limit its popularity. Gradually though Scotland became the Mecca of Golf and soon like many other Scottish inventions (read whiskey) were promptly usurped by the British and wherever they went they brought along with them a bundle of sports. India too has a long relationship with golf .Interestingly the second oldest golf course in the world outside of UK is the Royal Calcutta Golf Club which was formed in 1892 and from then on today India has produced golfing champs like Jeev Milkha Singh, Anirban Lahiri, Jyoti Randhawa and Arjun Atwal to name a few. Currently India has 196 registered golf courses. Odisha and Bhubaneswar are also on the circuit thanks to the efforts of a handful of members because of whom the Bhubaneswar Golf Club’s 9 hole course is making waves in the Eastern part of the country. The club started off in the late seventies and today is making waves in the golfing world. Coffee Bytes caught up with Mr. J.B.Pany (Dulal) who along with a handful of others are the trail blazers in popularization of golf in our state. Read on to find out more about golf, its struggles and achievements and also certain misconceptions about the sport.
Sir tell us how did it all begin? And most importantly what were people’s reactions to golfers?
Golf in Bhubaneswar came into existence on 15th August 1982 officially as the Bhubaneswar Golf Club.We didn’t have any golf course in Odisha and our small group of golfers used to practice in and around the aerodrome. In those days the Biju Patnaik Bhubaneswar Airport was known as the Bhubaneswar Aerodrome with only two flights a day.There wasn’t any Airport Authority of India then so we took permission from Indian Airlines and started playing golf in the runway area. People would look at us quizzically (laughs JBP) wondering what these men were doing with clubs in their hands and a small ball. There wasn’t any course it was mostly just hitting the ball and walking around. This was all happening throughout the 80’s but we made sure the game did not die off.
So who were these people who started off golfing in Odisha? Is there a back story to it?
We were a few people back then Mr.C.J. Singh, Mr.Gyanchand, Capt.Narula, Bhumi Mohanty, Mr.P.K.Ray, Mr.Amarendra Das, Mr.Sunil Taneja and few more people were involved. Back then in the 80’s and early 90’s there were only a few handful of golfing clubs in the country and many were in army cantonments. To play golf you needed connections in the army. As luck would have it the CRPF camp in Bhubaneswar had a Commanding Officer who was a golfing aficionado and thanks to him we had the first semblance of a golf course in Odisha. It wasn’t a proper course but it was something to start with.
Can you tell us more about these initial golf courses?
Well we started off first by playing in parks, lawns, roadsides any and everywhere we could find a green patch of land and in those days there were plenty. Bhubaneswar wasn’t as sprawling as you see today and it was actually quite fun. We would load up all the gear in cars and motorcycles and go ‘clubbing all along’ (laughs JBP). There was a particular club member who helped us out and for a brief period of time the Bhubaneswar Golf Club had a course right here behind Khandagiri hill. The course was dotted with palm trees located near SOS Children’s village what is now Gymkhana Palm Heights. The plot owned by a gentleman called Mr.Moyna Mishra and that is where we organised our first formal tournaments albeit amongst ourselves. This was the first formal course where anyone could come and play. (Smiling) Around the same time the 120 Army Battalion got itself a golf ourse but it was on and off.
You became the Secretary of the Bhubaneswar Golf Club in 1998 tell us a little about that time and era?
Yes I became the Secretary in 1998 and Mr.Tara Patnaik came in as President of the club. Initially there were some differences in our working style but both of us quickly realized that we both have long term goal and vision for golfing in Odisha. With this in mind we seriously started searching for an ideal spot where we could have a huge golf course. Tara and I disagreed on many things but our common will for a golf course kept us together. You see, Bhubaneswar was the only State capital in the country which back then did not have golf course. So we had to do something about it.
Not have a golf course! Would you please explain?
Golf came to India because of the British. They built golf courses in Bombay, New Delhi, Calcutta and Madras apart from a few army cantonments where the game had taken up popularity amongst the army officers. Apart from this, the royalty of India too built a few but sadly Odisha was never in that list and so the hard fact of life, we are probably the only State capital which does not have a state run golf course. In 1994 the Odisha Government allocated land in Bhubaneswar only later revoking that allocation by giving it to XIMB, Nalco and Gopabandhu Academy. You see a golf course ideally needs 180 acres of land. Subsequently we were allocated what is today Ekamra Kanan only to be taken away again as later it was found out to be forest land. So environments laws prevent of any building activity inside a demarcated forest zone.We had failed again and it was the end of that dream. So we decided to build one on our own.
What happened next? How as the course that we see today built in infocity come up?
Up until 2000 we were dependant on the government to allocate land and provide money for a golf course but from our previous experience Tara our President and we all decided to aggressively hunt for a land that would suit us even if its half a course. Fortunately around this time the IT boom happened and the government came up with Infocity which was a blessing in disguise for us. Even the IT bigwigs wrote letters to the government for a golf course inside the Infocity area which bolstered our cause. Finally the bureaucracy and the government saw through the idea and even the Chief Minister supported the idea. Promptly the government gave us land at the edge of Infocity and the members of Bhubaneswar Golf Club designed it and built it.
So the club finally got the land but what next? How did you develop the land into what we see today?
We all got down together and started planning out the course. Each member helped in his own capacity and capability. We started out with a lot of difficulty but then a member would come forward and pledge construction equipment or if we needed materials someone would provide that. People came forward and helped us. We fell short of funds since our energies were diverted not only towards building the course but also for a club house building. It was at this time that IMFA’s Mr.Subhrakanta Panda came forward and pledged his support for building the club house which got the corporates of Odisha involved. Gradually people of Bhubaneswar and Cuttack came forward to help build our Bhubaneswar Golf Course and slowly and steadily work started to take shape. For the first time in Odisha golfers had a place which they can call their own. We were finally on the golfing map of India.
Golfing tours and championships are happening all over the country so when you say ‘we are on the golfing map’ tell us about the tourneys that happen at Bhubaneswar Golf Course?
Well we are the only club which organizes the inter-club East zone Golfing tournament. In this tourney, clubs from the East Zone participate. This year participants came from clubs in Ranchi, Patna, Jamshedpur, Raipur, Kolkata, Vizag, even from Paradeep and Sambalpur. The MCL now boasts of Golf Course too. Even our Odia golfers including women are participating in many tournaments across the country and abroad too. We had 52 participants from outside Odisha and the total participation for the three day tourney was around 75 players every day. Which is huge for a city like Bhubaneswar. The tournament has been happening since the last 12 years all because of the efforts of the club members.
Is golf spreading in Odisha? And are there women golfers too in the Bhubaneswar Golf Club?
Sure it is! Look around you earlier there was no interest in this sport a decade ago and it was limited to only tv channels. Now you can play it right here in your own state. Women of our state too are taking interest in the sport. The professional level is yet to be reached. At amateur level Lakhi Swain and Geeta Biswas have shown excellent performances. Our actions are having a ripple effect. This motivated Mr. Santosh Mohapatra to come up with one in Paradeep. Sambalpur also got its first course thanks to the Chairman of MCL who is an avid golf player himself. Golf has huge potential to grow in Odisha. It can also boost tourism in a huge way for the state.
How can golf increase tourism in Odisha? Is there a golf tourist circuit that exists?
Yes tourism in Odisha can tripple if we just focus on golf. Amarendra, Tara, Bhumi, me and others from our club have been regularly going to Europe, North America and South East Asia and participating in amateur golf tournaments. Scores of amateur golfers travel across the globe just to play on golf courses in different parts of the world. Odisha has a huge potential in that way. We, in Odisha have a terrain similar to Thailand, Malayasia or Vietnam. These countries have done wonders by promoting golf. It has boosted revenues because of tourist inflow, provided jobs for the people in the local community and because golf courses are very green it has also helped support and protect the green cover of that area. It is a viable project if we combine luxury villas with golf courses. So let’s say a scenario where we have 200 acre golf course of which 80 to 100 acres of land is just the course and the rest can be used as private villas, boutique hotels or luxury resorts which can help boost tourism. We have played in Pebble Beach Golf Links in California. Look how golf has developed tourism in that part of the world. Now we have air connectivity with South East Asia I think in a matter of few years we can become a major destination for golf in South East Asia.
We have all seen this film of Nawazuddin Siddque called ‘Ali’ where the protagonist breaks social taboos and wins the golf tournament. Is golf really a rich person’s sport or is it just a misconception?
See every popular sport in India was a rich man’s game. Like Cricket or Tennis. The costs involved were prohibitive but as the popularity grew in the game so did government patronage. Today we have enough infrastructure for both these games now to produce world class talent. Golf in India needs government support to grow. Give us support and see how many ‘Ali’s’ we can create in golf. Golf tournaments offer big money and huge exposure. It could be an incentive to economic growth of a state.
Taking in the cumulative experience of your well travelled team. You, along with Mr.Tara, Mr.Amarendra, Mr.Bhumi and others have travelled all around the world. Tell us a little bit about the types of golf courses and what you think would be a great golf course in Odisha?
There isn’t a single great golf course, every course has its own charm and its own sand traps(laughs). Each course is an experience. Golf is the only game in the world which does not have a set boundary rule. In fact the game is so flexible that players travel to various courses to play. For instance Bhubaneswar golf course is a small golf course but it is famous for its undulating surface and a small hill which is part of the course. So it’s a real challenge for people, I know a handful who say that this course is a good training ground for budding golfers with its scenic views and undulating terrain.
People point out that golf courses aren’t environment friendly. Is this correct?
Bhubaneswar golf course has twenty one thousand trees and plants inside its perimeter. We use organic methods for trees, plants and grass to grow. Earlier the trend was using synthetic turfs and there was no seriousness given towards tree cover. Now all of that has changed thanks to the younger generation and the sense of responsibility amongst people. Now a golf course is like a lung to a city for much needed fresh air. Golf courses have huge amount of trees which in turn is a home for birds, insects and bees. Even the natural ground water table is maintained because usually golf courses have obstacles like ponds and streams. These ponds and streams help replenish ground water table and in some cases even help bring back green cover in a greater area. In Vietnam what was once war torn military bases with rusting leftovers of the Vietnam War is now turned lush green and healthy eco-systems thanks to golf courses. Our golf course uses organic methods to maintain the course. Our club is very responsible and conscious about our environment.
Please explain the game in short for our readers. Golf 101?
(Laughs) Golf is a very flexible game. You see an ideal golf course is 18 hole and there is a set number of strokes which changes course wise. The number strokes the player needs to ‘putt’ the ball. Golf is a unique sport, it uses both physical strength and temperament to compete. It is the only ball game in the world where the ball is static. As in you start off the game with the ball being stationary. It has a myriad of golf clubs which you can use depending on the wind speed, course, terrain and obstacles. Apart from international match referees are far and few because the rules are so detailed hence eliminating unfair play. Such a game helps build confidence and is a good team building exercise. It’s a game of freedom it liberates you from your mundane life.
Sir you have spoken about the journey of golf and Bhubaneswar Golf Club. What are its future plans?
The future of golf is very bright. I know of these 2 very bright young Odia lads who are coming up with a tournament which will be conducted in 30 countries simultaneously. Bhubaneswar Golf Club and I along with a few senior members would be a part of tournament. It would help popularize Odisha as a major golfing destination. We are also planning our yearly golfing tournament . We conduct 13 events ; the major being BGC East Zone Inter Club Golf Tournament, Invitational Corporate Golf Tournament, All Odisha Falcon Golf Tournament. Besides these there are two sponsored events : Audi Trophy and Kalinga Cup. We would like more people to come forward and play golf.
With this Mr.Dulal Pany concluded the interview. As we packed up he adds ‘Lads I forgot to tell you one very important thing about golf. Wonder what keeps an old man like me as fit as a fiddle? Golf! Each time you play you end up walking ten to eleven kilometers a day. Why don’t you join me sometime for a game? It will help you lose those beer bellies to begin with’. A good laugh later we promised that we shall visit Bhubaneswar Golf Club along with our photographer aka partner in crime.
By Aditya Nag