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Royal challenge overcome, nine holes open

The long wait is over for the Royal loyalists. After a 195-day break, the Royal Calcutta Golf Club (RCGC) is ready to throw open nine holes of its 18-hole, 7,200-yard, par-72 championship course on Tuesday morning.

And to this month, a year later, a Royal treat could be in store for the oldest golf club outside the British Isles. Lining up with the Indian pro trio of Arjun Atwal, Jeev Milkha Singh and Jyoti Randhawa — and the Sachin Tendulkars and Kapil Devs and Aishwarya Rais — on the RCGC greens could be a golfing legend, Nick Faldo.

The club authorities are “in talks” with the multiple major winner to be part of the heritage institution’s 175th anniversary celebrations next November.

With Faldo still a faraway dream, the focus for now is firmly on the city’s favourite fairways. “We are glad to be able to make at least nine holes playable from Tuesday and hope to get the remaining nine ready by the weekend,” RCGC captain Asit Luthra told Metro on Monday. For the club brass, it’s been a Herculean task, trying to get the hallowed greens back in shape once a rapprochement was reached with the agitating workforce and the closure lifted.

“De-weeding and cutting the overgrown grass (up to three to four feet tall) down to the required 17-20 mm on the course and to 2.5-3 mm on the greens, was a major challenge, and the fact that we had one of the wettest Octobers didn’t help either,” Luthra observed.

There are some bald patches still to mesh, but course manager Lt Col Saini (retd) hopes the course will be ship-shape before the Signature Inter-Club Championship tees off on November 29.

The fairways had to be aerated by punching holes into the ground, since drooping weeds had formed shades, impeding both water and sunlight. “We then covered the holes with sand to absorb water and help the grass to grow. For nine holes, the aeration is complete, while dressing of the rest of the course is on,” the captain said.

The die-hard Royals are all ready to swing. “It’s great news that we can at least play nine holes. For us, who hit the ball long, RCGC offers a better driving option compared to Tolly, since it’s a longer and more challenging course. The mornings will take on a new hue from Tuesday and we are all dying to get back on the course,” said ‘Bunny’ Lakshman Singh.

Architecturally and layout-wise, the Royal course compares favourably with the best in the world, added Singh, who is not sure though if the course would “play like old” before next March.

The club management, however, is confident it will be ready for the new season, which takes in the East India Juniors (December 2-5), besides the RCGC Cup and the All-India Amateurs in February 2004.

With the course reopening, the RCGC management is also firming up plans for a gala celebration of its 175th anniversary next year. Invitations have gone out to captains of all 40-odd Royal clubs in the Commonwealth countries.

A series of events is being lined up for the three-day bash (November 26-28, 2004) and the week preceding that, of which the high point could be an exhibition appearance over a few holes and a clinic by Faldo. “We are talking to him and we sincerely hope he can be part of our celebrations,” said Luthra.

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