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SWING AND THE CITY

Five champs, playing the McLeod Russel Tour Championship at RCGC, talk golf in Calcutta

Today I had the fortune of playing with a young golfer, Udayjit, Indrajit Bhalotiaís son. I think Indrajit is the top coach in Calcutta and I have known him as a professional. I was having a chat with him and he was telling me that there are about 400 kids who are involved in junior programmes. He was also telling me that there is a separate programme running on the Maidan. That for me is the first sign that people are getting interested and are getting the exposure. There are kids outside of the membership in the clubs who are taking up the sport. When I hear of a big number, it tells me that there is an effort to make it more popular and accessible and that is a good sign. You donít need to make 400 national champions but if you can make 400 golfers, they will in turn make 400 golfers and the sport will grow. And out of those 800 or 1,200, you might have two national champions, which is still quite good.

So, I think it is growing. Every year I come back here and the media is now getting actively involved in the sport. I remember five-six years back we used to come for the amateur event, there wasnít much of a buzz in the media. Now, the media is also being very active and promoting the game. I think if the local newspapers project this sport to the city and the state, it will grow even faster.

Fifteen or 20 years back, Calcutta was a golf centre. It is probably not as much now as it should be or needs to be. Youíve produced so many good players. There is no reason why you cannot have more such players in the future. Rahil (Gangjee) is one of my closest buddies. So, heís got to be my favourite (from the city).

Talking of being here during Christmas and Calcutta, I have never really been here Ďhereí during Christmas. We used to play the East India Amateurs, which would traditionally finish on the 25th and I never really made it till the finals, but I have seen the buzz, how Park Street gets cordoned off and lit up. It is beautiful. The atmosphere is nice. The weather is perfect. It is not a white Christmas, but it is really nice. Borodin as they say out here is really boro (big)! So, I enjoy the spirit. It is nice being here at this time of the year.

Jyoti Randhawa

The McLeod Russel Tour Championship is a great tournament. Aditya Khaitan is doing this tournament personally and you can see the ambience. It is a great time to have the tournament. It is a great week. I have always loved to come here and play.

Calcutta is where I had started playing golf. My first junior tournament was here. So, itís always good to be back! I think there should be more golfers in Calcutta than there are right now, given the facilities provided to them here. When I was young, most of the golfers were from Calcutta. But now, it is more from Delhi. Calcutta is catching up but it is not better than Delhi, which I think it should be. Having said that, it is a great place to be at. Everything is close by. There is a lot of club culture. It has good potential. I would want more juniors to come up. There is still a lot to be done here.

What is lacking? I guess the interest in people to play golf. In the í80s, it was the sporting city of India. I wonder if it is still that. I donít think it is. People donít enjoy playing sports here anymore. I donít see that happening. People used to go to clubs to play. Now they come to clubs to just hang around. You can enjoy the club life, but as long as you are playing a sport.

My favourite golfer from Calcutta is Basad Ali. I learnt a lot from him. Of course, Arjun Atwal is a Calcutta boy. Heís done well for himself in life and golf. These are the names that come to my mind.

Gaganjeet Bhullar

Calcutta is definitely one of the hot favourites for PGTI pros. Everybody loves to come back to Calcutta because of the golf courses and because of the golfing culture that the city has. It attracts a lot of crowd. A lot of young people have started playing golf in Calcutta. Golf is definitely going to go a long way in Calcutta. Arjun (Atwal) is a living legend of Calcutta. Of course, there is SSP Chowrasia. Devanshu Bajaj is the new young gun of Calcutta, hope to see him on the Asian Tour pretty soonÖ. Speaking of other things, what a massive change around the airport area! Itís like any other western country now.

Rahil Gangjee

Every now and then we come up with a really good golfer and I think weíve got one more coming up in Viraj Madappa. We have got a good programme going on with the juniors. I think there is a lot more interest in the juniors now. In my time, there wasnít any programme for the juniors. There was no structure to the entire thing. The course at Royal Calcutta Golf Club (RCGC) is great. And it all culminates this week. We really require a good ending to the year. And since it (McLeod Russel Tour Championship) is the biggest tournament, youíve got to really back it up with a good golf course.

Calcutta used to be a great golf destination. To tell you the truth, there arenít many corporates here. We need more corporates to run this game. You need more public driving ranges and golf courses. Nobody is really going to do that unless the government gets into it. But thatís how golf grows everywhere else in the world. In Japan, there is no place for a course. So, they have driving ranges. You donít have to be a member or pay lakhs and lakhs of rupees. Thatís how it should start.

SSP Chowrasia

In hindsight, when I had won (the Indian Masters) in 2008, after that a lot more people have started playing golf. Kids are really interested, which is great. I have seen a lot of changes between 2008 and 2013. There are a lot of good juniors who are playing at the national level. Maybe in the next few years they will go on to play at the international level. I am hopeful that golf will thrive in the city. If I compare RCGC to courses outside Calcutta, there are a lot of facilities hereÖ coaching and an empty course to practise on the whole day. That is very important.

Honestly, there should be one or two public golf courses. That would be great. I follow the junior champions more. And I think Viraj Madappa is doing very well. Whenever I am in Calcutta, I play a game with him. Very good golfer! He is very positive, which is very important.

As told to Saionee Chakraborty. Pictures by Anindya Shankar Ra