NEW DELHI - From the moment I arrive, the sights, the sounds and the diversity of this city surround me. Within minutes, I know that without a doubt I have arrived in one of the most exotic destinations in the world — for golfers.
Okay, granted, New Delhi may not be foremost on golfers’ minds but for me, playing my favourite sport in India was the opportunity to combine two of my passions – travel and golf.
When you travel this far, though, you simply have to take in the numerous historical sites of Old Delhi, including the Red Fort, Qutub Minar, Humayun's Tomb, the Lotus Temple and the diplomatic enclave that includes Parliament House, India Gate and the President’s Estate.
“With a thousand years of history, it is a city of contrasts that combines a unique ambience of ancient and the modern,” my host Bharat Bedi so eloquently stated. It was a theme that resonated with me for the rest of my brief stay.
My advice to golfers is that between rounds, take the time to explore the area and experience the culture.
As a golf aficionado, first and foremost, you will want to add India to the list of countries you have played. That’s because this country has a long history with the game.
Did you know that in 1829, Royal Calcutta was the first golf club opened outside Great Britain — a full 44 years before the game reached the shores of North America with the opening of Royal Montreal. Now there are over 230 golf courses spread across India.
Left: Golf is becoming a booming sport in India thanks to the addition of some remarkable courses. Right: The Taj Mahal-like clubhouse at the ITC Grand Bharat is a sight to behold.
And in case you’re wondering, golf in India is very advanced. The courses I played here would not look out of place in any golf destination in North America and that’s because the newest courses were designed by renowned architects. The caddies are all young males who are very knowledgeable and passionate about the game, and all the pro shops were stocked with state-of-the-art equipment. I elected to bring my clubs but the rentals here are all brand names and very new.
The course conditions, mainly because of the severe heat they endure — the temperature never dropped below a humid 35C when I was there in September — are not quite up to North American standards, with the exception of DLF course, which was in immaculate condition.
The best part of playing golf in India is the price — greens fees range between $40 to $60 (U.S.) a round. That’s great value for what you get.
I had the good fortune of testing some distinctly different courses in the National Capital Region (NCR) surrounding New Delhi during my tour and some of the courses stood out from the rest. So here are a few I would highly recommend you put on your golf bucket list when you go to India:
Jaypee Greens Golf & Spa Resort
This170-room luxury hotel is located near the suburb of Greater Noida, about 50 minutes southeast of downtown New Delhi. Surrounded by 450 acres of lush green space, villas, townhouses and towering condominiums, it felt like I was in an “oasis in the city.”
The Greg Norman Signature course, built in 2000, holds the title of “India’s first-ever 18-hole golf course.” Norman’s team transformed a flat, featureless piece of property into a gently rolling terrain and then excavated 24 acres to create 14 manmade ponds and 88 bunkers. At 7,347 yards, Jaypee Greens remains one of the longest golf courses in Asia.
I found the fairways wide and receptive, but beware: there are a number of risk/reward decisions to be made, and water is evident on almost every hole. As Norman said, “sooner or later, the course will test you and push you to the edge.” My only negative is that the Tifdwarf greens are small and very inconsistent.
ITC Grand Bharat
This golf resort is located about 40 kilometres southeast of Indira Gandhi International Airport but light years away from the hustle and bustle of Delhi. This luxury retreat is built on 3,000 acres of secluded property and possibly the most opulent resort you will find anywhere in India. The hotel complex was created using local sandstone and resembles a Taj Castle. It’s a real “oasis of tranquility.”
Above: The Greg Norman Signature course at Jaysee Greens Golf & Spa Resort, a 50 minute drive from New Delhi.
Grand Bharat’s Classic Course is the first Jack Nicklaus signature course ever built in South Asia. The 27-hole layout offers three distinct nines. I found The Ridge to have gentle rolling fairways with substantial bunkering, The Valley has plenty of water, and The Canyon serves up craggy views of the picturesque Aravali foothills.
You may not need your driver on most par fours here because positioning off the tee is more important than distance. However, you will find that your approach shots are critical navigating the very narrow greens, firmly protected by ominous bunkers.
DLF Golf & Country Club
The original 18-hole Arnold Palmer designed course has consistently ranked as the best course in India. In the past, DLF has hosted many European and Asian sanctioned tour events, including the 2008 Johnnie Walker Classic. In the last two years, there have been some very dramatic upgrades to this already spectacular property.
DLF kept nine holes of the original rotation so you can still get experience night golf under the lights. In 2013, the new Gary Player Signature nine opened and offers very uneven fairways with dramatic deep-faced bunkers. My biggest thrill was to tour his newest nine just days before it opened for play. The greens keepers were just completing the final touches in preparation for the 2015 Hero Women’s Indian Open, part of the European tour.
Left: The growth in golf over the past 15 years in India can be directly attributed to the country’s new-found wealth. Right: Many of the courses in India sit right next to major cities or resorts.
The Player team reportedly moved over 200 million cubic tons of earth and brought in 27,000 tons of indigenous dholpur stone to form rock quarries and stone pillars while still taking full advantage of the rugged Aravali Range as a stunning backdrop.
Golf in India has certainly come a long way. “The Indian heritage and cultural experience, modern India, now coupled with a choice of golfing destinations, make for an irresistible travel package,” sums up Aakarsh Choubey, the Senior Manager of Sales and Marketing for DLF Golf and Country Club.
So take the road less travelled, follow your passion and seek out the unknown. I guarantee you’ll come back with memories that will last a lifetime.
When to Visit: New Delhi has four distinct seasons. Summer averages 40C and September is typically their monsoon season. January and February are the coldest when the temperature can dip as low as 4 or 5 degrees C at night with daytime highs in the upper teens. October, November, February or March is the best time to visit. / According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Yak Golf Course in Kupup, India is the highest altitude course at 3,970m. / Tour East Holidays offers many exciting tours to India and can arrange golf while you are there. For more information, go to www.toureast.com