History of Indian Golf
It is almost impossible to think of any history book on golf without finding an honourable mention of India in the first few chapters itself. It was here, in the city of Calcutta, that the first golf club outside the British Islands was established way back in 1829.
To really appreciate the fact, one has to compare the year 1829 to the other happenings in the timeline of world golf. When the Royal Calcutta Golf Club was established, the Royal & Ancient Golf Club at St. Andrews, considered to be the Mecca of world golf, was still five years away from seeing light of the day (however, the Society of St Andrews Golfers had been formed in 1754). It would take another 19 years for gutta percha to replace the feathery ball and 22 years before the world would see the first professional golfer in the form of England’s Willie Park. And the Americans would have their first tryst with golf about 60 years later.
The Early Years
The British, obviously smitten by the game, took it to wherever they established their rule. The eighteenth century saw a mushrooming of golf clubs in India. The founding of the Royal Calcutta Golf Club was followed by the now-defunct Royal Bombay Golf Club in 1842 and the Bangalore Golf Club in 1876. The Madras Gymkhana Golf Club was established in 1877, and 11 years later, Chennai got its second course in the form of the Cosmopolitan Golf Club. The Shillong Golf Club incorporated a golf course in 1886. Up north, Srinagar was the first city to have its own course somewhere in 1880s, followed by Gulmarg in 1891.
While there were certain club championships which were being played in almost all the clubs at that time, the first truly national-level championship began in 1892 when the inaugural All-India Amateur Championship was staged as a strokeplay tournament at the Royal Calcutta Golf Club. JF Macniar was the first winner with a four-day score of 288. In 1999, the tournament saw its 100th edition and has the distinction of being the second oldest tournament in the world after the British Open, which started in 1860. The first US Open was played three years later in 1895.
The All-India Matchplay continued to be a strokeplay championship till the format was changed to matchplay in 1899 when GM Heriot defeated T Drimmic 5 and 4.
The ladies were not far behind. The Ladies All-India Amateurs started in 1906 at the Royal Calcutta Golf Club with Mrs L Walker walking away with top honours in the inaugural event. The tournament has continued without interruption except for 1918 because of World War I and a gap of 10 years from 1940-50, triggered by World War II. The All-India Matchplay, for similar reasons, was not played between 1916-18 and 1939-44.
Both the tournaments were dominated by the British and the first Indian to make an impression was the legendary IS Malik, who finished runner-up in 1945, ’47 and ’48. However, IS Malik did not have the distinction of becoming the first Indian champion of the All-India Amateurs. That distinction went to Mohinder Bal, who walloped DJ Payton by eight holes with seven to play in 1949. IS Malik had to wait for another year and became the second Indian champion in 1950 when he beat HA Style 4&3. Malik later won the title in 1955 and 1956 as well. The 1956 championship was unique in the sense that it was the first time when the final featured two Indians, the runner-up being Raj Kumar Pitambar, who later won the title twice.
FORMATION OF INDIAN GOLF UNION: A major milestone in the history of Indian golf was the formation of the Indian Golf Union (IGU) in 1955. A number of senior golfers realised that the time had come to establish a controlling body for golf in this country. Until then, the Royal Calcutta Golf Club had virtually been the governing body of golf in India, much like the Royal & Ancient of St. Andrews. The objective of the Union was to promote and maintain a high standard of golf in the country.
A special honor was accorded to the six leading clubs at that time; The Royal Calcutta Golf Club, The Tollygunge Club, The Bombay Presidency Golf Club, The Delhi Golf Club, The Willingdon Sports Club and the Madras Gymkhana, who were set down in the articles as the founder members.
The first President was Mr AD Vickers, who had worked untiringly to bring the Union into being and was mainly responsible for the preparation of the rules and regulations under which it was to work.
The Indian Golf Union is now affiliated to the World Amateur Golf Council, and has done a great deal to promote golfing in the country. In 1957, it started its first training camp at the Royal Golf Club in Calcutta, where assistant professionals and caddies were brought from all over the country and trained to teach golf.
The All-India Amateurs, as well as the Ladies All-India Amateurs, continued to be played at the Royal Calcutta Golf Club. In 1957, IGU decided to rotate the All-India Amateurs between the RCGC, the Delhi Golf Club and the Bombay Presidency Golf Club in Mumbai. The first tournament outside the RCGC was played at the DGC in 1958 and saw the arrival of Ashok Malik, son of IS Malik, who emulated his father’s feat of beating Raj Kumar Pitamber in 1956. Ashok Malik went on to become the first golfer to win the title five times. His other victories were in 1960, ’63, ’67 and ’69. The other five-time winner of the All-India Amateur are Captain PG ‘Billoo’ Sethi (1959, ’61, ’62, ’70 & ’72) and Vikramjit Singh (1968, ’71, ’74, ’77 & ’79).