Fit for a queen

May 11 2014, 00:43 IST
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SummaryBorne of royal whimsy, the Rambagh GC has evolved into one of the finest courses in the country

Circa 1940. Swirls of dust rise up in circles and come to rest long after the horsemen have passed. A motley group of golfers, led by Maharani Gayatri Devi, chase down golf balls on horseback, clubs tucked neatly on side-saddles. After teeing off from Rambagh Palace grounds, the group heads for the Maharani’s farm in Durgapura, almost 8 km away. It’s not really about strokeplay, although hitting a long ball is a distinct advantage if you’re playing an 8,000-m hole, and especially if hitting every shot involves dismounting from your steed.

Finally, one of the courtiers is the first to reach the designated spot and hits his ball through the door of a small structure at Durgapura. With a cry of exultation, he claims his prize as the winner of the cross-country Philips Trophy.

Cut to the present. The Rambagh Golf Club (RGC) has top-of-the-line golf carts, even though the horses are still around; the stables sit between the seventh and eighth fairways. The format is a more traditional 18 holes (par 70), and the desert has receded from the course, replaced by lush green Bermuda hybrid grass. At just over 6,300 yards, the RGC is a relatively short course, but if you’re a history buff, it can take a long time to let it all seep in.

In October 1944, after returning from a visit to Gulmarg, where she caught the golf bug, the late Maharani Gayatri Devi got a nine-hole course laid out in the Rambagh Palace grounds. The fairways were, in her own words, “pretty rough and full of burrs, which would stick in the players’ socks and shoes, but the browns were true and good”.

As interest in the game grew in the city, the couple of fourballs became a score and, eventually, H Duckworth, a professional from Kolkata, was brought down to coach the new converts, including a young man by the name of Gul Mohammed, who had been hired as the club pro. The Maharani was elected captain for life (a post she held until her demise three years back). She had a gate constructed between Lily Pool (which served as her residence, adjoining the palace) and the golf course, so that she could have unfettered access to it. The gate and path leading from it still exist, although the entrance lies locked. My caddy Nazrat, another old-timer at the RGC, says the gate used

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