Golf picking up in Kashmir valley

Syed Zafar Mehdi

Unlike most of his cricket and soccer obsessed peers, Ubaid (15) is a hardcore golf enthusiast. He plays the sport with passion and wants to emulate his idol Tiger Woods when he grows up. But will his wish be granted?

The game of Woods, Mickelson, and Ernie Els is fast catching up in the conflict-marred valley. Amateur players from lower-middle class league are taking to it in large numbers. “It is a wonderful game with global reach and youngsters in Kashmir seem to be smitten by it,” says Zubair Ahmad, a 30-something golfer from Srinagar.

But what about the elite-tag associated with this sport? “Its all hambug. Golf is not meant exclusively for elite class people. We welcome all those interested in sport,” says Parvaiz Bakshi, Secretary, Kashmir Golf Club (KGC). KGC is a body of 9 members (4 elected and 5 nominated), which looks after the game in valley.

Kashmir boasts of some stunning, world-class Golf courses, which attract golfers from all across the globe. “Its golfer’s paradise. They just can’t ask for more,” says Rouf Rasool, an official from JK Tourism Department. KGC golf course in Srinagar has been the launching pad for many golfing biggies like India-born Swiss Daniel Chopra and Jyoti Randhawa among others. It has also produced crop of exciting local talent in the form of players like Ghalib, Shabir Bhat, Khursheed, and Danish Aman. (All KGC cardholders)

World-famous Gulmarg Golf Course perched high at 8000 meters on the high slopes of Gulmarg is also a star attraction among foreign golfers. But the one that stands out is the picturesque Royal Springs Golf Course in the lap of Zabarwan hills. It has invited comparisons with some of the best golfing circuits across globe. It hosts many golf tournaments round the year, mostly organised by JK Tourism Department and local media houses. “Royal Springs is in a league of its own. It matches up to any golf course across Europe in terms of its beauty and maintenance,”says Angad Singh, a 25-something golfer from Delhi, who has played at the course.

But still why doesn’t Kashmir produce professional golfers, as one would expect? “We lack academies and professionals to groom our players, says Bakshi but hastens to add “we are discussing it and would come up with some solution soon.”

How this so-called “elite sport” caught up in valley, where cricket and football has been perennial favourite for ages? “Thanks to Farooq Abdullah,” comes the spontaneous reply from a bunch of golf enthusiasts. Abdullah, a self-proclaimed golf fanatic has been instrumental in giving the game a lift in Kashmir by setting golf courses across state during his days as C.M.

So Ubaid may well have done the right thing by choosing Golf over cricket and soccer. “At least, there is some hope of making a mark here, unlike in cricket or football, where history has never been on our side.”

(Written in July 2009 while interning at Hindustan Times Felhi)