There are approximately 300 golf courses in India and while not exactly spoilt for choice, the itinerant golfer is never too far away from a layout to tee it up at. Amongst these are historical layouts, quirky hill courses, ultra-modern championship venues, oddities laid out amongst tea and coffee plantations, and pretty much everything in between. This is not a ranking: rather a curation of ten golf courses in the country that offer a truly one-of-a-kind golfing experience.
Aamby Valley GC: Even by the dispassionate standards of course-conditioning, the Aamby Valley GC would easily rank in the top-five courses in the country. Add to that a spectacular natural location—on a sloping forested patch abutting a deep valley and encircled by low rolling hills—with just the chirping of the birds and wind whistling through the trees scythed occasionally by the sound of your golf club swishing through the air. One of the better ones designed by David Hemstock, it is a gem of a layout, so you’ll forgive me for gushing. If you dream about golf, as most of us do, then this is pretty much how that would pan out. Spread over 250 acres at an elevation of 2,700 feet, the 18 holes literally flow along the natural contours of parallel valleys.
ITC Classic Golf Resort: Now part of the ITC Grand Bharat—an expansive luxury hotel—the Classic Golf Resort’s proposition to visiting golfers is complete. The only Jack Nicklaus signature design in India is also one of the largest: spread over 300 acres, the resort has an 18-hole championship course and another nine holes. About an hour’s drive from New Delhi, and nestled in of the Aravalli hills, the CGR is usually in excellent condition throughout the year. The course, the first big name designer layout in the country, has hosted a number of Asian Tour events.
Royal Springs Golf Course: The Royal Springs GC is truly the jewel in the crown in India’s golfing firmament. Dramatically poised between the Zabarwan Range and the legendary Dal Lake in Srinagar, this Robert Trent Jones Jr. creation takes its name from the ‘Chashme Shahi’ (royal springs) which adjoin the GC. The springs, surrounded by an exquisite walled garden, were prized sources of fresh water during the reign of Mughal emperor Jehangir and exist to this day.
The course, situated at an altitude of 6,445 feet, was carved out of deciduous forest and fruit orchards which ensconce the elaborate 300-acre layout. The setting imbues the course with a rolling landscape, natural marsh and wilderness. The magnificent ruins of Pari Mahal overlook the course and are best seen while walking the 14th fairway. Royal Springs GC is located adjacent to the palace of the erstwhile Maharaja of Kashmir. History, golf, and magnificent vistas come together to make a round at the RSGC so much more than just a golfing experience.
Oxford Golf & Country Club: Carved out on 136 acres amongst hills with stunning backdrops, the Oxford Golf and Country Club (designer, Phil Ryan of Pacific Coast Design, Australia) outside Pune is surrounded by the Sahyadri range on three sides. This championship facility presents a very pretty picture: The lush green strips of the golf course stand out against the stark landscape, with the large white sand bunkers adding a touch of their own to the layout. The fourth tee is the highest point of the golf course perched 84 meters above the 14th, which forms the floor—that gives an idea of the elevation changes that take place on the golf course.
Delhi Golf Club: The joke among members at the Delhi Golf Club is that they need to get their children registered for membership the moment they are born. It’s only half a joke: the DGC has the most coveted membership of any golf club in the country with a waiting time of over three decades. The DGC came into being as a nine-hole facility in 1951—at a time when golfing action in the country was centered in Kolkata. Over the years the course has expanded into 27 holes and is now the undisputed pre-eminent golf club in the country. One of the busiest courses in the country, the DGC is always in excellent shape. The short 9-hole Peacock course has a collection of interesting par 3s which are ideal for players looking to hone their iron game.
Kensville Golf & Country Club: Golf has taken root in Gujarat and how! From being bereft of a single quality layout less than a decade back, the state now has a number of championship venues, the pick of which is undoubtedly the Kensville Golf & Country Club. The late Col. Bagga-design in Ahmedabad has also hosted European Challenge Tour events and is a regular venue on the pro tour. Located a 40-minute-drive out of Ahmedabad, the Jeev Milkha Singh signature course is a long, tough, challenging layout with water, wind and quite a few doglegs. There’s an expansive driving range and a golf academy for beginners while the clubhouse houses 55 rooms and suites for visiting golfers.
Lidder Valley Golf Club: The newest addition and arguably the most spectacular of all golf courses in Kashmir, the Lidder valley GC’s natural setting in Pahalgam is downright astonishing. The fairways wind up and down undulating hillocks and around a smattering of water bodies all within a pristine forested area, surrounded by peaks of the middle Himalayan ranges. The course is so pretty that it’s hard to keep your mind on the game. This course, designed by Ranjit Nanda, features possibly the narrowest fairway in the country: A five-yard wide opening to the long par-3 third hole, and the quickest greens amongst any course in Kashmir.
Royal Calcutta Golf Club: The first golf club in the country and the oldest outside the British Isles, the Royal Calcutta Golf Club, founded in 1829, is steeped in history. In 1911, the club was honoured by King George V and Queen Mary, who conferred on it the title of ‘Royal’ to commemorate their visit to Kolkata. Much of the memorabilia connected with the history of the club is still preserved in the clubhouse.
Karnataka Golf Association GC: After a makeover a few years back, the KGA, established in 1973, is acknowledged by most professionals as the top-ranked golf course in India. The exhaustive renovation, carried out by Swan Golf Designs (UK) involved rebuilding of all 18 greens, fairways, bunkers and tees. The playing surfaces were re-grassed, fairways raised and state-of-the-art irrigation installed. Also, a comprehensive drainage system was put into place to ensure quick recovery from the heavy rainfall which the region experiences. The flat course of yesterday has given way to an undulating (though still tight) layout of some character.
Ranikhet Golf Club (KREPTA): The KREPTA is not a classic layout. Nor is the quality of fairways and greens (‘browns’ in this instance) comparable to modern courses. But as you tee it up with a brisk mountain breeze blowing through your hair, and the snow-capped peaks in the background, all that pales into insignificance. The course is essentially a nine-hole layout with alternative tees for the back nine. Tall pine trees come into the line of play on most holes, and the browns are small targets, putting a premium on accuracy. Because of the undulating fairways, there aren’t too many level lies. And distance is hard to judge—at least the first time around. But the golf is really quite secondary on this course, for the views are spectacular from almost any spot. It’s impossible to keep your gaze on the ball when the view of the Panchachuli peaks at the back is as panoramic as you’re ever likely to see on any golf course in India. The course has green fairways, but sand ‘browns’ instead of greens for water conservation and easy maintenance. KREPTA offers more smiles-per-rupee than you could hope for.
Meraj Shah is a Delhi-based writer, golfer and television producer.