When revenue minister K.E. Ismail announced on the floor of the state assembly that the cabinet had decided on the takeover of the club, the city's minuscule'if vocal'golfing fraternity went into a minor tizzy. The air was thick with rumours of the state government's sinister designs to convert the sprawling 26-acre golf course, nestling in the heart of the city, into a site for a low-cost housing scheme. Apart from everything else that this plan entailed, there was also the likely environmental hazard of losing another vital lung-space in an increasingly crowded city, once well-known for its wide avenues and open spaces.
Why is the common man's party preoccupied with the bourgeois game of golf? The communists say their preoccupation with the club does originate from a concern for the common man. First, they believe the game needs to shed its elitist trappings and become accessible to the masses. Second, there is the specific issue of the right of passage through the golf course for residents living on its fringes, which is allegedly denied to them by the club. Next, there is the tourism angle: the government believes that golf will attract the well-heeled international traveller and thus help bring in big bucks. Finally, the pristine premises with the fine heritage buildings which the government feels are abused by a bunch of bureaucrats who have earned the club a bad name by their less-than-proper conduct.
The government wants to turn the club into a profit-making recreational centre that stands for appropriate social values. Ismail explains: 'The club is in the hands of a small minority of IAS officers. There is talk that the place is being used for nefarious purposes. There is drinking, gambling and other activities going on there. We want to open the club to the common man and attract tourists.'
The government is relying on an assembly committee report to justify its takeover bid. Residents living around the club had presented a plea before the Petitions Committee of the assembly demanding the right to use the golf course as a thoroughfare. In its report, the committee recommended the construction of a road around the course and also suggested the club be shifted to an alternative site. It urged the government to take over the premises and put them to better use.
The report triggered a tug-of-war among various wings and departments of the government for control of the prime property. cpm sources say the party is already under pressure from the club committee. The government's writ, therefore, will run at the club in any case. Club members say the residents in the vicinity have been using the golf course as a short cut without hindrance. So, what's the real reason for the government wanting to take it over?
Club president Phillipose Thomas is not sure. The government's plan to run a club may be unique, but counterproductive. Government endeavours are not noted for their efficiency or success. He counters the charge of decadence levelled at the club: 'We don't have a bar licence. Liquor is not sold on the premises. A few former chief secretaries come to play bridge and golf. There is no life in the club after 7.30 pm.'
Club members are determined to resist the government's attempt to wrest total control. 'The club belongs to its members, whereas the golf course and its attached buildings, which belong to government, have been given to them on a 99-year lease. So, I don't think the government can take over the club. It can take over the golf course and its attached buildings,' Thomas explains.
The consensus at the Trivandrum Golf Club is that golf is an expensive game meant for those who can afford its overheads. It cannot be the game of the common man. Common sense?