With the arrival of summer, golf clubs in the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir, turn active with players eager to tee off after the winter lull. Golf was introduced in Jammu and Kashmir by the British most likely in the late 19th century. While the crisp mountain air, the bracing climate and the beautiful greens enabled them to play for long hours, the natural hazards and the altitude challenged the players’ skill. Today visitors have a slew of old and new links to choose , set amidst some of the most jaw-dropping views of alpine trees and lakes against a background of snow-capped mountains.
According to most records, the first golf course was laid out in Gulmarg (about 52km by road from Srinagar), sometime in 1890-91 by one Colonel Neville Chamberlain. It was a six-hole course. According to sports writer Boria Mazumdar (co-editor of Modern Sport – The Global Obsession), the Maharaja of Kashmir donated land at Gulmarg in 1901 for laying out a golf course. It was called the Upper Golf Course. In 1915, a nine-hole golf course called the Rabbit’s Course was built. The Kashmir Golf Club in Srinagar is said to have been established in 1895. Golf in Kashmir was so popular in the early 20th century that championships for women and children were also held.
The 18-hole Kashmir Golf Club in Srinagar is set amidst Chinar and pine trees. The 52 acre verdant course contains well laid out bunkers and hazards. It has common fairways and a par of 70.
The redesigned par 72, 18-hole Gulmarg Golf Club was inaugurated in 2011. Carved out of a meadow, the greens have been designed to incorporate the natural landscape. Therefore the undulating fairways, the elevated tees, and other contours of the land offer various challenges to the players. The course, perched at 2,650 metres, is said to be the highest golf course in the world, and the longest hole in India, a par five, 610 yards.
And if you are out of luck, may be you can offer a prayer at the over a century old St Mary’s Church which overlooks the greens and has some fine stained glass paintings. The club facilities are at par with international standards, making this one of the finest summer golfing destinations.
Tucked within a bowl-shaped valley by the Lidder River, the now 18-hole Pahalgam Golf Club is overlooked by fir-clad mountains backing into snowy ranges. Play a relaxing round on the links and then sit back and enjoy the vista. Pahalgam is about 100km by road from Srinagar. But do be careful of the ravens who are known to have a special liking for the golf balls, as players will tell you.
Although a new-comer compared to the heritage golf clubs in Jammu and Kashmir, the Royal Springs Golf Course in Srinagar figures among one of the world’s best.
Located on Srinagar’s famous Boulevard, it is overlooked by the spectacular Zabarwan hills and has the Dal Lake for company. Commissioned in 2001, the 18-hole course has been designed by the renowned Robert Trent Jones II. It spreads over 300 acres of rolling hills, deciduous forest, landscaped areas, three lakes, and two marshes. The golf course with manicured grass occupies about 130 acres. The adjacent wilderness is home to birds and animals. Facilities here include a club house designed after old Kashmir architecture, comfort shelters, rain shelters, an eight and a half km long cart path, etc.
Often referred to as the Sidhra golf course after its eponymous location on the bank of the Tawi River, Jammu Tawi Golf Course was commissioned in 2011. Designed by Colonel KD Bagga, the 18-hole golf course includes nearly 275 meter long fairway with two big and three small water bodies (lakes) and about 3200 meter long water channel. Other facilities include a club house, comfort stations and rain shelters, etc.
One of the best things about playing golf in Jammu and Kashmir is the pleasant weather for the greater part of the year. The bracing climate allows players to play for longer hours. The best time to play golf here is between April and November. Golf enthusiasts may apply for temporary membership of clubs who can also help with obtaining playing gear and other facilities.
Interestingly, in a recent move, the Jammu and Kashmir administration has decided to build golf training academies in the union territory to facilitate training of local youth and students. While the first golf training academy was launched last year at the prestigious Kashmir Golf Course, the second one was recently inaugurated at the Jammu Tawi Golf Course.