A birdie in Bolgatty

There is a century of history in the Cochin Golf Club, which opened on the lush green premises of the Bolgatty Palace, in 1922.

The clubhouse in the middle of the golf course reminds one of a rustic farmhouse and speaks volumes about the rich heritage and history of the club all set to kick off its centenary celebrations in a few months.

The golf course opened in 1922 has many trees and water bodies which make it all the more visually stunning.

 A trophy was presented to the club by CWE Cotton, an agent of the British Resident in 1925.

The clubhouse, a beautiful little building, functions as an office and a dressing room and on its side is a marble plaque that reads: Cochin Golf Club, Malabar Coast, Clubhouse inauguration: 02 January, 1923 by H.H. Jones Esq.

There is little history written about the golf club but golfing in Bolgatty dates back at least to the initial decades of the 20th century, club members say. Trophies presented to the club since the 1920s, some made of pure silver, adorn the trophy cabinet of the clubhouse. On one of the trophies it is written: Presented to the Cochin Golf Club by CWE Cotton Esq, 1925. Cotton was the agent of the governor general of the Madras state. The names of the winners, from LCL Adam Esq in 1926 to JS Bruce Esq in 1940 can be seen engraved on the trophy as well.

Alongside it sits another trophy, the Baker Challenge Cup, presented to the Cochin Golf Club in 1928 by ASJ Baker Esq. The names of winning teams, mostly companies based out of Kochi, are inscribed on it: Peirce Leslie & Company, Harrisons & Crosfield, National Bank of India, Aspinwall and Co, and so on.

“The exact date of the opening of the club is not known, but we know that the clubhouse was constructed a year after the club was formed,” says Joseph Thomas, the club’s president.

The palace used to be the residence of the British Resident and that was how golf was introduced here, says Thomas. “Even Sir Robert Bristow used to stay here and could have even played here. Later on, the Port Trust presented us with a Bristow Memorial Trophy. This is still being given out,” says Thomas.

He says that apart from British officials, many players in the initial days of the club were British traders who were in Kochi as part of their business ventures.

“Kochi was the major auction centre and many major trading companies dealing in tea were based out of Kochi. Most of the companies were set up by the British and many of their senior officials used to play golf. They even set up a tournament pitting traders against the rest. Later on, Indians who were in the tea trade started playing here as well. Planters from the high ranges also joined them and so did local residents, in due course,” says Thomas.

Till Goshree Bridge came into existence the club was known as the only golf course in the world that cannot be reached by road, says Thomas who used to go by boat to the island to test himself in the course in the 90s. He says the club was registered as a society as per the direction of the then chief minister K Karunakaran in 1992.

Even as Covid chased sports enthusiasts away from cricket grounds and football turfs, golf, being a non-contact sport, was quickly exempted from restrictions. Even on these cloudy mornings, the members of the Golf Club can be seen wheeling their golf bags through buffalograss, muddied by the rains. Members play at the Bolgatty Palace estate every day of the week except on Mondays.

The nine-hole golf course is a par-three executive course. It means an expert golfer is expected to need only three strokes—one stroke to get the ball on the green, followed by two putts—to complete the play.

“It is not an open lawn. There are so many trees and water bodies in the course which makes it all the more challenging and interesting,” says Narayana Menon, a golf enthusiast and a regular at the Bolgatty estate.

The club also conducts a tournament every week on Saturdays with around 12 golfers participating in the event. There are around 200 members in the Cochin Golf Club but only around 30 are active players, says Thomas.

“Our oldest playing member is around 89 now, and at the same time, we have players who are in their 20s. For life members, the fee is Rs 1 lakh while for ordinary members it is Rs 50,000 plus an annual subscription of Rs 5,300. We also have a scheme for youngsters under 18. They can play for an annual payment of Rs 2,000,” he says.

He added that the course has shrunken with more constructions coming up in the area. “We are actually sitting on a goldmine without realizing it. A golf course attached to a hotel is quite rare. We should offer special packages to tourists combining a stay at the heritage resort and a game of golf. But the upkeep of the golf course needs to be improved,” he says.

The club has big plans for the centenary celebrations. “We are exploring the possibility of starting a golf academy but we need to upgrade the facilities,” he says.



Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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