This is a story of resuming golf after weeks of pause because of COVID-19. I was the first to begin a game at 5:30AM on the day Lahore Gymkhana Club opened its doors after a long break. Playing solo on a golf course is like flying boeing 777 alone. Thanks to my co-pilot, the caddie, my speaker and iTunes I wasn’t alone at the serene, vast, and narrow series of the fairways. There was no one on the whole course other than my caddie and a few employees of the club. This used to be the most crowded golf course in the city. The course is open to members only, no guests allowed yet. The course was completely unadulterated giving a strong sense of chastity; it was maiden and fresh. I didn’t see a single divot on the entire course other than the ones that I made. Making a divot seemed like a misdemeanor on the velvety fairways. The feeling of culpability overwhelmed me throughout the round. First time I felt like a pollutant to cause this pollution on fairways that
I have played worldwide on some prestigious golf courses but I never felt my game caused any sort of pollution there. Yet, I did not feel comfortable playing on a course that subdued handmade Persian carpets in their fluff and textures.
Tees boxes were seductively gleamy. Bunkers were combed in a complete geometric manner. Greens were picturesquely radiating. The shallow flag posts briefly held the ball only to spill it out hastily. Putting was a soulifying experience on a tip top green.
My caddie and I both followed the COVID-19 protocol to the tee. I can tell you one thing fellow golfers, my stamina was lost and it wasn’t the same to play with a face mask on. I was wondering what it was that made me so exhausted in about 5 holes and why I was dragging my feet to the ninth hole. I was not even pushing my cart and had assistance on the course. I realized later on that it was the protective gear that caused all the weariness. Use of hand sanitizer ointment or oil based disinfectant also disrupt the effectiveness of grip and movement of hands.
The breeze today was sweeter than the flute of Ranjha, morning was milder than Heer's touch and the fairways were glossier than waves of Chenab. The May morning was warmer than their ‘Chori’ (breakfast) that they used to have together in an orchid on the banks of the river.
Golf today was a reunion with a lost lover. It was a release from the invisible chains of coronavirus lockdown. Yes, it was great getting back to the greatest game ever invented.
My first post lockdown tee short landed in the left bunker. Superstitiously, I took it as a sign that beaches open soon and I will be on one sooner than I expect. Luckily my second short drops before the next bunker short of green. I made a double bogey on the first hole. It doesn’t matter how I scored today since I was awestruck by the grandeur of the course itself and freshness of the dewed fairway. Fresh air added a final blend in the already aromatic atmosphere of broad lush green fields.
Here and there I could see remnants of spring flowers bushes still clinging on to existence in May heat. These leftover spring shrubs remind me what February and March would have been like, while we all were chained to COVID 19 restrictions.
Next hole I only make a ‘bogey’ despite enormous effort to do better. Still I ramble to the third tee in pride.
Unexpectedly, midway hut at 3rd was open. I didn’t dare go near it due to coronavirus, and golfed on to the tee box next to it. Being aware of the staff’s presence there I made a calculated tee shot. Like many times before, I hit the tree once more as if attempting to keep the ritual intact. It seems that the trees squint at me scornfully smirking on my recurrent defeat. Anyhow staff at midway hut is very well aware of my golfing potential. I humbled forward in search of my ball in the rough under the trees. While my caddie hides his obnoxious smile into his lips. I ignore all embarrassment, determined to make the next short worth a few claps. Defeat can stick with you if you cling onto it. The sooner you detach from the loss the better your chances to succeed. Moving forward I turned on the song by Mr. Mister, “ Broken wings ” My resolve restores my credence and I execute a soaring 9 iron shot gliding my ball over the tree lines to the edge of detoured green. Again I attempt a par to no avail. Contended with another bogey I stroll on to the 4th.
This par three lays along the boundary wall of the club. Another narrow fairway with OB (out of bound) one side and three bunkers around the green this par three is a walk on the rope. Extra carefulness led to another bogey.
Hole 5 is another par 3 but with a water hazard before the green. I got to carry it to the green one way or the other which I did ideally with my 6 iron. This time it was a par, a rare practice at my part. ‘Great par sir’ My caddie, now I was grinning from ear to ear. The course rotates here back to the midway hut. This time I approached with a victor’s march to the previously chuckling bunch. My eyes were looking for appreciation from the same faces that giggled at me earlier. People live in moments. They shift sides sooner than flies. So they all inflate my golf portraying it to undeserving ranks. A few offered praises and others showered admiring gestures. As if they never made fun of me earlier. As a matter of fact a sportsman should never take admiration or hoot personally. People do it for your shot, not for you.
With mixed feelings I ambled towards the 6th tee. There is another treeline in front of the 6th. I’ve got to fly my ball to the fairway, there’s no other choice. I confidently made the posture, vibrated my shoulders, and executed a marvelous 5 iron swing whizzing my ball over the trees to the middle of the fairway. I looked back at the midway hut and relished the nods, smiles and sound of the “good shot” “that’s a ball” etc. My caddie begins to subdue now. Once you don’t play your game, caddies like to upgrade themselves automatically assuming the role of the coach. Only a good performance would put them back to where they are supposed to be. Some of the senior ones do know the game but they don’t know you. I always play with designated caddies by appointment.
Hole 7 and 8 at Lahore Gymkhana are pretty wide and long. It takes a pro or a very determined rough seeker to hit the ball out of these fairways. You only need patience to walk through the never ending fields. I made par on the 7th and a bogey on the 8th without an interesting anecdote. It was plain and simple golf there. I think the designer put these two fairways up there to encourage average golfers. The wider the fairway, the easier it is to golf.
The 9th at gymkhana is a hole that has caused most golfers to decide to quit playing or seek other sports. It’s a par three, with water hazards, that has the size of the Dead Sea; club house is on the left is OB (out of bound), bunkers and ladies’ tennis court on back of it and an unplayable jungle like rough on the right. The only landing area is a small green surrounded by all. I have seen dreams of many golfers sink in that water or fly over the tennis court. Sometimes I happen to believe that tennis courts in the vicinity of this hole were put there on purpose. I think club management has those entrapments to attract the disappointed and hopeless golfers. So they wouldn’t leave the club membership. Maybe most of the tennis players and lunch seekers at the 19th are the ones that tried to play golf. But ended up in the pond of the 9th hole.
I myself have fed that hole a truck load of golf balls. Somehow or the other my strong will and slavery to golf has helped me to survive this hole. I did it again today. I intended to play 18 when I left home but it was impossible due to the quarantine protocol. The day I had been longing for has concluded. I was there at 5:30AM the day the course opened, this proves to what extent golf has enslaved me.
Gymkhana Golf Club, Lahore
golfer, poet, author, entrepreneur, wanderer