March 8, 2017: Whenever Payne Stewart filled up his United States Open Championship entry form, he would make sure to neatly spell out his full name – William Payne Stewart. It was telling, the respect he harboured for his National Open. Gone too soon, Payne shot to fame with all those tour wins and majors, but before that, he too was just another American cutting his teeth on the Asian Tour.
In 1981, he overcame a third round 77 and back pain to take home the Indian Open — such is the history attached to this 52 year tournament which dates back to 1964.
Growing up in Calcutta, there was a certain idea of the lore behind the playing of the tournament, the National Open founded in part by the gentle Peter Thompson as he passed this part of the world on his way to five British Opens. While initially shuffled between Calcutta at the RCGC and Delhi’s DGC, the practice stopped after Arjun Atwal‘s 1999 win at home.
For two years thereafter, the championship moved to Classic Golf Resorts before moving back to the DGC. For a brief year in 2009, DLF Golf and Country Club hosted the event. Ever since, the event has gone back to the DGC save 2012 when the Karnataka Golf Association hosted Thaworn Wiratchant’s second win.
In 2015, Anirban Lahiri‘s win coincided with the event gaining European Tour status. On the eve of the 2017 edition, the DLF has been entrusted once again with hosting the tournament. What makes it different, is that the course has been revamped completely.
Personally have vague memories of the old DLF, in part because I was there when Chinnaswamy Muniyappa won in 2009. Most holes were long — automatically making this a scoring challenge, unlike the throwback feel one gets on entering the DGC. To help with this narrative, Golfing Indian spoke to Anitya Chand head professional at the DLF Academy.
“The new layout took three years to finish. Fairways are undulating now. The gradient changes are quite significant on the greens as well. If you aren’t on the correct side of the green – you could be ten feet from the flag but still struggling to make par.”
No one put it better than 1999 champion Atwal, who has always called a spade, a spade. “The main thing about this golf course are the greens. There could be difficult hole locations, which could affect scoring.”
Speaking post a practice round with Rahil Gangjee, Anirban Lahiri and Chikkarangappa, Atwal felt it is a course that has quite a few driver holes. “Not a very long golf course, but a couple of holes needs some strategising — 3-woods and irons — but a lot of drivers.”
“As the fairways are undulating, the ball may run out and you could miss a fairway. Pretty much a second shot golf course. The guy who plays the angles correctly all week will win.”
Brandon Desouza of Tiger Sports Marketing is of the opinion that playing off the back tees is not easy. “Based on the tees they use, the winning score should be anything between 10 to 12 under.”
How has the DGC compared with the DLF in previous years?
Chand who has played four Indian Opens as an Amateur says “We used to work a lot on the three and five metal before tournament week at the DGC. There is a premium on hitting the fairway there – the bushes on both sides can sometimes be very mental.”
Arjun continues “DGC is old school, an older design when compared. You have to be very patient there. No rough, but there’s danger if you miss the fairway.”
Mr Gaurav Ghosh, who is part of the Indian Golf Union, summed up the differences best when he said that one was a more modern golf course, while the other was a parkland. “Two different styles of shot making and different skill sets when you compare.”
While the open lore continues to reign supreme this week, what if the tournament could visit different cities every year? Of course it all depends entirely on the sponsor, but like the US Open which announces hosts years in advance with much fanfare, it would do much to increase the popularity of the game in the country at large.
Atwal chips in “If not different cities, it should go back to the old system of Delhi-Calcutta . I have a very strong opinion about that. It depends entirely on the Indian market’s interests in the game.”
According to Mr Ghosh who speaks in his personal capacity, “Eventually, the sport will grow if you move it around. Different people need to see the top players. Today Delhi and Calcutta are centres of golf. Having said that, the sponsors are doing a fantastic job of getting the best golfers to India. Over the years, the value of the event has gone up.”
Mr Desouza too joined in the debate. “It is a must, the tournament should move around just like all National Opens!”
In 2016, SSP Chawrasia overcame hiccups of old, and in a perfect Cinderella story took home the Open. It is hard to predict an outcome this year given that there are 12 past champions in the field. Come Sunday, there is going to be a winner new, or old — it just depends on who writes his script well this week.