28 May 2019: The row involving Rashid Khan and the Delhi Golf Club needs an early resolution. The entire episode is doing the sport and its protagonists no honour as it plays out in the public eye. The standoff at the gates, the subsequent arrest of the men, statements and counter-statements have brought the matter into focus yet again in this longstanding battle between the DGC and the professional golfers.
Rashid and several other golfers such as Honey Baisoya have long been working their game inside the club. But over the past few years, the club has tightened norms, with members seeking free and unrestricted use of the facilities. Things came to a boil on Saturday when Rashid and nine others were dragged to the Tughlaq Road police station.
The DGC has a long history of supporting caddie pros, but in recent years, the relationship has soured with several of them turning professional on the PGTI Tour.
Rashid also had a scuffle with the staff earlier this year, in an altercation that left a bitter taste for everyone involved. Tempers are fraying too as the row escalates with each new episode. As one of India’s top golf professionals, Rashid believes that the club on which he honed his skills ought to open its doors to him. Unfortunately, this hasn’t been the case in recent times.
“I have a great chance to make the Indian team for the Olympics. With the PGTI season starting soon and also big events coming up on the Asian Tour, I need to train and practice. But I am not allowed at DGC,” told Rashid to the media, after being denied entry on Saturday.
“It is important to practice to keep my game going well. I have been playing well, but I need to practice to keep it going,” he added.
“I know I can make it to the Olympic team. But I am so disappointed and disheartened by this attitude of DGC. I will quit if this issue is not sorted out. They are ready to use it for entertainment purpose but not for sports. From IAS officers to other bureaucrats, they allow everyone to use the course but not golfers like us.”
The DGC has responded, with its President asserting that they have been at the receiving end of threatening phone calls from unidentified people.
“There have been death threats from them. They have called some people of DGC and issued death threats. They said they have criminal minds,” said Major Ravinder Singh Bedi to the PTI.
“We have submitted the call records to the police. Can you allow such people inside the club? There is a physical threat to me as well. Rashid went to the court against DGC, brought disrepute to the club by badmouthing at a press conference and also had a scuffle with a security guard here in January, so he was banned from the Club.”
“I had lodged a written complaint with the police against this gang on May 19. Khan was not there but the others stopped my car from going out for 3-4 hours. They sat on the gates. I am a senior citizen but they didn’t consider, so I called the police and they were taken away.
In the light of this incident, when Khan along with this gang came last Saturday and tried to get in saying they will pay green fees, they were refused entry. They sat with their bags at the gate. It was then I called up the police again.”
The club president went on to add that the club has been supporting young children for a long time, including children of the staff that work at the club.
“Rashid was picked up similarly as a kid and was supported. Someone perhaps misguided him to get a membership in the club but for any one to seek a membership one has to apply. Without even applying you can’t say that give me a membership because I am a top golfer.”
The latest episode turns this battle murkier and has clear hardened the positions of the people involved in this long-standing dispute. The game of golf is paying the price though as it does not show the game in a good light in a country already besotted with cricket.
While it is easier to let things be, the situation calls for a statesmanlike intervention that can set aside the differences and provide a solution in the spirit of reconciliation and in the interest of the development of the game.
But that calls for both parties to find a table and yield space for an approach driven by common sense and a healthy desire for reconstructing this important relationship. The DGC is one of the premier courses in the country and a healthy inclusion of top professionals only serves to add to the rich heritage of the iconic course.
Support has been hard to find too for caddie professionals. They do not have the resources needed to hire any expensive lawyers in Delhi and authorities have remained muted in their response to the situation.
Shubhankar Sharma, Shamim Khan and Mukesh Kumar have given their voice of moderation, urging the club and professionals to resolve the situation at the earliest.
Communication is the key, said Shubhankar. “Golfers like Rashid who are champions and represented India, if they don’t have access to the club then what would happen to the other talented golfers. DGC shouldn’t come across as a club for the elite. Golfers who made India proud should be their first priority,” asserted Shubhankar.
“I don’t want DGC to change its norms, neither do I want that golfers to get away if they break rules. But there should be proper communication and it can be sorted,” he added.
Mukesh alluded to his own experience at the gates of the club, soon after the PGTI Tour Players Championship. “I was also not allowed entry when I had gone there recently after playing in Chandigarh. I thought maybe because of the fight with others, I was also not given entry,” he said.
“Whatever is happening is wrong. They have worked as caddies at DGC and then achieved glory as a player. Players need to be given the right to practice.”
The Presidents Cup this year and the Olympics next year means that India needs to put its best foot forward to ensure that our golfers have the opportunity to participate there. The DGC clearly has challenges that need to be understood too. The situation needs to factor the needs of both sides to arrive at an amicable and lasting solution, in the best interests of golf in India.