With factories in India, Dubai, Thailand and South Africa, industrialist Ashish Bharat Ram is lucky that the map of his business interests coincides loosely with the map of his golfing destinations. He is managing director of SRF, a high-technology chemicals, textiles and plastics manufacturer based in Gurgaon.
He plays the occasional weekend corporate golf tournament, and has a handicap of 9 now (his best was scratch some 20 years ago). He is inspired, he says, by his grandfather, industrialist Bharat Ram, who was passionate about the sport. But it wasn’t Bharat Ram who taught him — he was trained by a succession of coaches.
From his home in Delhi, both Thailand and Dubai are an easy hop away — though Thailand far outdoes the desert emirate as a place to play golf. Somewhat further is Ashish’s favourite course of all...
Pezula Championship Golf Course, Knysna, South Africa
It is on top of a hill near the coastal town of Knysna, just off the Garden Route between Cape Town and George. The Garden Route is one of South Africa’s most scenic highways, in its most temperate region, the Western Cape.
The views are breathtaking. Twelve of the 18 holes you are either playing towards Knysna Lagoon or the Indian Ocean. Alongside are the Pezula Resort Hotel, a really nice resort, and an estate of villas. I am told that Michael Schumacher and Roger Federer each owns a villa here. Knysna has more than one good course — the other two world-class courses are Simola Golf Course (designed by Jack Nicklaus) and Knysna Golf Course, which is right next to the lagoon.
I have played at Pezula just twice. It is one of those golf courses where you only want to be playing when you are playing well. It is extremely challenging. The wind is very strong. The rough has long weeds — so if you miss the fairway you are in trouble, because the grass is said to have lots of snakes. The course is very undulating. Sometimes the tee-green drop is more than 100 ft. At par 3, between the tee and the green, there is a huge ravine.
It is a true championship course. What helps make the course interesting is that every hole was designed (by Golfplan USA) in a slightly different way. Undulations and bunkers make a big difference. You get a few minutes to look around at the scenery while your fellow players take their shots. One round takes just under five hours.
I last played there in May. The mornings were cold, about 14 degrees C, but by noon it was 25 to 26 degrees. It is like Delhi in winter. The weather makes the game more pleasant. Pezula is also easy to get to. It is barely an hour’s drive from the airport in George.
When you’re playing a serious game you look for people who can compete at the same level. Company is important — though sometimes your partners are not great golfers but nice people to talk to.
I played at Sun City (a luxury resort two hours from Johannesburg). There were just two of us, so the staff asked us to join two South Africans. South Africans are really friendly! They are fun-loving people, they love their sports, they like to compete. They love cricket, too. The Indian Premier League was going on at that time, so we had a lot to talk about. At the end of the round we had a beer with these guys. That’s part of the whole experience, part of golf.
Royal Springs Golf Course, Srinagar, India
This is another beautiful and top-class course, designed by the American golfer Robert Trent Jones Jr. It is in Srinagar, at the foot of the mountains on the edge of Dal Lake. Three or four holes you play overlooking the lake from higher up. It is not as challenging as Pezula, but it is also on a hillside. Srinagar is a one-hour flight from Delhi, and Royal Springs is open to the public (not members-only), so a lot of Delhiites go there now for golfing weekends. Not many Kashmiris play golf.
If you take the Saturday morning flight to Srinagar, you can play one round in the afternoon and two more on Sunday before taking the evening flight back to Delhi.
Alpine Golf Resort, Chiang Mai, Thailand
The Alpine resort in Chiang Mai is very pretty and beautifully maintained. The greens are quick and true. The weather is pleasant, but of course not as good as it is in Pezula. Amata Spring Country Club is private, like most Thai courses, but it is possible to get access. The quality of Thai hospitality is well known. I am very happy to go again and again.
South-east Asia and South Asia are the only places now where golf courses offer caddies. Even in Dubai, you get a golf cart and everything is signposted, but there are no caddies. A good caddie not only carries your clubs, he can tell you how far the shot is, suggest what club to use...
Jumeirah Golf Estates, Dubai
Jumeirah Estates (near the Palm Jumeirah islands lined with luxury villas) is not fully built, but two golf courses are open, called Fire and Earth. I have played on Earth, which is designed by Greg Norman.
The courses in Dubai are great, but the experience of playing there less so. The pace at which you play is more businesslike. You want to be able to soak in the full experience, but that does not happen. I’m not a great fan of West Asia for golf. The weather is good for only two or three months, November to February. Right now the relative humidity must be 90 to 95 per cent, so you’d have to be crazy to play there.
Delhi Golf Club, India
I have grown up at DGC and seen its transformation. Maintenance and technology have improved dramatically. This August was a wet month, but the course still plays beautifully. Thirty years ago in May and June the course was hard-baked like a road. The ball would roll 150 yards. Now you can play here for 10 or 11 months of the year. DGC like many urban courses cannot increase the length, but it does play around with the bunkers and greens.