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Out of bounds for pros

A tussle between golfer Rashid Khan and the Delhi Golf Club has thrown up allegation of a ‘golf gang’ – but at the root is a class divide between elite player and pros from a humble background

“There is a dangerous gang in Kotla Mubarakpur — a gang of criminal minds”, alleges Rohit Sabrwal, captain of the Delhi Golf Club, when Patriot visited him on June 26 to get the Club’s side of the story on their ongoing tussle with India’s no. 1 pro golfer Rashid Khan — a tussle that is now the major talking point in the city’s golf circles.

“This gang is just using Rashid as a tool against the DGC, pressurising him to make comments on us,” says Sabrwal. “They are unruly people, who have even given us (DGC Committee members) death threats, and have even attacked our cars, in addition to crating ruckus in the club premises.” He adds that they even ‘detained’ 77-year old DGC president KS Bedi for one and a half hours.

To put matters in perspective, Rashid Khan, in a press conference in January, had accused the current Delhi Golf Course managing committee of being an elitist institution that differentiates between its members and professional players like him. The Asian Games 2010 silver medalist is incidentally a product of the DGC’s talent scouting programmes and comes from a humble background.

Indian golfer Rashid Khan prepares to putt during the Panasonic Open India at the Delhi Golf Club in New Delhi on December 4, 2016. (Photo by SAJJAD HUSSAIN / AFP)

In a notice issued on December 7, 2018, the DGC stated that all professionals who were granted playing rights can only use the course from 2.30-3.30 pm on the secondary PDR and PCR courses, and on the main Lodi Road course only after 4.15 pm in winter — when sunset is usually around 6 pm. “We professionals need a minimum of six to eight hours to practice on a golf course for our match days. But they were giving us approximately only two hours”, claims Rashid. In addition, only four rounds of nine holes each in a week were allowed, which too Rashid says are inadequate for professional golfers.

So what is this ‘golf gang’ that Sabrwal is talking about? Along with Rashid Khan, the DGC has placed a ban on 18 other professional and amateur golfers, who were listed by the body as “home-grown”. These golfers were reserved playing rights by them, according to an order by the Ministry of Urban Development, the body on whose land the DGC has been set up. They were banned on the ground of unruly behaviour, even though Rashid says that they haven’t been served a written notice citing why and for how long they have to serve the ban.

When asked why they were facing a ban, Sabrwal told Patriot that they had indulged in multiple instances of unruly behaviour. “They had stopped our cars, sent us death threats, and had resorted to all sorts of dadagiri”, he claims. But the trigger, according to him, was an incident in which Rashid assaulted a security guard in the premises. “Rashid was parking in the area that is strictly reserved for members with a parking sticker, but neither is he a member nor did he have a parking sticker and when the guard tried to stop him, he assaulted him physically.”

Rashid, however, has a completely different take on this. He says it was the guard under the instruction of the committee who had assaulted him. “That was my usual parking spot, and suddenly that day I was stopped. Why hadn’t they told me this before?” he questions.

He also questioned why his fellow golfers were banned from playing in the DGC when the allegation was only against him. After this incident, the golfers along with Rashid staged a number of peaceful protests outside the gate. “We said that we wanted to use the ground and I was willing to pay the necessary fees too. As professional golfers we have the right to practise anywhere in the country, if we pay the green fees”, he claims.

But instead of letting them play, the police arrived at the scene, and took them to the Tughlaq Road police station. Sabrwal says that they called the police because the ‘gang’ had “locked Mr Bedi in the premises, and was threatening the officials” – a claim which Rashid denies.

Patriot talked to a few members of this so-called ‘gang’ to find out who they are, and their backgrounds. “Four generations in my family have served the Delhi Golf Course”, says 54-year caddie turned professional golfer Gulfam, who has been identified by Sabrwal as the ‘leader” of this gang. “My grandfather and father were caddies, and now I am a caddie turned player and my son is also playing”

Gulfam has been playing the sport for 40 years, and had turned professional around 30 years ago. He says that the club had become an important part of his life. In the past 40 years, he has participated in most of the PGTI tours, and has appeared in the Top 10 ranking more than 20 times, even achieving the national ranking of No. 2 multiple times.

“I have even played with the current president Mr Bedi a multiple number of times since the last 30 years, and he himself has told me that I have been the best caddie-turned-golfer he has ever seen. I shared a very good relationship with him”, he says. “But now it is the committee under him that has banned us, and is spreading hate against us”, he adds. He also says that he knows nothing other than playing golf as he fears that lack of practice will make him less skillful, and he will never be able to participate in any more tournaments, thus putting a huge question mark on his future career.

Cousins Honey and Kapil Basoya, who both hail from Kotla Mubarakpur, have been playing in the Delhi Golf Course as both their fathers were caddies at the Delhi Golf Course. They rose through the ranks in the junior level and finally were allowed in 2003 in accordance with the Junior Tours Programme. Now both cousins are ranked among the top 10 golfers of the country.

“Things were going fine until the new committee in the DGC was elected into power under President Bedi and Captain Sabrwal”, says Honey. The cousins allege that the new committee continuously created barriers in their path, since “We are not from the elite section of society, and were not members of the club.” According to Rashid Khan, they should be given playing rights on the ground given that they are professional players who represent the country.

“We come from underpriviledged backgrounds and were made to feel that we are not a part of the ‘elite’ club by the committee. Now, they found an opportunity and banned us”, he says.

Not just the professionals but the amateurs too have been facing flak from the committee. Nikhil Sharma, the son of a caddie who too had been selected by the DGC’s Junior tours programme and finally he earned playing rights in 2011. This year was a milestone for Nikhil, as he had qualified for the nationals after. But he was told by the DGC that he can only play in a secondary course, and not more than six rounds per month, which is “too less for a golfer who is going to play the nationals”. “But they refused to grant me permission and finally banned me”, says Nikhil. “It will be such a huge tournament to kickstart my career but I fear my golf journey will end before it starts”, says a fearful Nikhil.

When asked about Sabrwal’s allegations of them being a gang, Gulfam says, “A gang is a group of thieves or murderers. But we are just professional golfers who love the game and represent our country.”

The golfers along with Rashid, all stated that they were always looked down upon, just because of their social status. “We were forbidden to use the canteen, changing rooms and even the washrooms but we never complained about that. We were given playing rights and that was enough.

The golfers, after losing their playing rights, now have no course to practise on. They are now practising every day on a barren plot of land near Jangpura, a land that Rashid says is definitely not fit to play golf. “Going everyday to any other private club to practice costs a lot – an average of Rs 5,000 a day — which most of us can’t pay on a daily basis”, says Kapil Basoya.

It has been four months since this incident, and playing rights of these men still haven’t been restored. “We are what we are because of the DGC. The previous committees had nurtured us, looked after us, given us all facilities free of cost, and we owe a lot of what we are today to this institution. But it is this committee that has completely ruined our future, as we stare into a dark future”, says Rashid Khan. He even said that all this is taking a toll on him and he is seriously considering to quit the sport.

A multi -ime international and Asian tour champion, Rashid is recognised as one of the best golfers in the continent, and is one of our best bets to clinch a medal at the 2020 Olympics. The question is: Like Paan Singh Tomar and Pinki Pramanik, are we losing one of our brightest sports stars to a class divide?