India is the first country outside of the UK to adopt golf way back in 1829 with the establishment of The Royal Calcutta Golf Club. This was just six decades after St. Andrews Golf Club in Scotland was established which went on to be called the ‘home of golf’. Golfing in Assam has its roots associated with what Assam is known all over the world for – Tea. A Scot named Robert Bruce is credited with discovering tea in Assam although the people of the Singpho tribe, native to Assam and parts of Arunachal Pradesh cultivated and drank tea as a rejuvenator since ages back. The advent of Scots into Assam brought with itself the dawn of golf in Assam. British planters had already carved out scores of golf courses across the Brahmaputra valley by the time the Shillong Golf Club was established in 1829. This was the first Golf Club of Undivided Assam.
Golf in Assam attainted an organised state after the Jorhat Gymkhana Club, established in 1876 became a recreational hub for the planters of Central Assam. From around 1902, planters began organising competitive events and championships such as the Big Dunlop Cup and the Craig Cup among many. The Flying Dutchman trophy was sponsored by KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. These events suddenly vanished in the 1960s. A few ‘golf gardens’ in the interiors even had airstrips for small aircrafts to ferry the planters and executives. But many courses met with an untimely demise after that as they were abandoned or planted on or simply closed due to maintenance issues after change of ownership. Interestingly, many note that executives and planters used a few of these airstrips to flee the state during the 90s when the state was troubled by insurgency and militancy.
The tea industry suffered a lot after the 80s due to many socio-political factors and this continued till the early 2000s. The scenario was ameliorated by the rejuvenation of the central government’s Special Purpose Tea Fund Scheme and by replanting. Golf thus got rejuvenated too and Assam now proudly boasts of the Kaziranga Golf Course, a challenging 18-hole, par-71 golf course that is the first of its kind. The government of Assam is making serious efforts to promote tea-and-golf tourism. The state has scenic, lush green tea estates which have timeworn yet elegant bungalows a lot of which have golf courses attached to them with classical clubhouses for post-golf sessions. Shillong Golf Course (in Meghalaya) is the world’s second oldest natural one after St Andrews Old Course in Scotland. Digboi Golf Course is maintained by the world’s oldest operating oil refinery.
A stay in the picturesque tea estates, playing golf and strolling the country sides is a once in a lifetime experience. One can enjoy such a stay in Jorhat at the Kaziranga Golf Course, in Dibrugarh at Chang Bungalows and in Sonitpur at Wild Masheer. The Kaziranga Golf Course is, according to golfers, the toughest in South Asia owing to narrowness of fairway between rows of tea bushes. It is, unlike the others closely situated to many tourist destinations. The Kaziranga National Park, home to the one-horned rhinoceros is about 73 km west of there. Majuli, the largest river island in the world and home to Assam’s Neo-Vaishnavite culture is at a closer distance of about 25kms. Sivasagar, once the capital of the mighty Ahoms and home to the architectural land marks of that era and the moidams is about 65kms east. Other major golf courses in the state include the Tingrai Golf Club and the Samdang Golf Club in Tinsukia both 9 hole courses set between trees and paddy fields that look like ponds in the winter. The Samdang Golf Club is one of the most challenging 9-hole courses. The Margherita Planters’Club in Namdang, Dibrugarh is one of the mist scenic courses with mist covered hills in the background.
Tea and Golf tourism is a budding industry in Assam and it is a must take trip for any golfer. Even for amateurs or just travel enthusiasts, a getaway in the lush greenery of the tea estates, strolling through the gardens with the aroma of fresh leaves hanging in the air at dusk is a treat one just can’t say no to!0