CHENNAI: The first ladies golfing union was founded in 1893 in the United Kingdom. Several years down the line, women in Madras took to golf in the 1960s. Padma Devi was the pioneer and then there were Malini Srinivasan, mother of famous pianist Anil Srinivasan; Lily Ratnam from the TVS family, and a dozen others. Also, a few foreigners living in the city at that time played golf just as a club sport,” said Jayashree Bharath, an architect and golfer. She delivered a talk on ‘History of Women and Golf in Madras’ at the Madras Literary Society, on August 24.
In 1973, there were only three competitions in golf for women. “Malini Srinivasan requested the Indian women along with foreigners who played in Chennai to donate cups and trophies so that they could have weekly tournaments that would encourage women to play more. These tournaments were fixed on Wednesday afternoons, as the men would be at work then,” she said. Almost immediately, with a smirk, she added, “Of course, it never occurred to most people in those days that women could also be at work. I was always a working woman. So, for women like me, this was an extra effort.”
Cultural norms can be inconvenient for sports activities. But for some women here, it was unavoidable. “Malini, Padmini Raghavan and a few others played wearing saris. They tucked in their pallus and pleats, and swung the golf clubs, hitting the ball straight and hard....such good players,” reminisced Jayashree. There are two golf courses owned by clubs in Chennai — Cosmopolitan course located near YMCA in Nandanam and Gymkhana Club Golf Annexe, located in the middle of the racecourse track in Guindy.
The Indian Golfing Union, ladies section, has one overall convener and two zonal representatives for each zone. Zonal tournaments were conducted in four centres — Delhi in the north, Mumbai in the west, Kolkata in the east and Chennai in the south. Chennai conducted its tournaments from 1978 to 2002, until it was moved to Bengaluru. “Some of the Chennai ladies formed the South India Ladies Golf Association. We received donations to manage the expenses for running a tournament. Some people even offered their guest houses for visiting players to stay. It was hard work, but we were successful in putting the south Indian ladies on the map,” she said.
All the trophies presented to the winners of the tournament were made of real silver. The Indian Golfing Union for ladies is not functional anymore and there are no more zonal matches. The clubs in various cities hold their own tournaments and invite other clubs to participate. But today, the sport holds more prominence. World-class equipment, golf courses and trainers are available in the city. Yet, the participation of women is lacking. “There are so many women playing golf today in other major cities but Chennai is still lagging behind. For having such a rich history in the sports, girls and women must come forward,” the golfer said.