Golf will feature as a medal sport in the 2016 Rio Olympics, and India, which has taken big strides in the sport, would expect at least one golfer to make the cut for the quadrennial event.
However, the Sports Authority of India (SAI) has taken a strange route in its bid to back golf. It has taken over the Trivandrum Golf Course to set up a national academy and spend on the facilities there. There is hardly any golfing activity worth its name in the capital city of Kerala, but that is not the only issue.
SAI landing here does not seem to be just a geographical anomaly. The developments around SAI acquiring the facility suggest the course is more likely to allow an influential group of bureaucrats, senior police officers and businessmen to enjoy a leisurely game than provide top-level training to serious young talent.
Sample these developments: Since SAI took over the course and set up the SAI Trivandrum Golf Club on October 16 — it was registered on December 26 — none of the original Trivandrum Golf Club (TGC) members has paid a rupee for using the facilities. Instead, the rechristened SAI Golf Club is dipping into public money to renovate the heritage club house (Rs 40 lakh). It also spends around Rs 2.5 lakh per month to maintain the course, pay salaries and meet day-to-day expenditure.
EX-SAI BOSS IN FOCUS
The controversial decision to take over the Trivandrum Golf Course was made last year by the then SAI DG, Jiji Thomson. The Kerala cadre IAS officer has since taken over as the state chief secretary. He is also president of the SAI Golf Club although a new DG has taken over. Thomson initiated the move for SAI to take the 25.38-acre property on a 33-year lease.
The facility was with the state revenue department (see box Steeped in History). As per the MoU signed between SAI and the Kerala government in July last year, all TGC members would be transferred to the new club.
TGC members comprise 25 IAS officers, 15 IPS officers, 24 retired bureaucrats and police officers, and 25 retired defence personnel and businessmen. They have used the facility for free over the last five-and-half months with no push to collect subscription from them.
The club has fixed an annual membership fee of Rs 5,000 with higher fees for corporate and other members, from the financial year starting Wednesday. But there’s no mention of subscription (from October 16 to March 31).
SAI has also inherited other issues. The original TGC members will decide in the AGM, which normally takes place in July, whether or not to accept the new fees.
The SAI Golf Club has taken a ‘temporary loan’ of Rs 15 lakh from the academics wing of SAI’s Lakshmibai National College of Physical Education, Thiruvananthapuram for various expenses. All this while TGC had fixed deposits worth Rs 55 lakh with over Rs 13 lakh in the members’ control account. This money could easily have been accessed as TGC secretary, SN Raghuchandran, was also given that post in the SAI club by Thomson.
SAI’s decision to set up a national academy here defies logic. It has selected 18 freshers from the region under the day-boarding scheme. It could easily have opted for Bangalore as the SAI Southern Regional Centre already has a golf course, not to mention that Bangalore is a golf hub with India’s top golfer, Anirban Lahiri, hailing from there.
SAI DG, Injeti Srinivas, though didn’t see any issue. “As golf is a medal sport in the Rio Olympics, it has become a priority for SAI. Keeping this in view, SAI has taken over the TGC for setting up a National Golf Academy,” he told HT.On issues related to the SAI Golf Club, he said, "There is also a historic angle associated with the course as it is one of the oldest in the country. SAI has got it for a lease of just Rs 1 per acre per year. It’s going to be a self-sustained project; if there are some problems they can be sorted out in consultation with the state government."