Avoiding hyperbole might be difficult when describing anything about this week’s Hero Indian Open venue, DLF Golf and Country Club in New Delhi, India. In a certain respect, it’s easy to see that Gary Player’s design team intended to create something that would leave an impression. The problem is that there are so many impressions–so much visual, auditory, and information overload–that the activity of watching (let alone playing) is more akin to a bad acid trip than an immersive and enjoyable golfing experience.
I can certainly appreciate that there are multiple schools of thought regarding the artistry of golf course design and construction. Art is open to interpretation, opinion, critique, and reverence. At this point, you likely know my preference for the now-cliché presentation of “minimalism.” However, I try not to be dismissive of courses with an appearance that is more manufactured–especially on uninspiring land–particularly if the course is resolute in creating a strategically interesting round.
Variably, even blind squirrel designers like Arnold Palmer and Gary Player find a nut once in a while. Their firms are given massive budgets, and are determined to move as much soil as necessary to impose their will on the land. They are often charged with creating something from nothing. We can have a hearty debate about the desirability of this school of design. My personal preferences aside, however, I never want to foreclose the possibility of a favorable opinion on a golf course just because it required engineering feats to come into being. I hope I am never that close-minded.
With all of that as a preface, the lack of architectural merit at this week’s stop in India is not worth debating, but is certainly worth a few hundred words of explanation: this course debases the game of golf and the European Tour, tarnishes the already-frail course design legacy of Gary Player (and Arnold Palmer, the front nine’s original designer, by extension), and makes me question the very reason why any human being would spend the exorbitant money to build, maintain, or play this course. DLF Golf and Country Club is a masterclass in being, well….
“A RUBBISH GOLF COURSE!”
— John Rhodes (@rhodesygolf) March 9, 2018
The DLF Golf and Country Club should be renamed ‘DFL’–dead fuckin’ last of the courses upon which I’d ever care to play. DLF, the most prominent sponsor of Indian-wunderkind-turned-Masters-invitee Shubhankar Sharma and the namesake of this course, is an abbreviation for Delhi Land & Finance, a publicly-traded land developer.
DLF originally hired the King’s firm to construct a floodlit 18 hole course, which opened in 1999. In 2012, Player’s firm was enlisted to build nine additional holes, but the construction eventually turned into overhauling nine of the Palmer holes into Player’s style, mostly maintaining the routing. Those Palmer holes are now the somewhat benign front half of the Championship Course, while the back nine is comprised of Player’s original holes. The nine remaining holes of the Palmer course remain floodlit and standalone as the remnants of the original insipid track.
Not the Hero we need, but the one we deserve
The new design opened in 2015. Devoid of subtlety and nuance, DLF is a veritable hodgepodge of a dozen prominent “features,” including waterfalls, foliage, wooden bulkheads, rock-walls, and urban cityscapes–none of which blend together with any harmony. But the aura of this course really comes down to three overarching themes.
The most obvious of these themes is the use of faux-revetted faces on the expansive bunkers. Player’s firm described them “low maintenance Geotextile” bunker faces. This is another way of saying “foam.”
I’m all for lower maintenance costs, and that is a justifiable consideration in the building of any feature on a golf hole. But does “low maintenance” outweigh the desire for blended natural beauty? Or playability?
I suspect that there was something else about the use of Geotextile revetting that Player wanted: to make a visually intimidating statement–fun, and function, be damned. It seems disingenuous to say the use of this product is to lower maintenance costs when the cost of the golf course overall must have been astronomical, and money is clearly no object for the developer. No, Globalist Gary wanted to make sure we were shocked by the aesthetic of this course. Even if it meant scenarios like this:
Cool, bro. Mission accomplished.
The second obvious theme of this course is the man-made “quarry” that features prominently on the back nine, and particularly in the closing stretch. I cannot even begin to imagine how many thousands of boulders were transported to the site in an attempt to create the illusion of an abandoned rock well. Putting aside the silliness of over-engineering the once-flat area and the daft execution of the illusion, the resulting holes are strategically uninteresting for the better golfer, unnecessarily difficult for the mid-handicapper, and plainly impossible for the novice.
The final noticeable theme of DLF is the collection of extremely undulating greens, where the tournament directors have, thus far, placed some pins in rather unpinnable areas. Of course, undulating greens are more often than not a desirable trait of a golf course. However, when greens with severe undulations are paired with turfgrass conditions that more closely resemble slightly furry concrete than receptive and appropriately slower grass putting surfaces, you end up with well-hit putts and chips falling off the face of the Earth. This happened with regularity in round 2, as Thomas Bjorn, Julian Suri, and James Morrison (in the video above) can attest.
Commentators on the broadcasts for round 2 discussed the “shortcomings” of the course in light of the “engineering project” undertaken to build this monstrosity. One such shortcoming they noted repeatedly was the cross-section of speeds and undulation. These are very political ways of saying that the greens are borderline unplayable at these speeds. Certainly the best putter will prevail here this week. My biggest gripe is that building and shaping the greens from scratch, using no natural features whatsoever, means there is no excuse for over-contouring the surfaces. But everything about this course is over the top, so I guess we should all be none too surprised.
One last thought: this golf course is just as bad for the fans as it is for the players. The surrounds of many of the holes are cramped, with nowhere for patrons to stand, let alone build infrastructure for them to sit. Eddie Pepperell, as he usually does, said it best:
The great thing about the 17th hole in India is that it has 15,000 rocks and 15 fans. Most great 17th holes, have 15 rocks, and 15,000 fans.
— Eddie Pepperell (@PepperellEddie) March 8, 2018
After Shubhankar Sharma won at the Malaysian Cobra Pit (TM), I had set aside this week to do a full profile, as the Tour visits his native India and his home golf course. Then he had to go and have a “hello world” style moment at the WGC-Mexico last week, totally killing my plans. There’s nothing background-wise that I could share about him now that most of you haven’t seen or heard over the past week. So, rather than re-hash biographical notes, I’d like to just make a few quick points about how impressed I am with Sharma’s game, and more importantly, his mettle.
Although the 21 year-old was unable to close the deal last week at the Big Chipotle, he showed tremendous poise for any pro, let alone one playing in his first PGA Tour (and WGC) event. Sharma possess a fluid golf swing that is a marvel to watch. More than anything else about his very well-rounded game, his controlled ball-striking shines through, especially with the wedges and shorter irons. Coupled with his great putting and sure-handed short game, the ceiling is unlimited for Sharma’s physical gifts.
What impresses me the most, however, is his commitment. Sharma has logged thousands upon thousands of miles already this year, playing in back-to-back weeks multiple times with double-digit timezone differences in between. This week, with the added pressure of playing for his home fans, his main sponsor (and all the obligations that go with that), and his own internal desire to follow up a great performance in Mexico, Sharma got off to a rough start. He was +5 through his first nine holes, opening with an unsightly 41 on the difficult back side.
Rather than mail it in, Sharma dug deep. He finished his round with an inward half of 32 (-4), to grind out a first round 73. In round 2, starting on the easier front half, Sharma broke the course record with a nine-birdie, one-bogey 64, including a back nine 30! This places him in second place, four off the pace set by Emiliano Grillo, and into the final group for Saturday.
I cannot say enough good things about how impressed I am with this young man. Leading the Race To Dubai, Sharma looks poised to become a top player in the world this year. We are fortunate to be along for the ride.
I got supremely #ejected at work this week, so I’m putting the Baby Bjorns Ryder Cup tracking section on hold for now. I hope to debut it next week. Please stay patient–I think it will be worth the wait!
Golf Channel will be airing the weekend coverage, starting at 2:30 AM EST on Saturday and concluding at 7:00 AM. For Sunday, the coverage starts at 12:00 AM EST, and concludes at 5:30 AM EDT, as daylight savings time begins at 2:30 AM. I’m going to be up and possibly live-tweeting from a tear in the fabric of the space-time continuum. See y’all in the wormhole.