Conditions are far from pleasant, but golfers from India and around the world will just have to grin, probably under a mask, and bear it during the Women’s Indian Open that gets underway on Friday. With air pollution and smog in the National Capital region reaching hazardous levels, it may not be the best time to hold the premier women’s golf tournament in the country, where players need to be outdoors for at least four hours at a stretch, but the players and organisers will just have to get on with it at the DLF Golf and Country Club in Gurgaon.
With star Indian player Aditi Ashok, fresh from a title in Abu Dhabi last week, back to defend her crown, the officials are keen to insist that the picture is not that gloomy as portrayed.
But players from overseas have borne the brunt of the adverse conditions during practice rounds and Thursday’s Pro-Am competition. Aussies Kristen Farmer and Sharidan Gorton have been in Gurgaon since Saturday, staying with a local family, and faced the worst of the weather over the last few days.
“It’s more about a sore and dry throat. I’ve been playing with a mask,” Kristen, from Canberra, told The Indian Express. Sharidan had a different problem. “For me, it is the burning eyes. I have been playing with sunglasses. I have got a mask but have not used it till now. I will see the conditions tomorrow before deciding whether I need one,” the girl from Gold Coast said. The two girls were expecting air quality to be poor at this time of the year, but were taken aback by the conditions confronting them. “Before coming to India, we had talked to a few expatriate friends in Australia. Also, the family we are staying with in Gurgaon had warned them that conditions could be pretty bad.
“The dust is pretty unpleasant. It can get on your face. It’s worse in the morning than the afternoon. Wednesday was a particularly bad day with regard to the conditions,” Kristen said.
Even though players are generally reluctant to play with a mask, the conditions have prompted most of the overseas contingent, which includes players as well as a few photojournalists, not to take any chances. “When you have a mask on, you are aware of something on your face, and may not be able to swing freely,” Sharidan said.
Even then, the masks on sale at the store inside the club premises are going at a rapid rate. Club authorities have also apparently made it mandatory for members to sport a mask while taking to the course. “We have run out of masks. The players seem pretty scared and almost everyone is buying them. We will replenish our stock tomorrow,” the salesperson at the counter said. The smog and poor visibility has resulted in a very practical problem for the golfers. “Often we just can’t see the target from the tee or the fairway, especially on par fives. When we can’t see the pin, we have to rely totally on the yardage book,” Kristen said.
It is not just the overseas players who are wary of the conditions. Sharmila Nicollet, making a return to tournament golf after three months, is also worried about the situation. “We know that it gets worse during the period of the tournament. It is not healthy to be living in Delhi right now. I have experienced a burning sensation in my eyes outdoors,” said the Bangalore girl. “I want to use a mask while playing, but I feel a bit claustrophobic in it.”
But there is not much the players can do. “We have come here to play. I just hope the visibility is not too much of a problem and the tournament schedule is not affected too much.” Proceedings have been delayed in the mornings so far this week due to the adverse conditions. Throughout all this, the organisers of the event, which is co-sanctioned by the Ladies European Tour, are trying to put up a brave front. “Conditions are not ideal and there is an issue with the visibility. Some players are wearing masks. But we are very happy with the course and the arrangements,” said tournament director Joao Pinto.
“Sometimes, it is difficult to see beyond 100 yards. But we have not got any adverse report from the local authorities about the health aspect, and there is a forecast for the weather to improve over the weekend. The tournament is scheduled to start at 7 am on Friday morning. I will be on the course at 5:30 am, like I am every day, and at around 6:20 am we will take a call on whether to push back the tee times,” the Portuguese official said.
The last word on the hazards confronting women golfers in the NCR should go to the two Aussie girls. When asked whether their families back home are worried about the weather here, Kirsten said: “They are more concerned about what could happen to us in the city and on the roads, and want us to be safe.”