It was the craving to excel on the golf course that led to this endeavour of bypassing the established order. Just that the makeshift greens were depressions in soft soil by the roadside in and around Mumbai’s Chembur area. The Bombay Presidency Golf Club was in the vicinity, but this passionate bunch of golfers was not allowed practice time. This was almost two decades back, and since improvisation was a need of the hour, the group of six led by pro golfer Anil Bajrang Mane and Suresh Mehboobani shaped irons and woods out of TMT steel bars and teed off with coloured plastic balls from makeshift tee boxes on the roadside or wherever they could find an open space; by the railway track or from the top of a bus.
The zest for ‘Slum Golf’ is intact, but some things have changed with time. Mane & Co now have access to the golf course, the moulded clubs share space with regular ones, much used though, and their followers and following for this form has swelled even though open spaces in this bustling metropolis have shrunk drastically. There is prize money on offer too but what has not changed in all these years is the venue. Chembur stays the hub as “it is easy to handle the cops and other disapproving locals”, and tee offs are still early morning before the streets come alive.
Draw of lots decide the pairings for the foursomes before the action shifts to three makeshift par-3 holes of 30-40 yards each. Entry fees vary from Rs 50-200 and the turnout is between 16 to 35 players. This decides the prize money which can be as high as Rs 2000 for the top spot.
Despite shrinking space and drop in playing opportunities, the core group has got international acclaim. At the World Urban Golf Cup at Paris in 2018, the six-man team of Mane, Mehboobani, Sunil Mane, Sunil Shinde, Sachin Salve and Nagesh Bing finished among 45 teams. But for the pandemic, Wurselen would have been the next stop, but the group is excited over what is in store when they tee off in Germany later in 2021 with the blessings of their benefactors.
Photo credit: Suresh Mehboobani