One of the fun things to do on any legendary golf course is to try and recreate great golf shots that have become part of the club’s folklore.
Tiger Woods’ chip-in on the 16th hole of Augusta National Golf Club during the 2005 Masters; Colin Montgomerie’s 3-wood to the 18th green in the final round of the 1997 Dubai Desert Classic; and then there’s Gaurav Ghei’s audacious chip-in for eagle on the 18th hole of Delhi Golf Club to win the 1995 Gadgil Western Masters, on the Asian Tour.
On second thoughts, strike out the last one. Ghei’s magic shot to the back-left pin will never be repeated. Of course, you can try something similar, but the shot will now require a much different trajectory and a much different line.
The reason for this is that nine-time Major champion Gary Player has redesigned the famous course and so when the cream of the Asian Tour arrive for the US$500,000 The DGC Open presented by Mastercard this week it promises to be a whole new experience for them.
The South African was given the complex and demanding task of redesigning a masterpiece; it wasn’t a simple ‘restoration’, for a golf club the Asian Tour has not visited since the Panasonic Open India in October 2018,
What used to be a golf course that placed a huge premium on hitting straight off the tee (missing fairways at “DGC”, as it’s better known, is a guaranteed bogey) is now an even more demanding test after the charismatic Player worked his magic on all 18 greens, and repositioned various bunkers.
When it was finally opened to the public towards the end of 2019, after months of refurbishment, the ‘new’ golf course won plaudits from members and seasoned professionals.
“We’ve put a grass down called Mini Verde on the greens, which is a great grass,” said 86-year-old Player.
“We have changed the contours of all the greens and added slopes and run-off areas, and we’ve made the golf course slightly longer than it was. We have repositioned many bunkers. And the big thing that we did was give proper drainage to these greens. You know how the rains can be in India, but the course will now drain much faster. I think we did a very good job.”
The last redesign of the DGC was way back in 1977, under the eyes of five-time Open champion and a good friend of Gary Player – Australian great Peter Thomson.
“There’s a great saying by Shakespeare – change is the price of survival. We’ve got to keep abreast of the technology and times. The golf course is the most important thing. I am well aware that 20-30 years from now, somebody else will come along and change everything that I have done,” said Player when asked if designers get emotional when changing a classic golf course.
The proof of the pudding, as is well known, is in the eating and nobody is better qualified to critique Player’s work than the 52-year-old Ghei – a three-time winner on the Asian Tour, the first Indian to qualify for The Open (in 1997) and someone who knows the golf course better than the back of his hand.
“It’s not so much a redesign as much as it is making it a little bit more challenging using the essential character of the course. I think Gary Player has done a great job of that,” said Ghei.
“Earlier, if you hit your tee shot on the fairway at DGC, you knew you’d make a par nine times out of 10. That’s no longer the case now. We’ve got some really, really, interesting pin positions; there are slopes and run-off areas. And if they can make it as firm and fast as it was when the new greens were launched, it will become very, very interesting.
“Before 2019, all the tough pins were traditionally at the back of the green. But now, some of the toughest pins are on the front of the green as the entrance is so narrow, and if you miss it on the wrong side, you’re going to struggle big time. You need to have a wide repertoire of short game shots.”
Ghei has spent a lot of time playing with fellow professionals and club members and gives a glowing review of Player’s work.
“I think Gary’s team, given the mandate they had, totally delivered what was expected. I love the fact that the character of the golf course is still the same, and yet it has become far more challenging. With the rains and COVID, we have a little bit of issues with the grass, but the course has been shut for two weeks and I can’t wait to see how it looks for the tournament,” said Ghei.
“As a member, I’m totally 110% happy with what they’ve done with our course.”
One person Gary Player will miss immensely during his visit to New Delhi is the former Club President Siddharth Shriram, a good friend of his and the man who was instrumental in not just conceptualising The DGC Open presented by Mastercard, but also played a key role in the redesigning of the course.
“Yes…I have nothing but the highest respect for Siddharth. I will really miss him. You know, memories are the cushions of life. And he was such a lovely man,” said Player of the late Shriram, who passed away last year following COVID-related complications.
“In fact, I’ve also just lost my wife. And you know, I think the Indians have a wonderful philosophy about life and death in their belief that life is a part of death. Life has got to go on and we learn to live with wonderful memories, and that is the greatest gift bestowed upon us by the Lord. I have stories I can be grateful for.”