If you happen to be driving towards the city's premier educational institution, the La Martiniere College, set up 150 years ago by a Frenchman, Maj-Gen Claude Martin, you cannot miss this unique sight. Children in the age group of ten and twelve playing golf with twigs shaped like golf clubs. Some even using broken hockey sticks for putting.
This is the amazing hamlet of Martin Purwa, nestling in the backyards of the expansive grounds of the La Martiniere college, where golf is a way of life. Known as the 'nursery of golf' in this part of the country, Martinpurwa, with a miniscule population of nearly a thousand villagers, whose fortunes swing between hope and despair, has produced some of the biggest names in the country's golfing history.
Says Vijay Kumar(36), a school drop-out and a national champion four times, 'We open our eyes and start playing golf.'A one time caddy, who used to carry golf bags for affluent people who visited the Lucknow Golf club, Vijay says that the proximity of the Lucknow Golf Club to the village has given an opportunity to the youngsters to hone up their skills. Beginning golf nearly thirty years ago, Vijay Kumarï's now grosses over a million in earning.
Says Ramchand, a former national champion of the sixties, 'Golf has really come of age in Lucknow and the major contribution has been made by residents of this village.' He now lives a retired life and imparts lessons in golf.
Tamator, (16), who plays four handicap, is a school drop-out, who now doubles up as a caddy and a waiter in the Lucknow Golf Club. 'I could not pursue studies beyond class four as my parents did not have the paying capacity,' he says while swinging a five iron. Youngest of the four siblings, three of whom were girls, he was forced to quit studies and take to golf to supplement his family income.
Dheeraj (12), another school drop-out from Martin Purwa, says he was forced to give up studies as his parents could not afford to pay his fees. So one day he too became a caddy and carries bag charging Rs 25 for a round of the 9-hole golf course. Every morning he walks barefoot in wet grass infested with snakes and poisonous insects even in Lucknow's severe winters. Two or three similar rounds may earn him a meager 75 per day and help augment his family income. Other youngsters from the same village, who are yet to perfect their swing, earn a modest living by retrieving lost golf balls and reselling them for a lower price.
Hariram, another golfer, who plays with a single digit handicap and is a familiar face on the national golfing circuit feels that there is something special about the village. 'We are exposed to golf from early childhood and begin by becoming caddies.' Today Hariram, who has his roots in Martin purwa, is earning a decent living by playing professional golf and by imparting training to up and coming golfers after charging Rs 100 per training session.
With golfers winning big prize money, winds of change have swept over this desolate hamlet. Concrete double-storied buildings have replaced the thatched roof huts. Bicycles and scooters have been replaced by swanky cars. Vijay Kumar, for example owns a Honda City, an Esteem, and runs the pro - house in the Lucknow Golf Club. Others too, have been able to run small businesses or send their children to school out of their golf earnings
But while the financial status may have changed, attitudes haven't. The four time national champion still prefers to ride a Hero Honda, to the club. Says Raj Kumar, who plays at the national level, 'we feel handicapped as we are unable to speak English.' This is one of the reason that Martin purwa, golfers have not been able to make a mark at international level.
Besides this, rues Bhoop Singh, another single digit handicapper, 'no big houses come forward to sponsor the golfers from Martin purwa, maybe it is because we do not conform to the hoity toity glamorous image of an international golfer.'