Putting on mud greens and practicing with clubs carved out of a tamarind tree, C Muniyappa is revisiting childhood. The decision to settle a longstanding land dispute was well timed as moving from Bengaluru to his ancestral village in Tamil Nadu before the nationwide lockdown for Covid-19 has helped the 2009 Indian Open golf champion beat the blues.
When Muniyappa, 43, returned home from a domestic event in Kolkata in mid-March, talk was rife that the pandemic was about to bring life to a standstill. “If that happened, all facilities (including the Karnataka Golf Association course in Bengaluru where he practices) would shut down,” he recalled hearing.
With a piece of land purchased by his grandfather requiring attention, Muniyappa and his family of golfers—sons Kiran (16) and Prem (9), and daughter Gopika (13) all play the game—crossed into Tamil Nadu on March 20 to be in Malaiyur village, a green zone, in the hilly Dharmapuri district that borders Karnataka.
Muniyappa was always drawn by the serene surroundings. He makes it a point to visit the village once a year, though he had never thought of creating a practice facility despite the abundance of space. With no timeline in sight for the return to Bengaluru, he got to work, and a piece of land near their house was chosen.
Being a rocky terrain, clearing a 40-yard strip was back-breaking effort. The task was to extricate rocks with shovels before the area could be levelled. The surface had to be watered as well, but unseasonal rain saved Muniyappa the effort.
Comprising two par-three holes, the bigger one of 30 yards has a tee box on the fringe of the ‘green’ from where Muniyappa uses a seven-iron, the only club he had taken with him, to hit 170 yards into farmland. His children would collect the balls and bring them back.
Precision is the key to avoid the clump of trees and find the landing area, which will be readied for sowing rice and groundnut in June. To increase the degree of difficulty, he keeps shifting the tee box.
A putter and five-iron shaped out of a tamarind tree that stands overlooking the putting surface is a throwback to his younger days. His first golfing lessons as a boy came on a similar surface, with a makeshift putter.
“When I started out in Bengaluru, buying clubs was out of reach so I used a knife to make a couple of clubs out of the branches. That training and experience has come in handy,” he said. The makeshift iron allows more carry and Muniyappa can strike the ball to about 200 yards.
Muniyappa feels returning to the roots will help sharpen his game before he returns to the Asian Tour—he has one win in the continental tour—or the Professional Golf Tour of India. “Since the surface is undulating and rocky, missing even short putts isn’t uncommon. One needs to strategise to avoid the small rocks,” he said. Muniyappa also engages in a contest with his children where no inch is given, though good shots are cheered.
A typical day starts with a half-hour meditation and yoga session atop a rock nearby with a bird’s eye view of the surroundings. “From there it’s a drop of 2,000 feet; it gives a heady feeling.” It’s mid-morning by the time Muniyappa hits the ‘course’; building the green under the tamarind tree has paid off with the sun getting harsher. The terrain lends gentle slopes to the surface, adding to the difficulty of putting on mud.
Winning the Indian Open in a playoff for his career’s biggest pay cheque of $198,125 ranks among Muniyappa’s top golfing moments, as does conversing with Tiger Woods at the World Golf Championship in Shanghai that year. This makeshift golfing arena in his sleepy village is about return to his roots.
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