Guarding her turf, and how!

NUSRAT ARA | Updated on February 10, 2011 Published on February 10, 2011

Nuzhat Gul

Nuzhat Gul is the first woman to take charge of an 18-hole golf course in Srinagar.

Her father is a retired agrostologist, which means he studied grasses. And in her childhood it was not unusual for her to play with the boys in her neighbourhood. Perhaps that explains Nuzhat Gul's confidence as the first woman turf manager of the Royal Springs Golf Course in Srinagar.

Nuzhat, 35, is the first woman to look after the 18-hole golf course. She holds this historic post for historic reasons. In 1999, as the war between India and Pakistan broke out in Kargil, some 200 km from Srinagar, Western countries issued advisories to its citizens and the US turf manager of Royal Springs left.

Nuzhat got the job in 2002 as no other qualified turf professionals were available. She ended up taking what she describes as a job involving lots of physical labour. “It is definitely not a white-collar job but a challenging 24-hour job,” she says.

When she had attended a course in turf management at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst some years ago, she was the only woman in a class of 64. She stood out for other reasons as well. “I was the only woman from a rural background and a developing country,” recalls the soft-spoken Nuzhat, who was a long way from her village in southern Kashmir, where women who venture beyond homemaking often opt for conventional choices such as teaching.

Demand for turf professionals

Golf was introduced to India during British rule and was played only by the social elite after Independence. “But now it has come out of the cantonments,” Nuzhat says, “It is a common man's game now. The game is being taken up in a big way, to the extent that builders are even adding golf courses to increase the value of their properties.”

Golf courses are growing in number across the country — currently there are 220, 37 are under construction and 65 more are being planned, according to Anil Dev, the editor of Golf Plus magazine. Nuzhat says this rapid increase in golf courses is creating a demand for qualified turf professionals, which, she hopes, will open the field to more women. In fact, she adds, turf professionals are equipped to look after not just golf but other grounds too, such as a cricket field.

The average base salary globally for golf course superintendents in 2005 was $68,914 and this can go as high as $125,000, according to Rutgers Professional Golf Turf Management School in New Jersey.

For Nuzhat, there is “no sight like that of a perfectly-manicured lawn”. But recently, this self-declared “home bird” declined an offer from a Dubai-based golf course as she wanted to stay close to her family.

Nuzhat had started her career as an intern in landscape management at the real estate giant DLF, in Chandigarh, when friends told her about an opening at the Srinagar Golf Course. She had just completed a bachelor's degree in landscaping and floriculture from Punjab University.

“I had no intention of coming back to Srinagar, but my mother had taken ill so I wanted to be home,” recalls Nuzhat, whose family owns apple orchards. “I had knowledge about the basics involved like plant physiology, soil chemistry… and the rest I learned on the job.”

Studying at Punjab University also meant she was far away from the conflict situation engulfing Kashmir in the 1990s, when armed insurgency was at its peak with gunfights and bombings almost a daily occurrence.

Tough cleaning act

Of course, as a turf manager, Nuzhat's greatest challenge comes not from armed militants but the white grub — an insect that attracts bears from nearby forest areas onto the course.

Early last year, thanks to the white grubs, she was left with a torn-up golf course after the bears had trampled all over the greens. On top of that, newspapers ran stories to say that a woman had spoiled the expensive golf course. She was under tremendous pressure from the management to solve the problem, but found her hands tied as most of the chemicals needed to fight the white grubs are banned in India.

Thinking on her feet, Nuzhat enlisted the help of a local agricultural university, where two research students worked with her for many weeks on possible solutions. In addition to chemicals that destroyed the bugs, they came up with a special fence that wards off bears and other wild animals with the use of electromagnetic waves. Nuzhat is delighted that their point-by-point remedy is today a popular reference source in the fight against white grubs.

Described by golf regulars as a “thorough professional with a restless sense of urgency for learning and growth of golf superintendence”, Nuzhat is truly an inspiration for women who want to explore this unusual career option.

(By arrangement with Women's eNews)

© Women's Feature Service

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Published on February 10, 2011
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