From boasting one of the longest and most challenging golf courses in the country to a number of other tempting sports facilities, the Airmen Golf Club and Recreational Park offers a lot to sports buffs
It’s one of the longest and windiest golf courses in Pakistan. But one visit to the Airmen Golf Club, especially on a cool and pleasant January afternoon, and you might also come to the conclusion that it is one of the most picturesque ones as well.
With an unparalleled placement along the pristine mangroves of the Korangi Creek, the AGC is relatively one of the newer golf courses in Karachi but it has already served as venue for several major tournaments like the Nationals and the CAS Open.
Last week, I had the opportunity to play a round at the wind-swept AGC course with a group of vastly accomplished players including M Ashfaq, the former CNS Open champion. Then there was Wing Cmdr Atif Hussain, a 4-handicapper who captained the PAF team to a clean sweep of gold medals in last November’s National Games in Peshawar. We were joined by Syed Raza Ali, who has recently turned professional and Omar Khalid, who at 15 is a 4-handicapper. I was the odd one out. And it showed.
While my four partners were dealing with pars and birdies I was struggling with the gusty winds. My first par took some time to come.
But that happens to amateur golfers, who are not familiar with the AGC terrain and its mighty wind factor. What I learned from my experience was if you want to play this challenging course for the first time, the most important thing to bring, along with your equipment, is an open-minded approach. That’s because AGC is not your typical golfing experience. It’s a different kind of challenge. You have to really fight the elements, both wind and water. You will have to try things that you have never tried before.
It’s certainly a tough nut to crack. AGC’s first line of defense is the wind. It’s almost constant but you can’t say the same about the direction because it’s almost as inconstant.
You must be scared. Don’t be! That’s because, once you are in your element, playing at AGC can be a uniquely rewarding experience.
So back to our group of five. We begin at around 2 pm which is a bit latish considering that it’s January and the days are short. Ashfaq, known in the country’s golfing community as Russi, agrees to be out guide.
You can’t have a better guide than him when playing the AGC course. Currently, ranked No. 4 among national professionals, Russi has mastered the course like no one else. “My best round here is 7-under,” he tells me. “That day everything, from tee shots to putting, worked for me.”
He hits a long drive on hole number 1, a semi-difficult par 4. With the winds blowing from left to right, all of us comfortably negotiate it. But bad finishing leaves me with a bogey while the others have regulation pars.
We come to the second hole, a tough-looking par-3 with an OB on the left and bunkers guarding the green. I’m told to ignore the flag and target the centre of the green. Mission goes unaccomplished and ends with another bogey. My advice for first-timers: Do target the centre of the green but with the right club in your hands.
We move to the next hole, a challenging par-5 with OB on the left side. The green touches the sea which makes the approach shot quite a challenge. Another bogey for me but the rest of the pack does quite well.
The same pattern continues until we reach Hole No. 7. I’m told that most golfers believe that this is the toughest hole on the front nine. It certainly is. My tip: Don’t be adventurous. It’s a long hole but the fairway is narrow and there is a lake on your right. It’s better to ignore the driver and tee off with a 3-wood instead. I didn’t do that and had to suffer the consequences.
The front nine, which is supposed to be the easier side considering that the holes are generally shorter and there is a relatively less presence of seawater, finish with a dog-leg par-5. It’s a risk-and-reward hole, my kind of hole. You can play a short-cut and land your second shot on the green. I almost managed it. There was no birdie but it was an easy par.
After a brief tea break, we headed to the longer and windier back nine. With a boosted confidence I lined up for my drive from tee 10. It feels like you are on the top of a hill as you hit your tee shot. There is OB on your right and a thick rough on the left. You have to stay on the fairway, which I manage to do comfortably despite the strong wind. Normally hole No 10 is a long par-4 in the summers but it’s easier to deal with in the winters because of a tail wind. Just avoid the hazard before the green and you are safe. So was I and it helped me manage another par.
There is ample fairway on the next hole, another par-4. If you are long and accurate hitter then it shouldn’t bother you much.
But same cannot be said about the next one. The par-4 12th is easily the toughest hole on the AGC course.
“I’ve seen many professionals struggle on this hole,” Ashfaq tells me. “I’ve seen some finishing it with scores of 9 and even 10,” he adds.
That didn’t intimidate me as I hit a long and straight tee shot and gets due applause from my flight mates. But somehow I hook what was supposed to be a straight forward approach shot and find the bushes on the left of the green. A good chip allows me to finish with a bogey. “Not bad,” says one of my partners.
I was indeed lucky. That’s because No. 12 runs entirely along the creek and a slight mistake can take you in the water.
No. 12 is followed by another challenging one – the par-3 13th. Unlucky 13 for many. You need to safely land on the smallish green that is guarded by bunkers. The sea is within striking distance.
With the sun going down, we finish the rest of the round completely with myself signing off with a par on the par-5 18th which becomes a tough hole in the winters as you have hit it into the wind. It did feel like a par-6.
A very cool breeze blew as we headed towards the clubhouse for a much-needed cup of tea.
During a chit-chat over tea, I’m told that the AGC now has a full-fledged recreational park with facilities like horse-riding, dirt bike and water park. I was already familiar with its chalets which have a breath-taking view of the creek. A go-kart track will also be ready soon, I’m told.
Soon we finish our tea and are getting ready to head for home. It was certainly a satisfying experience playing on what is certainly one of the most challenging courses in the country.
Apart from the likes of Pakistan No.1 Shabbir Iqbal, Matloob Ahmed and Muhammad Munir, very few golfers have done well here consistently. But with the challenge comes its natural beauty. Which is why I would recommend the AGC course to all golfers. If you haven’t played it yet then do make a visit. The best time to play this course is in the winters because it can truly be a brutal place in the summers. Because in the pleasant months of January and February, AGC’s bark is worse than it’s bite.
Khalid Hussain is Editor Sports of The News