You are certain to miss it if you are not looking for it – that little board, with flowing greens making for a breathtaking backdrop, which announces the little-known fact that the Kodaikanal Golf Club course is the world’s only certified organic golf course.
The man behind the remarkable achievement of turning the 18-hole course, which is spread over 100 acres and fringed by a mix of forest and a stunning view of the plains from an altitude of over 7000 feet, organic, is understated about it.
GS Mani, better known as ‘Cheese Mani’ after he turned Kodai Cheese into an iconic brand, says he’s glad to have got the opportunity to do it.
“I learnt about biodynamic agriculture of the (Dr. Rudolf) Steiner school under Peter Proctor when they opened a chapter here in Kodaikanal and that’s when I realized that biodynamic form actually enhances the micronutrient levels of the soil. I decided it would be good to implement it in the golf course,” says the 66-year-old Mani, who has been the secretary of the golf club since 1991, barring the year that he spent in Switzerland learning to make Gruyère cheese.
Also the superintendent of the course, Mani began with the biodynamic practices on the course in 2004.
“Those were times when Kodai was going through a severe crisis of water management owing to the exponential growth of real estate business,” recollects Mani, who moved to the hill town in 1974 to join his father’s cheese business following his education in Chennai.
“And golf course maintenance demands a lot of water. It being marsh land a lot of water is generated in our facility from natural springs but I felt it was wrong that for the pleasure of golfers alone to desecrate these water bodies by going with the standard practices of turf maintenance that involves using synthetic fertilizers,” says the nattily dressed Mani, who was a keen cricketer and swimmer while at St Bede’s School and Vivekananda College before taking up golf in 1988.
“Not only is water usage a lot lesser in organic practices, the water bodies remain fresh and the club is proud to say that we provide close to 50,000 litres of water a day to the Municipality for free distribution during times of water shortage like the town is facing currently,” he adds, as we took a walk through the lush green and manicured course, which seamlessly blends with the rolling hills that forms part of the terrain, and is a landmark.
“Biomass such as leaves and grass from the course is used to make compost and we also use CPP (Cow Pat Pit) which is cow manure mixed with crushed egg shells and basalt dust as growth nutrients,” Mani said. “For pesticide control we spray Panchagavya which is a mix of five direct and derived products of the cow, namely dung, urine, milk, curd and ghee,” he further explains.
With the forest forming a large boundary, large herds of Gaur, also known as the Indian bison, find their way to the course to graze and for water and Mani thought of an ingenious way of cohabitation.
“We’ve put up fishing nets around the greens that we roll up while playing. Animals by nature are wary of nets for fear of being captured. The rest of the course with all the water bodies is open to bisons to graze and drink from. A harmonious cohabitation with other living creatures is so vital,” he says.
“The forest here though is sadly monoculture of Eucalyptus and Acacia trees and the problem with monoculture is that there is no generation of humus owing to which the top soil erodes. In the course, we constantly plant indigenous breeds,” he added, pointing out to Shola trees of various sizes that abound the facility.
The club, which was established in 1895, has also created a 9,000 square feet nursery beside the club house where they grow their own Kentucky bluegrass to cater to the greens.
“We identified Kentucky bluegrass in the course as the one that is acclimatized best and generates quickest and so built an exclusive nursery. We have already re-laid three of the greens at a low cost of sustainability and over the coming years will relay the rest,” Mani said.
Interestingly, the manpower used to maintain this large a course is less than 20 people. “That’s the beauty of going biodynamic. Once you have put the system in place, its demands on resources become less, the process is environment-friendly and as a result a lot less expensive to maintain,” said Mani.
Mani believes organic practices can be followed in courses across the country, although he agrees that high golf traffic in the cities would make it a lot more difficult. At the Kodaikanal course only a handful of golfers play regularly, with an increase in numbers during the summer.
“Basically we have created an organic environment here. It’s a slow process and a lot depends on the land. We are blessed here with marsh land and cool weather,” he said.
“However, by going organic, water bodies, even the treated effluent water that is used in most courses across the country, can be made sustainable as it would involve no chemicals and the natural nutrients would be only supported with organic pesticides,” he signed off by saying.