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June 27, 2009
Open Space

On a male turf

Nusrat Ara

She is among the very few women turf managers in the world, probably the first in South Asia.

“It is very much a man’s job,” says Nuzhat Gul, the young articulate turf manager of the coveted Royal Springs Golf Course in Srinagar.

“It is not a white collar job. It involves a lot of physical labour,” she adds. But that was not a deterrent when this ‘nature lover’ applied for the job in 2002.

“If women can be pilots and soldiers why not turf managers.”

Coming from a rural landlord family Nuzhat grew up in the orchards of her native village Shopian in southern Kashmir. “The thing I was sure about since childhood is that my vocation will be close to nature” she says with a smile.

Then she must have also inherited some of her love for nature and grasses. Her father was an agrostologist, a person who studies grasses. She came closer graduating in Landscaping and Floriculture from Punjab University. Turf management was, however, not a first choice.

Nuzhat was interning as a landscape manager with real estate giant DLF in Delhi, when she came to know about an opening at the Srinagar Golf Course. Nuzhat was looking ahead for higher studies in Michigan USA, but something else was pulling her back home.

“I didn’t want to return but my mother had taken ill so I had to be home” said Nuzhat who had left Kashmir for studies in early nineties.

The American turf manager of Royal Spring Golf Course had fled because of advisories in the wake of Kargil war in 1999. It was looking for a new qualified turf manager. Nuzhat took the challenge.

“I knew the basic fundamentals of plant physiology, soil chemistry and so on, rest I learned on the job,” said Nuzhat adding that turf management courses aren’t widely available and the few ones that are seek experience on the turf.

“Somewhere I also saw a way to contribute to my homeland,” says the soft-spoken woman.

Since then Nuzhat has taken her challenge bravely. Not a smooth affair all along.

The breathtaking green blades of the grass she maintains harbours small pests called White Grubs at their roots. The specialised care for the well-nurtured grass was manna for the grubs. In 2003 white grubs crossed the threshold limit way beyond laughing all along at its caretaker.

“It was maddening. I consulted all available research on White Grubs. I consulted experts through internet, implemented their advices, but no help proved useful,” said Nuzhat.

“The problems faced by a turf manager are specific to a particular turf as the environment and conditions differ from place to place.”

White Grub is a universal problem on turfs, and there are many remedies available in Europe and US, but most of these drugs are not allowed in India. Nuzhat had to find a solution herself. Her problem was getting aggravated by the proximity of a forest to golf course.

Each night bears from the forest would venture into the golf course and devastate its turf hunting for grubs. More than the grubs, bears were the problem. And the press was shouting.

“They would say, a woman has come and spoiled the golf course built at a huge cost. There was so much of pressure from the management,”

She took help from Sheri Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences. Two research students from the university studied the problem and experimented intensively with Nuzhat for many weeks on the course.

To tackle the bear menace an electromagnetic fence was raised around the golf course. The fence wards off bears and other wild animals by electromagnetic waves. Meanwhile Nuzhat and the two worked on the white grub problem.

“We developed an elaborate, point by point remedy that is regarded as a reference on the problem of white grubs today,”

In 2007 Nuzhat took a Master’s course in turf management from the University of Massachusetts USA. The course was meant for experienced turf professionals. “I was the only woman, and the only student from India as well,” said Nuzhat, who returned home with a gold medal.

Working on the turf has taught Nuzhat a lot and she wants to pass it on. She doesn’t want to keep her knowledge and skills to herself. Instead she wants to teach turf management at a university. The course is not offered anywhere in India, and she has approached many institutions with the proposal, including a university in J&K.

“If we are known for tourism, why can’t we be known for turf studies? If people can go to West for the course, why can’t they come here,” said Nuzhat.

With golf slowly coming out of its elite coterie, Nuzhat sees future for the career expanding.

“A lot of golf courses are coming up now. The number of turf professionals is not coming up accordingly. So there is a lot of scope in this field,”

Nuzhat is on the panel of Alumur College Scotland who are in the process of starting a turf school.

Turf professionals are not limited to golf. They are also needed for cricket fields, lawns or where ever grass is required to give an aesthetic touch to the surroundings.

Despite her achievements and dreams, Nuzhat calls herself a home bird. A mother of a two, she says family is her priority.

“A Dubai based golf course was recently offering me Rs 4.5 lac per month but I have to be close to my family. I won’t do anything at the cost of my family”

But that doesn’t mean she has all the time for her family.

“I can’t sit idle. I have got to do something all the time. And my work keeps me on my toes. I can’t afford to take time off. The turf needs to be looked after all the time. It doesn’t go off on a holiday” she chuckles.

Golf, she says is no longer an elitist game. Introduced by the British it was once confined to cantonments.

“It is a common man’s game now. Golf in India is taking up in a big way. Even builders are adding golf courses to increase the value of their properties”

The cost of golf kits that once ran into lacs of rupees has come down to thousands bringing it into the reach of more and more people. Chinese kits have lowered the rates further.

“We have around 200 to 300 people coming daily and you can find a shopkeeper, a student, a government employee any day” she said.

Despite admitting the laborious aspects of her job, Nuzhat says women should go for it.

“If I can do why can’t other women? I don’t have an extra chromosome.”

And then she adds that women have an advantage too.

“Women have a sharp acumen for finesse of things. That is what is required in this job.”


This article is written under the Sanjoy Ghose Media Fellowship: 2008-09 for women journalists in J&K.


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These articles are written by Nusrat Ara under the Sanjoy Ghose Media Fellowship: 2008-09 for women journalists in J&K.

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