Calcutta’s clubs are amongst the oldest in India, and rank amongst the top in the world. They are places which are manifaceted, and are treated as a perk of corporate life for many. The clubs have grown apace and have established their own special identities, and memberships continue to be a matter of privilege, although commercialization has stepped in to prop up sagging bottomlines. It does make for more events, with big time sponsorships, so that golf courses are better maintained and members have more value additions than ever for the money spent on membership. Joining fees are relatively cheaper than more other metros in the country, and the costs of food and drink and other facilities are still at a greatly affordable level.
You knew you had arrived, you belonged, if you were fortunate, qualified enough and perhaps were to the manor born to be able to gain membership into the hallowed precincts of these magnificent Clubs in Calcutta that were created by the British for their comfortable camaraderie, culinary indulgences and as oases to sport and spirit.
That era flourished, and then the baton passed on to the brown sahibs, consisting of the royal families, the landed gentry and corporate bigwigs who, more fiercely, kept up the many traditions and nurtured an inclusivity and “clubbability” in a place which you could call your own.
It has all boiled down to aspiration, ascension, camaraderie and conviviality. Today many gated communities have clubs with all sporting and eating facilities, saving years of queuing for the top ranked clubs.
A selection of clubs:
The Bengal Club
The first thing anyone associates with The Bengal Club is its great cuisine. That tradition still continues with this Club which was established in 1827. In that era it had been the meeting place for Viceroys, Commanders-in-chief, Governors, Prime Ministers and Chief Ministers to be entertained officially by the Club.
The special rooms like Room 150, the elegant private dining room or Room 300, or Salon 175 are all hubs for dining and partying. The club’s continental culinary expertise extends to the cognoscenti ordering in legs of honey-glazed ham and Christmas turkey, not to forget the delicate smoked hilsa and today it’s Oriental Room and the bakery are great add-ons. We marvel at a standalone Club plonk in the middle of the city—on busy Russell Street, having so many interesting facilities—from a great bar and a significant library which holds upmarket events, its excellent residential rooms, to its Reynolds Room surrounded by historic portraits in oil, where members sink into the gracious wing chairs to browse newspapers and also partake of post-dinner coffee and cognac, or enjoy the elegant and old-world tea service. There’s a Sports Bar, a Business Center and compact Meeting Rooms, all of which cater to today’s needs and the lawn is a lung and partying place during the more salubrious months.
The Tollygunge Club (Tolly)
Spread across 100 acres, very much part and heart of the city, and yet a true country club, possibly the only one of its kind in India and ranked amongst the top 20 clubs in the world! In terms of age, dating back to 1895, Tolly, known for its immaculately tended golfing greens—the 18-hole, 70 par course, a floodlit driving range and illuminated putting green, its magnificent collection of flora and fauna and a wide range of sporting facilities.
Post-golf, the Shamiana at the 18th hole is the most preferred nesting place. Clay and artificial surface tennis courts, air-conditioned squash courts, a semi-indoor and picturesque outdoor swimming pool, and a Jacuzzi. You can go riding, play bridge and billiards, pick up exclusive gear at the Pro Shop and the newest books and videos at the library, while the gym, hair salon and herbal Ayurvedic Centre are the feel fit places. Food-wise—plenty of choice at the Belvedere and the Tippu Sultan rooms, many bars and a pastry hut and ice cream parlor, contiguous temptingly to the children’s play area! The residential facilities are the best amongst all clubs—67 air-conditioned rooms and suites for members and their guests. There are conference and banqueting facilities at a choice of venues.
Calcutta Cricket & Football Club (CCFC)
This has to be one of the oldest sports clubs in the world! Founded in 1792. Perhaps the second oldest, as the Marylebone Cricket Club was founded in 1787.
A convivial club for sporting camaraderie and for the elbow-bending on weekends and evenings. There’s a sport for all seasons—an outdoor swimming pool, clay tennis courts adjacent to it and football, rugby, hockey, cricket, cycle polo, apart from the indoor sports like table tennis, pool and darts. There’s a well equipped gymnasium, too.
Its upper floor Centenary Hall is the Club's own air-conditioned 'Long Room' replete with a sporting library and a mini museum of Club memorabilia. The restaurant has a choice of cuisines and a stunning view of the verdant field from the glassed balcony-bar.
A unique feature of the Club’s sporting activities are the five-a-side sporting fixtures, which involve people from corporate set ups. Merchant's Cup tournaments—soccer, cricket and hockey are often played under floodlights with rugby in the monsoons. The cricket field is the venue for important cricket league matches and some Ranji Trophy fixtures and for the prestigious Beighton Cup. International tournaments like the All India and Asian Rugby too are played here too.
Evenings see the Merchant’s Cup nights and a host of social and cultural functions. involving music, dance and theater.
And the kebab stand next to the ground is always aromatically there, along with an exclusive tea place and now a pro-sports outlet. The Club’s own kitchen serves a wide range of snacks and food.
Saturday Club (Sat-C)
This is a truly social club, more relaxed than some of the others, in the center of the city. Beginnings: 1875. It moved to where it is today on Wood Street in 1900. The officers of the Calcutta Light Horse Regiment were said to be amongst the Club’s founders and when this Regiment was disbanded after independence, the Regiment trophies were housed in the bar which is famously the Light Horse Bar where members love to congregate to drink, perchance to eat.
The wooden badminton court smack in the middle of the club on the ground floor are unique and there are several tennis courts and a swimming pool and a well-run health club. The verandah—a perfect place for coffee meets and lunches; the choice of many cuisines—Indian and continental and Chinese; several bars, one of them open air, and residential facilities. While all of these amenities appear to be what many of the other clubs offer, there is something about the relaxed ambience of the Sat-C as it is fondly called, with its bonhomie that seems to give it is special brand equity. Add to this the hugely used Club Shoppe store where members are able to buy all their groceries, fresh veggies, fruits, general merchandise and much more.
Calcutta South Club
The mecca of tennis! Often referred to fondly as the Wimbledon of the East. Founded in 1920, with just a single grass court, there are 17 today, six grass, six red clay and five synthetic hard courts, making it one of the few clubs in India to possess all three playing surfaces.
To go back in history, in 1929, the first visit of a foreign team to India happened with many more to follow. According to Bill Tilden in his book Aces, Places and Faults, the center court at the South Club is one of the best grass courts of his experience!
It is the South Club’s excellent grass courts that been the reason for a large number of India’s home Davis Cup ties being played here over the decades. History was made in December 1966 when India entered the Davis Cup challenge round by beating Brazil 3-2 in the inter zone final.
In 1955, the Indian government launched a coaching scheme named after Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, the first lady cabinet minister. The South Club was made the main center, with former Asian champion Dilip Bose producing eventual Davis Cup participants Premjit Lall and Jaidip Mukerjea. The coaching tradition continues with Akhtar Ali. One of the great veterans of the Club is Naresh Kumar, and we see tennis excellence continuing with Leander Paes.
What is noteworthy is that the Club now has a swimming pool, dining facilities and huge plans to expand to a lounge, bar and restaurant and possibly residential rooms.
The Calcutta Swimming Club (CSC)
The CSC is the oldest such club in India, built in 1887. For a long time, Indians were not granted membership of this club which changed in 1964 when the Maharaja of Cooch Behar was inducted as the first Indian member. And a decade later, an Indian became the first president. All of this has changed today, and there is a greater Indian-ness than ever before that is perceived at the club.
The biggest attraction of the CSC is its near-Olympic sized outdoor swimming pool, one of the largest in Asia, overlooked by the imposing structure of the Calcutta High Court. This pool is emptied out in winter months for some amazing events from author meets and art camps to huge music and dance evenings. The indoor pool is a fair-sized one too, and is heated. Plenty of inter-club competitions take place here.
While the focus is on swimming, there is plenty of scope for other sports like billiards and table tennis. A Card Room, a Gym and Health Club with steam and sauna; Banqueting Rooms, a cosy lawn and several bars. And sitting around the pool to eat and chat is so very special to this club. Its nightclubbing activities are continuous—Saturday night discos, and the seasonal events attached to Indian and international festivals.
The Grand Duke of all Clubs—stately, snobbish, old world, but fast conforming to the needs of today’s generation, even having conceded to women becoming members in their own right, accepting them on the committee too. It started out in the early years of the twentieth century, 1907 to be exact, as a rebuff by the Bengali elite to the no-Indians policy of the colonial clubs.
At the city’s very heart, the club today lacks for nothing. Its dining room is always full, as are the popular Room 7 and the main lounge, and the verandah, overlooking a huge lawn. While it is the senior members who come and relax over tea and drinks and different times in these areas, the Club has shed its fuddy-duddy image to embrace areas for young family members at its new zone The Courtyard.
There’s swimming, tennis, badminton at a Sports Complex that is multi-usage; billiards, card room and great bars both upstairs and downstairs; a popular library, a buzzing bakery, health club and salon for men and ladies. The bakery and the food carnivals are to die for events as are the Calcutta Club debates. The food continues to be classic, and the best value for money anywhere in town. The convenience store provides members with groceries and frozen ham, bacon, chicken and other meats are a superb convenience too.
Dalhousie Institute (DI)
The Dalhousie Institute which is a lively social club where top jazz festivals are held, and which is a buzzing family club, actually started out in 1859 in Dalhousie Square (today’s B.B.D Bagh) "to promote the literary and scientific improvement of members by means of lectures, library, reading room and other sources … foster a spirit of goodwill and sociability … embark upon any activities calculated to benefit the Institute or to advance the welfare of the members.”
However, with the Government requisitioning the premises for the present Telephone Bhavan, the club moved, 150 years ago, to its current location at 42, Jhowtala Road.
And look at it today! A hub of activity, whose football and cricket teams are among the leaders on the club scene. The DI offers its members such sports facilities as a gym, swimming, tennis, billiards, badminton, table- tennis, bridge and a modern Multi-purpose Sports Zone. The Food Court fares from many kitchens provide the necessary variety. The Children’s Park with child-friendly equipment is a hit with youngsters. A lovely personalized touch—Zach’s Lounge and Cowper’s Calcutta, are a tribute to senior members of the past, for small and large gatherings.
Royal Calcutta Golf Club (The Royal)
The “Royal” as it is popularly known, is synonymous with golf in India. It is the oldest golf club outside the British Isles, the oldest being the Royal and Ancient, in Scotland. Founded in 1829, it was in 1911 that the club was honored by King George V and Queen Mary, who conferred the title of “Royal” on it to commemorate their visit to Calcutta.
The 18th hole, 6978 yard Par 72 course has 42 water bodies and 52 bunkers poses a tough challenge even for top golfers. It hosts some leading tournaments. The All-India Golf Championship, for one, is the second oldest running golf tournament in the world after the British open, and it was the Royal that started the tournament in 1892. It has also played a significant role in the formation of the Indian Golf Union. An interesting nugget: Member S. S. P. Chowrasia’s father was a greens-keeper and he himself started out as a caddie, but today he is internationally famous, playing as he does on the European tour. Tennis courts, swimming pool and lawn-bowling are the special features of this club which prides itself on its food, particularly its breakfasts. Events held there are magical for the ambience.
The Rowing Clubs at the Lakes
Adding a special charm to Calcutta’s club circuit are a clutch of rowing clubs that abut the picturesque lakes, making them a tranquil haven in the midst of a buzzing metropolis. The three are: The Calcutta Rowing Club, the Lake Club, Bengal Rowing Club. They represent a rich rowing tradition of the city and all of them have expanded their repertoire to include other sporting activity to keep member interest alive. The area is known as Rabindra Sarovar, and 73 acres of it is incredibly water.
Morning walkers love the well-tended pathways and Sundays see a new welter of activity through Live in Lakes performances in the early hours and on specified evenings.
The Calcutta Rowing Club (CRC) was founded way back in 1858, the oldest such club outside the United Kingdom. CRC has maintained its outstanding position in the rowing scene and from 1979 won the ARAE, the WBRA and the Head of Lake trophies - a stream of unique successes which no rowing club in the East has yet been able to achieve. A big attraction and superb addition to its facilities is a swanky gym called The Endorphins, started by strength and conditioning coach Ranadeep Moitra. It has in-house quality cuisine, an ice cream and snacks parlor, bars (one of them facing the lake), conference halls and meeting rooms and a pool.
One of its very charming non-rowing activities has been the art camps by the lakes. In fact to celebrate its century and a half existence the Club got famous artist Dhiraj Choudhury to capture the rowing romance in a book with watercolors, drawings and photographs.
The Bengal Rowing Club
Initially called the Marwari Rowing Club, this was founded by the noted industrialist G.D. Birla in 1929. The club houses cutting edge, fiberglass boats for the rowing and kayaking and paddling boats mostly used for leisure. Other sporting facilities, include a badminton and squash court, several table tennis boards, multiple snooker and pool boards, (leading championships are held for snooker and billiards) darts and a 25-meter, 3-lane swimming pool. The vegetarian menu is the talk of the town and it continues to maintain its no drinks policy which does not take away from the well attended events and everyday activity.
The Lake Club
The Lake Club is more Bengali in its bearing than its two other neighbors, as it started when those who could not get membership of the venerable Calcutta Club during its whites-only days, were able to find a social club to their liking which was up to their expected standard. The Bangaliana is in its very-focused entertainment—of music, dance, carnivals, film and slide shows of members travels. The food is a great attraction, and its pool, table tennis complement its’ rowing. The former indoor badminton court is now a fully air-conditioned auditorium, which can be booked by members and non members too.
Calcutta’s clubs are amongst the oldest in India, and rank amongst the top in the world. They are places which are manifaceted, and are treated as a perk of corporate life for many. The clubs have grown apace and have established their own special identities, and memberships continue to
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