• Man for all seasons

    Sona Dass
    And you thought you were an avid golfer?

    Cape Town golfer ‘Sona’ Dass topped the list of rounds played by a golfer in South Africa. And this year’s he’s on track to obliterate his own record.

    I still consider myself a keen golfer, perhaps only in spirit. There’s no question that I love the game, but the arrival of kids and seemingly endless family responsibilities have seen rounds dry up. Yet it wasn’t that long ago that I’d knock out three rounds per week and top them up with a range session or two.

    A return to something like those carefree days would place me comfortably within the top one percent of the most active golfers in the land, yet even such a tally of 160 rounds per year would see me in the shadow of the man at the top of the mountain.

    Sohanlal ‘Sona’ Dass notched up a staggering 457 registered rounds in 2018. You read that correctly – four-hundred-and-fifty-seven rounds of golf. That’s an average of 1.25 rounds of golf per day for the 65-year-old – come wind, rain or whatever the golfing gods laughingly threw at him.

    It was my good fortune to peg it up alongside Dass for his 256th round of 2019. Or was it the 257th? It’s hard to keep track – and we were only in mid June. Despite a mid-morning tee time at Milnerton in Cape Town, Dass, true to form, arrived fresh off a round of golf earlier that morning. I suspect he’d even had time to charge the battery of his cart.

    ‘Hop in,’ he called out, gesturing to his golf cart that featured pretty much what you’d expect from someone who plays every day; we’re talking home-made sandwiches, a flask of coffee and an overflow of golfing paraphernalia, including piles of spare tees and well-used golf balls.

    As if part of some kind of karmic test, a nasty squall hit us barely halfway down the first fairway, drenching the cart and persuading the other two players in our fourball to seek refuge in the clubhouse.

    For Dass, however, I gathered it would take weather of more biblical proportions to force him off the course.

    ‘My friends and my sons think I’m crazy,’ he laughs. ‘Half the golfers will stay at home when the wind blows like this, but growing up, my work was always exposed to the elements. Some guys say they can’t play in the rain, but I used to work for 12 to 13 hours a day in the pouring rain. Playing golf is a pleasure.

    ‘Luckily, my ball goes straight, so the crosswinds don’t affect my ball flight. The only effect is the resistance of the wind, so it comes down to choosing the right club to get me to the green.’

    I suspect there may be another reason he enjoys the bad weather – there are few other players on the course to hold him up.

    ‘It normally takes me about an hour and 40 minutes to play a round,’ he says. ‘I’m here at the crack of dawn with an open course in front of me. In summer that’s at 5:30am, but now in winter it’s closer to 7:15.

    ‘Then I come back in the early evening when I know nobody will be in front of me and off I go again.’

    Other than Saturdays, when a full field of players limits him to just one round, Dass’ daily routine generally includes 36 holes of golf. At his current rate, he’ll have notched 590 rounds by the time the curtain is drawn on 2019. In terms of 2019 he’s looking untouchable. ‘I’ll easily pass 500 rounds this year,’ he smiles. ‘Easy! Six hundred could even be doable, but that will be quite a challenge.’

    So how did this obsession with golf start? Dass traces it back to a challenge he received at a sponsored golf day in 2017.

    ‘Back then I was already playing a lot of golf, somewhere between 200 and 250 rounds per year. We were discussing it before prize-giving and when the MC found out that I was ranked third for most rounds played, she challenged me, in front of everyone, to take that No 1 ranking. This was in August, and by November I was No 1.’

    It wasn’t all plain sailing, however, for as luck would have it, Dass fell ill during the final stretch of the year.

    ‘On 14 December I suffered a heart attack and landed up in hospital. I really thought that was the end of my chances as I faced 16 days without golf. However, when I checked on 31 December, I was still No 1. They didn’t manage to catch me.’

    He’s been steadily increasing that number year on year, thankfully all part of a prepaid membership at Milnerton that allows him to play unlimited golf. And despite playing so often, Dass’ love for the game hasn’t waned. If anything, he’s more passionate about it now than ever.

    ‘I love playing golf,’ he says. ‘I absolutely love it. I never get frustrated. We all have our off-days, but it doesn’t have anything to do with the game, it has to do with you. There is no point ranting and raving or cursing and banging your clubs – the problem is with you, nobody else.

    ‘It takes me two minutes on my golf cart to get from my house to the 1st tee. I get to take in the sunrises and the sunsets and I never get tired of it. Sometimes I look at the traffic inching along and think to myself, “I am so blessed.”’

    I was curious to find out about some of the more interesting moments he’s had on the course. ‘Of course I’ve had those days where everything goes well. I remember I walked into the clubhouse one day when I had made a score of net 61. I was playing off a handicap of 28 at the time and I felt untouchable.

    ‘I’ve had six holes-in-one, including two this year. My last one was a few weeks ago. It was on the 14th hole and the wind was blowing, so I used a driver. I’ve also had three eagles – those were arguably better because I’m not the longest hitter. One of them was at the 3rd hole here (a par four of 390m from the white tees) where I normally can’t even reach the green. But this time I put my second shot right into the hole.’

    Playing nearly 50 rounds of golf per month means that Dass’ Handicap Index changes on a daily basis, although he consistently scores in the low- to mid-nineties, occasionally dipping into the eighties, meaning it isn’t ever by very much. And if he does go through a bad spell, well, there’s always tomorrow to look forward to.

    ‘The only regret I have about golf,’ he remarks with a smile, ‘is that I started playing it too late.’

    No question, though, Sohanlal Dass is making up for lost time – and loving every minute of it.

    GOLF UNLIMITED       

    ‘Golf is Sona’s passion, no doubt about it. He is here every single day – it’s a given that he will be out on the course first thing in the morning. The club encourages it and I think it’s fantastic that he is able to play so much. These days, modern equipment and golf carts have made it possible for players to keep on enjoying the game well into their later lives and we have a good number of players in their eighties who tee it up every week.’ – Mark Schacht, general manager at Milnerton Golf Club

    – By Brendan Barratt

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