Vizag, like many other cities, is also home to many exclusive clubs dating back to the British Era. And this popular culture of the West has found its home in the City of Destiny. Matching up to the service and standards of yesteryear, these clubs have become a symbol of status. Clubs were instituted by the British with the purpose of providing convivial surroundings where they could meet, exchange pleasantries, and indulge in a drink or two after the rigours of the day’s work. Though the entry for natives only happened in the due course of time, only prominent people were allowed during the early stages of these clubs. This changed over time, as the clubs were open to people who could afford them.
Today the clubs have much more to offer. While the age-old activities like socialising and dining are still prevalent, there are more on offer such as working out in the gym, indulging in a bout of snooker, cooling off in the pool (or by the poolside), watching a movie… and the usual, downing a peg or two, catching up on one’s reading or just updating oneself on the latest buzz of what’s happening about town. The four most prestigious and happening clubs in Vizag are the Waltair Club, the IBP Century Club, the Golf Club, and the Officer’s Club. Each of these clubs has their own history, are steeped in tradition, and represent a classy mix of the older tradition-bound generation and the young blood of today’s young dynamic achievers.
THE WALTAIR CLUB
The oldest club in Vizag, once the bastion of the British officers of the East Coast Railway and the East Coast Battalion stationed in the town back in 1883. Later, a few affluent Indians with powerful connections were eventually allowed to become members. The original club started off on a modest scale and was run from 1908 to 1920 by The Spencer and Company. The club back then had horse stables and sheds which presently house the best and snazziest cars in town, making it one of the posh clubs in Vizag
The Waltair Club took the first initiative to install two diesel generators from the M/s Crompton Engineering Company, electrifying the club way back in 1912. Over the years, many new buildings and facilities have come up. There is a Jubilee Hall with ample parking area which is popular amongst the members for hosting functions and club programmes. There are two auditoriums, one the closed Centenary Auditorium with a seating capacity of 2,000 and an open-air auditorium where every Friday a movie is screened. The health club with a well-equipped gym boasts a playpen for kids. The club is also equipped with beauty saloons and home theatres along with a spacious library.
But the favourite haunt of the regulars is on the Lawns with a Bar attached. There is also a Band-stand where a live band plays soft numbers adding to the cool evening ambience, just perfect for relaxing and chilling out. What stands out is the old-world charm and the abundant greenery all around the British Era club in Visakhapatnam.
THE CENTURY CLUB
In the 1930s, the Waltair was a ‘Propah English Club’ that shunned most of the Indians. Frustrated, in the year 1934, the Century Club came up in retaliation, and in no time established itself as a coveted club. Lord Erskine, laid the foundation stone on 20 December 1934. Since then, the club has been a hub of activities encouraging literary, sporting, and socialising activities for its members. The biggest draw of this club was the proximity to the open sea, breezy ambience, and the company of top Indian thinkers of that time. Known as the Society Club earlier, the club grew from a one-room structure to an impressive block over time. The Maharaja of Jeypore was one of the founding members of the club. Known as one of the oldest clubs in Vizag, it was later re-christened as Izzat-Asar Balasurya Prasad Rao Century Club (I.B.P. Century Club), Visakhapatnam.
Located in Maharanipeta, the heart of the city, the I.B.P. Century Club has a quaint traditional club atmosphere and offers quite a few services. It also offers sports facilities like snooker, table tennis, tennis, shuttle, and billiards. There is a Gym, health club, beauty parlour, library, yoga camps, and an internet café. To cater to families, there is a ladies lounge, a family restaurant, a children’s park, and a senior citizen’s recreation hall. The club also has an open-air cinema theatre for members to view movies every Saturday. The roof garden with an attached bar is the main attraction.
THE OFFICER’S CLUB
Yet again frustrated with the membership limitations of the Waltair Club, few Indian gazetted officers, including IAS officers of Indian origin, fought for the formation of The Officer’s Club with the help of the then collector, Arjun Rao, IAS, who intervened and forced the Waltair Club to part with some land from its holding.
Temporary sheds were put up on the designated land and a tennis court was laid out. It took a while, but the successive stream of IAS and IPS officers added bit by bit to the club during their respective stints in the city. Initially, the membership of the club was limited to the gazetted officers of the state and Central Government employees. But with the income being insufficient, Mr Venkatarami Reddy, the then VUDA VC, hit upon the idea of inviting prominent industrialists to become honorary life members by making a sizeable donation.
With an influx of funds, the club saw major renovations under the tenure of the then Police Commissioner Sambasiva Rao IPS. The facilities available in the club include a large open-air theatre where movies are shown every weekend, verdant lawns, clay tennis courts, fully furnished classy rooms available for a nominal rent, a well-appointed gym, a plush reading lounge, a well-stocked bar, and good canteen.
The very name of Vizag’s Golf Course brings to mind the greenery, majestic trees, shrubbery, wide expanses of groomed lawn, sand traps, gentle hills, and the soothing atmosphere far away from the hustle and bustle of a noisy city. It is truly a tranquil paradise with only an occasional yell from the golfers as they traverse the length and breadth of the course on a peaceful Sunday morning. The East Point Golf Club (EPGC), the oldest golf club in Vizag and Andhra Pradesh, was initially built for the British stationed in Visakhapatnam. One of the largest clubs in Vizag, it is 110 acres of lush green meadows, fairways, and 18 holes laid out on an undulating landscape, dotted with tall Palmyra trees and water bodies. The course has natural hazards, roughs and most of the bunkers adjoining the greens have come with the originality of the land.
It originated about the same time as the Waltair Club, around 1884, and was located on a piece of land leased from the Zamindar of Cheemudu, (now VUDA Park) as an extension to the Waltair Club. It originated as a nine-hole course. Later, the golf club severed relations with the Waltair Club and was renamed – The East Point Golf Club (EPGC).
The present premises were sanctioned to the club, thanks to the efforts of the Vizianagaram ruler, an avid golfer himself. He got 100 acres of land sanctioned from the Municipality for a 99-year lease at an annual rent of Rs. 500 on the condition that the entire land was to be developed in 10 years. All the members put in their mite – financially and physically to develop the course. By 1974, under the leadership of Captain Saldhana, and the planning of M R Sripada Rao, the club was raised to an 18-hole course spanning the entire 100 acres.
Today, the Golf Course is one of the best, providing very good facilities for golfing. With civilians and the navy pitching in, all the ‘browns’ are now ‘greens’; there is a separate ‘Ladies Tee-box’, and the natural drainage has been further improved by adding embankments. There is a practice range, coaching facilities, golf clubs for hire, regular tournaments making it one of the greatest clubs. In addition, there is also a clubhouse wherein eats, drinks and snacks are available.
All these clubs in Vizag have affiliations with prestigious clubs in various metros such as Mumbai, Delhi, and such, where members can avail themselves of the club facilities and also stay in the well-furnished air-conditioned rooms at a nominal tariff.
Be it for social reasons, for the health-conscious, or just a status symbol, the institution of the club has become a vital and integral part of everyday life, especially for the who’s who of Vizag. And with their high membership fees and scarce availability, these club memberships have become a status symbol in urban India.