For the love of golf: Remembering J. Rathakrishnan

J. Rathakrishnan was passionate about golf. — Picture courtesy of R Loheswar via ParGolf
J. Rathakrishnan was passionate about golf. — Picture courtesy of R Loheswar via ParGolf

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COMMENTARY, Feb 22 — In my many years covering golf, if there was one person I met who was truly passionate about the game in the purest sense, it was J. Rathakrishnan. The former Malaysian Golf Association (MGA) general manager loved golf for what it was and what it could do, not for what it could bring him, and that remained true until his death on Saturday, February 20 at age 75.

Born in Sungai Petani but domiciled in Ipoh for much of his golden years, Ratha – as he is fondly known in golfing circles and to friends – enjoyed a distinguished teaching career which included a spell in Kuala Terengganu at the teacher’s training college in Pasir Panjang. Apres teaching having retired as senior assistant at ACS Ipoh, and following a few years with Royal Perak Golf Club (RPGC) as sports manager, Ratha spent more than a decade with the MGA, joining the national body in 1997 as operations officer and moving up to general manager by the time he retired in 2007.

I was reasonably well-entrenched in the golf media during Ratha’s MGA days but was always a little in awe of the man, perhaps due to his fatherly-like disposition when it came to dealing with industry folk who were a mite younger. But it was always fun and oddly reassuring having Ratha around at events, and you could always count on him – once the work was done, of course – to sit down and chat over a teh tarik or, if the occasion permitted, a mug or two of the golden brew.

With beloved wife Lanka Devi during a trip to Myanmar in 2018.
With beloved wife Lanka Devi during a trip to Myanmar in 2018.

Warm tributes flowed in from the golf industry following Ratha’s untimely passing due to a heart attack, including from one of his proteges, Tropicana Golf & Country Resort deputy general manger V. Ravindran who succeeded Ratha as MGA general manager.

“I knew Ratha since 1987 when I visited Kuala Terengganu and he was serving the club committee. We became friends since then for a good 34 years, of which three years we were colleagues at MGA. I served under him as senior manager and deputy general manager from 2004 to 2007,” recalled Ravindran.

“Ratha was a very jovial person but he was strict at work and a good teacher, never reluctant to pass on his knowledge. He was also a very good golfer and passionate about developing the game for both juniors and seniors. A true guru.

“His last phone call with me was from his hospital bed and we talked about his health, work and family. I never thought it would be our last chat sad,” he added.

Another former MGA protege, Sara Ismail, who is now the association’s deputy general manager, noted of Ratha: “He was a very kind boss and always looked after his staff. I am going to miss him dearly. Rest in peace Mr Ratha.”

Former MGA vice-president Low Teck San also has warm recollections of working with Ratha. “As a colleague, Ratha had an unassuming character and always gave his best to all his assignments.

“As a friend, he was always helpful and benevolent. He was especially family-oriented and, while working in KL would leave most weekends for his home in Ipoh to be with his family,” noted Low, who is also a former CEO of RPGC.

An avid sportsman in his younger days with a knack for hockey and cricket, Ratha took up golf in the early 1970s while teaching in Kulim and got his handicap down to single digits in his heyday. Post-MGA, he kept in touch with the game by volunteering for golf events including junior tournaments on the SportExcel circuit and, of course, spending time at his beloved RPGC where he not only golfed and socialised but helped other members with their games.

The club’s captain, Teo Piek Kee, said that they would miss having Ratha around. “I knew Ratha since the 1990s before he became general manager of MGA.  He was very active even then at the club and used to volunteer whenever we hosted major tournaments. I clearly remember he was helping out as scorer during the last Sukan Malaysia (SUKMA) Games in Perak three years ago.

“It is a sad day for us. I can’t believe he’s gone we were just having drinks at the club before the MCO,” said Teo.

Extended family photo during wife Lanka Devi’s 70th birthday celebration in 2017.
Extended family photo during wife Lanka Devi’s 70th birthday celebration in 2017.

Ratha leaves behind wife Lanka Devi, sons Yajneswar and Loheswar, and daughter Devi Sudarsani.

Loheswar, who inherited his dad’s love for sports and is now a journalist with The Malay Mail, penned this poignant note on social media: “My dad wasn’t a stay at home guy, he loved being outdoors and he loved sports especially playing golf and everything that came with it. 

“The camaraderie, the jokes, the drinks, the laughs and the friendships he fostered. He spent a lot of time at RPGC, eventually working there as the sports manager, and made sure the family also spent a lot of time there.

“When working at RPGC, he was very close with the workers there and would often give some of the poorer workers money when they were short. I was there a few times when he gave them RM20 or RM50 here and there and would tell them, ‘ko bayar balik bila boleh, kalau takde takpe, no big deal’.

“When working with MGA, he made it a point to bring the then Omega junior program to RPGC where hundreds of kids benefited from free golf lessons, while several golf pros were hired to teach the lot. Many of us kids got our handicaps after being in the program and most, if not all, are still avid golfers till today.

“To my recollection, he never had any ill will towards anyone. Never came back and bitched about anyone badly and never held a grudge.

“To sum up what my dad was like, as a kid, when I saw my first transvestite I wasn’t sure how to feel; but my dad said: ‘God made us in many different ways. He made them that way and we shouldn’t look down on them. They are also human beings with feelings and we need not treat them differently. They will appreciate it’.

“I’ve never looked nor judged anyone for what they are ever since.”

A legacy indeed. Rest in peace, Ratha and happy golfing! We’re quite sure if there’s no golf course up there, you’ll build one. — ParGolf