Golfing in the Kingdom of Bhutan

By: Jack Fox

Tshendra

Tshendra’s attempts a two on the Par 5 with a 4 iron from 190 yards away. My driver Pema, who has never heard of the sport golf, stands behind him

Landlocked between China and India in the Himalayan mountain range, Bhutan is one of the most geographically, politically and technologically isolated countries in the world. With just three nine hole golf courses, it is very much an emerging golfing nation. Royal Thimphu, the only course in playable condition, is probably the most remote in the world. According to Tshendra Dorji, the person who would later become my caddy, there are 200 golfers in the entire kingdom.

A friend who once shared a class with Queen Jetsun Pema at London’s Regent’s College suggested that the sheer absurdity of golfing in this remote kingdom must not be done without inviting the King and Queen. And so I did. The Royal Secretariat claims that the royal family sees all correspondence that is personally addressed but surely the Queen has more important things to do such as worming the corgis or grouting the royal bathroom. With no mailing address to be found my only option is to fax an invitation to the Cabinet Secretariat but the number listed on their website does not seem to work. After futile attempts to contact the Secretariat I have no choice but to email my travel agent for help:

Letter from Jack

Letter from Sonam

Royal Thimphu Golf Club

It is said that an Indian army officer brought golf to Bhutan in the 1970s by convincing the King to let him build a golf course but the sport only flourished in 2007 when PGA golfer Scott Janus appointed himself Head Golf Coach of the Kindgom of Bhutan, a position he held for 1 year.

The proshop/clubshop at Royal Thimphu is owned and operated by Ms. Gyem Lhamo. It sells a modest selection of premium branded golf balls, Foot Joy golf shoes and gloves, Golf Pride grips, plastic tees, other accessories, club paraphernalia and has 8 sets of Taylor Made and Mizuno graphite golf sets for rent. Having travelled light to Bhutan I was happy to acquire my own rental clubs for the day. A set of regular flexed True Temper steel shafted Taylor Made R9s irons and their graphite shaft wood/driver counterparts.

The majority of the nation’s golfers are high-ranking government officials, diplomats and members of the royal family. Recently, a burgeoning community of travel agency owners have taken up membership and about twenty foreigners come to play the course each year, most of whom are wealthy Japanese tourists.

Tshendra says that the Bhutan Golf Federation could use some help from foreigners to really get things cracking for the professional golf scene. Contrary to what I had thought, the Bhutan Golf Federation only governs handicapped golfers. Although there are 11 scratch golfers in the entire kingdom, the kindgom does not produce professional golfers in the absence of funding from a professional body. I asked Tshendra how he compares to the other scratch golfers – he reckons he’s in the top 5 in Bhutan. Tshenda’s lowest score at Royal Thimphu is an impressive 30 (-5), and the course record is 28 (-7), set by his friend.

18th Hole - Royal Thimpu Golf Club

18th Hole – Royal Thimpu Golf Club

The Par 3 on Hole 8 is my last chance to attempt a hole in one. I look across the valley and think to myself 180 yards and Tshendra is handing me a 7 and 8 iron? Trustingly I take a 7 iron while wondering if he has mistaken me for the Tiger Woods, as I would normally use a 4 iron from this distance.

I carefully place the tee in the ground, and throw some loose grass in the air to access the speed and direction of the wind. After one practice swing I step up to the tee, swing the club back and…bang, I completely fluff it. I hook the ball nastily and it is heading for the trees to the left of the green. Such was my desperation to make a hole in one that I let an extended expletive so loudly that a couple of more aged players on a completely separate fairway look around in complete horror.

Fortunately the ball bounces off a tree and lands perfectly on the green. Amazingly, it comes to rest about eight feet from the hole. Those same pensioners who I had offended seconds before now witnessed me jumping up and down in triumphant delight.

The approach to the final hole is beautiful. The fairways are well maintained, the undulations well thought out, and the abundance of trees on both sides of the fairway make this, in my opinion, the course’s signature hole. As we approach the green the sun sets sharply though the skies still dark blue, the temperature is in the low teens, and I think to myself – this is indeed one of the most memorable golfing days of my life, right up there with North Korea.

About Jack Fox

Jack Fox is an adventure capitalist based in Asia. Diagnosed with incurable dromomania at birth, he has led a massively digressive academic/career path spanning four continents as a film student, investment banker, DJ, freelance writer and entrepreneur. When not cycling or golfing in a cholera-ridden corner of planet earth, it's uncertain what he gets up to, says his relentlessly concerned mother.

One Response to “Golfing in the Kingdom of Bhutan”

  1. Tom W says:

    Horrible article, Coach Janus is one of the top golf coaches in the world. Looks like the guy who wrote the article is a really bad writer. Coach Janus was selected by a writer from Sports Illustrated. Please update the article. Makes your website look really bad. LOL

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