I was introduced to this crazy game of golf by my father at six, and have been playing regularly ever since then. Over the years I have been privileged to watch the popularity of this sport grow at a slow but steady rate in Nepal.
Back in 1981 when I started playing, there were but two golf courses in the country, one near the present airport in Kathmandu, and the other in Dharan in the south east of Nepal, which was built by the British Gurkhas. At that time hardly any Nepali played at the Royal Nepal Golf Club (RNGC), with the majority of golfers being expatriates and diplomats.
In the past decade the number of courses in Nepal has grown to seven, with three in Kathmandu, two in Pokhara and one each in Dharan and Nawalparasi. Golf as a sport doesn't grow without practice facilities and we are fortunate to have two practice driving ranges, one in Bafal near Soaltee Crowne Plaza and the other in Pokhara near the airport. These two ranges along with practice facilities at the golf clubs themselves are the breeding grounds for the growing number of players in Nepal.
The revolutionary year for golf in Nepal could be 1993, when the first professional golf tournament sponsored by Surya Tobacco was held at RNGC. Aspiring amateurs in the country were given their first chance to play with the big boys, and the exposure of playing for prestige in a high pressure environment was invaluable.
The Surya Nepal Open was played at RNGC until 1998, and then with the arrival of a full-length international standard golf course, the event moved to the newly opened Gokarna Golf Club. Today, the tournament is called Surya Nepal Masters and is the biggest professional sporting event in the country.
The opening of Gokarna Golf Course and the arrival of top professionals in the region meant that the media began to take more interest, and today it promotes golf more than ever before. This makes the tournament sponsors happy, and a cycle of growth can be seen from the many new golfers in Nepal who have started playing in the past three years.
Golf programs on cable TV and sports channels, and growing local news coverage creates curiosity and awareness. The increasing numbers of local players and competitions points to a healthy future for golf in Nepal.
A great advantage of taking up this game is that it is a lifelong sport, playable at any age. The phenomenal arrival of Tiger Woods a few years back boosted golf's appeal worldwide and had an impact on the youth of our country as well. Before young Woods took the golf world by storm, the game was generally considered elitist, an old man's sport, but he dispelled this myth once and for all. The number of teenagers and those in their early 20s playing golf in Nepal today is proof enough.
Though you may have to start young to make golf your profession, it is a sport that can be taken up and enjoyed later in life, and played well into the twilight years, something I have every intention of doing.
Deepak Acharya is a golf instructor and Head Golf Professional at Gokarna Forest Golf Resort & Spa, Kathmandu.