In ancient days, golf courses were purposely built on fields where cattle grazed as keeping the grass trimmed over such large areas was a daunting and time-consuming task for people. In Nepal, when a group of Ranas returned from Scotland they chose to build their first golf playground at Gauchar (literally "where cattle graze"), the site of today's Tribhuban International Airport.
Over the centuries there have been revolutionary changes in golf course maintenance. In most parts of the world today sophisticated machinery and often expensive organic and inorganic enhancers play much more important roles than humans or animals. But in Nepal and other less affluent countries, it is still preferable to make use of natural methods, relying less on expensive and sensitive machinery and providing much needed job opportunities. A marvellous example of this can be seen at the Himalayan Golf Club in Pokhara. The course features breathtaking terrain and an adventurous back-to-nature approach-sheep and cows are allowed free access to graze on the fairways!
In order to understand the challenges faced by golf course maintenance teams, just imagine how much effort is required to keep the grass in your courtyard garden healthy, green and free of weeds. Now, project this onto a full golf course of perhaps more than 1,000 Ropanis (over 120 acres) and you can begin to imagine the almost Herculean task involved. To keep a course neat and trim you must deal with different varieties of grass that must be cut to particular lengths, from the roughs that measure a few inches, to the inch-and-a-half 'first cuts' and the inch-high fairways, right down to the evenly cut, half-millimetre putting greens. Add to this the need to maintain lakes, ponds, creeks, sand bunkers, thousands of trees, flowers, shrubs, then the nitty-gritty of pulling out weeds, removing litter and you begin to get an idea of how much is involved.
Maintenance must start well before sunrise, ensuring the course is playable for early morning enthusiasts and carries on till close to sunset. Many of the tasks are very sensitive and even a slight loss of concentration during this work can spoil playing conditions, which immediately invites criticism from discerning golfers.
Golf Digest has included Gokarna Forest Golf Resort in its list of the World's 100 Best Destination Golf Courses. The team behind this ongoing success includes Col. PM Saklani (pictured), the club's general manager of maintenance. I recently caught up with Col. Saklani, who had this to say: "Well, it's a fine compliment to hear from golfers that the course is in great condition. I feel that, apart from the heavy monsoon, the course generally stays in a good state." He added, "We have amongst the best greens in Asia due to the superb climate. We've also been able to manage the Bent grass greens well and the course has a very efficient drainage system which makes it playable within half an hour of a heavy downpour."
Col. Saklani was involved in the construction of the course in 1996, and nine years later enjoys his job immensely. He thanks his hard-working band of boys who keep the course in such great condition and says he particularly loves the ambience created by thousands of trees and other greenery along with the local animals.
One amazing adaptation he has made can be seen on the course throughout the summer when groups of women from the neighbouring Thali village enter nearly every day to cut the longer grass. As I watched them work I thought to myself how harmoniously the golf course and the ladies complimented each other. They were getting the much-needed grass for their cattle and the golf course was getting its roughs trimmed. How perfect!
Deepak Acharya is a golf instructor and Golf Director at Gokarna Forest Golf Resort & Spa, Kathmandu. [email protected]