Nepali Times
Holes in the Himalaya


Even in Nepal, young, talented golfers are stepping up to the tee and dazzling us with their swing. Eleven professionals took part in the fourth annual Surya Nepal Western Open last weekend in Pokhara's scenic Himalayan Golf Course which has been described as one of the most vertical courses in the world.

"What it lacks in refinement, it makes up for in character," quipped one player. Nepali pro, Ramesh Nagarkoti, won the Pokhara event.

Organised by Surya Nepal, the tournament aimed to encourage local participation while giving Nepali professionals some practice before the biggest golf event of the year, the Surya Nepal Masters. This four-day event, that ends 30 November at the Gokarna Forest Golf Resort, is part of the Indian Professional Golf Association (IPGA) tour. It is also the only easy opportunity for many Nepali professionals to perform in an international event.

Major Ram Bahadur Gurung, chairman of the Himalayan Golf Course here, gives full credit to Surya Nepal. "I cannot think of any other corporate house that has done so much for golf development in Nepal," he told us. However, Surya Nepal had to overcome many hazards and immovable obstacles. "Golf is not popular in Nepal," says Rabi Raj Aryal of Surya Nepal. "There are a handful of courses, very few Nepali professionals, and most importantly, there are not enough opportunities." It is obviously going to take time to cultivate local professionals. One of the organisers of the Pokhara event, Shrinivas Baniya of Surya, says the group's main role is to promote Nepali professionals and give them an opportunity to compete in an international event.

As event managers, Tiger Sports Marketing of India has been helping handle the tournaments for the last three years. "Hats off to Surya Nepal," says Joy Chakravarti of Tiger Sports. "What they are doing is admirable in organising the biggest sporting event in Nepal." He thinks Nepal should further entice golf tourists, since they spend an average of five times more per capita than back-packer travellers.

Chakravarti is all praise for the Himalayan Golf Course in Pokhara. "This is a breathtaking course, the natural beauty is stupendous," he says.

Nepali pros themselves admit that Nepal has not met its mark in golf. Deepak Acharya, 27, started playing golf at age five. He is passionate about the sport and feels lucky that he was able to turn his hobby into a profession. He has played on the Indian tour and qualified for the World Cup, competing against top players from all over the world like Constantino Rocca from Italy and Alexander Cezka from Germany.

Like most Nepali professionals, however, Acharya cannot making a living from it and supplements his income by coaching. "It is tough to be a professional in Nepal. People feel golf is too expensive, but when more people play, the expense decreases," he adds, "If the tour comes we can raise the standard of golf in Nepal."

Taking part in Gokarna are past Indian champions, Uttam Singh Mundy and Feroze Ali. Leading Nepali pro, Dipak Thapa Magar is also playing with Ramesh Nagarkoti and Pashupati Sharma. Nagarkoti and Sharma have played on the Indian tour in the hope of improving their game. However, they soon found they were not earning enough to sustain their expenses between tournaments and returned to Nepal.

Here, they are so busy coaching at the Royal Nepal Golf Club that they find little time for practice. It is difficult to afford a caddy, and golf equipment is expensive. While foreign professionals change their golf set each year, Nagarkoti has been using his current set for eight years.

Suman Sachdev, director of Le Meridien Kathmandu's Gokarna Forest Golf Resort says this high profile sports event puts "Nepal on the golfing map" and the tremendous response to the Surya Nepal Masters is testimony to this.

"Nepal's professional golfers and top amateurs get a chance to compete with the region's best players on an international standard golf course on their home turf.

"This is a huge step forward," Sachdev told us. And what a fantastic way to promote Nepal, too. Says Sachdev:
"Along with a full week of press coverage, these well-known professionals will take back the word that Nepal is a great place to visit."

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)