Saturday, October 15, 2011

(About 10,000 Feet) Above Par

I'm not a great golfer. Not even good, really. But I'm enthusiastic, and perhaps that's what convinced Dasho Tenzing to offer to play with me when I asked him about the possibility of playing at the one golf course in Bhutan, the Royal Thimphu Golf Course which sits above the city and overlooks the Tashicho Dzong, the palace where the King and Parliament do their work. Turns out Dasho is a member, and so said he'd round me up some clubs and meet me there on Friday afternoon.

So after our morning in the city signing the King's scrapbook, Betsy and I hopped in Sonam's trusty blue Hyundai and headed for the course.

Dasho had borrowed his brother's clubs for me to use, and apologized because there were no women's clubs to be found. Not surprising given that there are, according to him, only about four women in all of Bhutan who play golf.

We had caddies--my first ever, and I have to admit I quickly became enamored of my young friend who tracked my ball into the rather substantial rough each time I ended up there, and to be honest, I ended up there a lot. It's a tight nine-hole course with water hazards and bunkers aplenty, but I can't blame that for my mediocre play. Maybe I could blame the clubs, but to be honest, I'm not all that good when I play at home with my own clubs.

But the caddies--eager young boys who knew the course. Mine was especially helpful, quickly picking up the fact that my wedge shots are erratic and short. His name was Wangdue (pronounced something like "wahn-dee"), and he smiled slightly when I made a good shot, reacted not at all when I shanked my ball into the rough.

Have I mentioned the rough? It was grass high enough to swallow my ball and then spit it back when I tried to whack it back toward the fairway. It was living, breathing, moving grass.

Dasho was, as I expected, a marvelous golfer. He is an accomplished athlete who seems to do everything well. He was also excellent company on the course--encouraging, fun, patient.

I may play golf for another three decades, and I know I will never play a course as spectacular as this one. Every once in a while, I looked up from my spot in the rough and tried to take in the beauty of the landscape. Mountains reaching to the sky, the Dzong looming nearby. This was the backdrop for my less-than-stellar play.

Betsy was a faithful gallery member (and official photographer) who lasted 12 holes before heading back to the clubhouse to read and relax. She had a much different experience than she expected, however, but I'll let her tell you about that in her own post.

Dasho and I played 18 on the course, one that he tries to play about once a week. He is quite the skilled golfer, and it was a privilege to play with him. We talked golf, higher education, the Bhutanese economy, and why he founded RTC. He told me that when the fourth king ("K4" as he called him) told his kingdom that his dream for them was democracy, it meant that the old civil service system of employment was about to be undone. That left Dasho wondering what he would do with his life and his considerable talents (he's a UC-Berkeley grad with a degree in mechanical engineering). At the same time, he was struggling with the decision to send his children out of the country for secondary school, as were his siblings. He felt that Bhutan needed an educational system that would drive the new economy. His solution? Start a new college that would challenge the old way of education in Bhutan, which is based on the very regimented Indian system. And here he is, a few years later, essentially owning and running the only private college in the country.

And here he also was, on a golf course with an eager yet inept partner, pointing out the architectural features of the Dzong on one hole and tutoring me in hitting out of the rough on the next. Have I mentioned the rough? It was calf-high and haunted.

Dasho and his wife Ashi Khesang ("Ashi" is "princess" in Dzongkha) will be in Norton next May for their daughter Tenzin's graduation from Wheaton. I've promised him a round on one of our local courses, and promised him my game will improve between now and then. I suspect it won't matter all that much to him. He loves to be on the course, enjoying the weather. His attitude toward golf is exactly what we all need to adopt: "Golf is the perfect zen sport," he said. "Every shot is a new beginning."

True that, Dasho. See you in Norton.


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