There are only three golf courses in all of Thimpu, the capital of Bhutan, and none stretches beyond nine holes.
But it has not stopped the country on the so-called ‘roof of the world’ from having an impact at the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship.
Bhutan, wedged between India, Bangladesh and China in the eastern Himalayas, has two players in the 115-player field for the AAC at Royal Melbourne this week.
Both Dechen Ugyen, 21, and Tschendra Dorgi, 23, struggled in the unfamiliar surrounds at the composite course today but their appearance, along with many other players from countries not usually associated with golf, is part of the spirit of the AAC.
While the external focus on the tournament is upon the big prizes — the place in the field for the Masters at Augusta National and in the qualifying for the Open Championship — there is an equally important emphasis on development of the game in the region.
Archery is the national sport of Bhutan (population around 730,000), while football and darts are also popular pastimes. According to Ugyen, golf is only a small sport. “We have three courses, all nine holes, but only one that is in good condition,” he said. “The other one belongs to the Indian military, and the third one is for the army.”
One advantage that is guaranteed in Bhutan is a strong carry; it is estimated the ball flies 20 percent farther because of the altitude, around 7500 feet above sea level. “It flies farther,” said Ugyen. “At our course (Royal Thimpu Golf Club), we had no sprinklers, and we used to get a lot of roll. But now we have sprinklers it does not travel so far.
Ugyen, who carded an 84 today, was introduced to the game by his golf-loving father. The high point of his round today was his last blow, a holed bunker shot on the par-four ninth, for his only birdie.
This is his third AAC appearance and he also has represented Bhutan at the Asian Games, but the move to Australia has presented challenges for him in the sense that the course is miles away in character from what he is accustomed to. “I started nine-over for the first nine,” he said. “I was better for the second nine. The greens are really fast, it’s difficult to control the speed. Also, it’s difficult to control the ball with the second shot when it lands.”
Ugyen studied in Brisbane, Australia, for one year and wants to continue his studies in the United States soon. “Tomorrow, I feel I can play better than today,” he said.
Tschendra Dorgi carded an 86 today, finding the slick Royal Melbourne greens highly challenging.
“Especially the greens are very difficult, very fast,” he said.