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THE WOOD AND IRON GAME

I remember the early morning wake up calls I got from my father during school holidays. In those days I only wish that I were as enthusiastic as father was. Late mornings were what I looked forward to at home after the Godavari school regime of 6 o'clock bells ringing right next to our ears. My father had re-invented the game in Nepal, years after the golfing Ranas had packed up their bags and left since the Gauchar (cattle pasture) became an airport. A handful of Nepalese exposed to this game during foreign postings or military training afar were the first members of the golf club my father helped start as its founding president. Rest of them were foreigners on deputation here. My father General Kiran Shumsher J. B. Rana had retired from the army as its chief in 1956 A.D. and, with significant influence this post held even after retirement, he had been able to wrest a good chunk of pasture land to the north-west section of the airport for a golf course. He became the founding president of the Gauchar Golf Club.

I used to wake up early and brace the winter cold during school holidays and accompany my father for a walk-about the course while he was swinging. What distance the small white ball could travel, sometimes even the eyes failed to see! But the ball boy had this uncanny ability to retrieve the ball from roughs and ditches which never failed to amaze me. Looking for lost balls was a thrill on its own right, specially when one could not swing.

I remember the club had its stature enhanced when Prince Basundhara Bir Bikram Shah, youngest brother of the reigning king Mahendra started appearing. He and his elder brother Prince Himalaya had taken cadet training in the military under my father's supervision and so they were close. I remember the royal appearances well as there used to be this striking blond lady Barbara at his side, always. Perhaps he needed an incentive to participate in this often frustrating game. Sometime during this period I remember the prince gifting a new McGregor Golf Club set to my father. Things had started to get serious.

King Mahendra signing Visitors' Book with Prince Basundhara
offering light from his cigarette lighter
In 1965 Prince Basundhara became the president of the newly re-named Royal Nepal Golf Club and had his brother the king formally inaugurate the club at a ribbon-cutting ceremony. There is this photograph still extant at the new club house where the prince is burning his cigarette lighter to show King Mahendra the VIP guest book brighter for the king's signature - I guess load shedding was not uncommon even then. Golfers must have heaved a collective sigh of relief; the airport authorities would not touch this land for many more years to come.

So just who were those golfing Ranas before my father started a new course? Golfing came to India in a big way after the British started the first golf club outside their own shores in Calcutta. Established in 1829 A.D., a full 59 years before the first club in United States or Continental Europe came into existence, it was called the Royal Calcutta Golf Club. During the Rana regime Calcutta was the trend setter, the repository of high society, the accessible near abroad. Along with the all-pervasive British manners and mores came golfing too. Reports are sketchy but a certain General Laba Shumsher was supposed to have organized a tournament as far back as 1929 A.D.! General Brahma Shumsher J. B. Rana was another one of the pioneers. It was their initiative that introduced golfing to Nepal, albeit in the rarefied atmosphere of Rana indulgence. I cannot imagine them opening up the course to commoners, a goal my father set out to achieve with the new club - another milestone in the opening up of the country after the revolution of 1951 A.D.

From those humble beginnings golfing in Nepal has matured today. There are even professional tournaments held here under the auspices of corporate sponsors like Surya Tobacco. Pro-am (professional and amateur) tournaments are held where the pros play without handicap and compete against amateurs playing with handicap, more for fun than winning.

A golf course was opened in Gokarna the former hunting reserve of the rulers of Nepal when the Crown Property leased it to developers. Nepal Army now has its own course too. Outside the Kathmandu valley, there are a couple of more golf courses, two in Pokhara and one in Dharan at the former Gurkha army recruitment centre.

The Royal Nepal Golf Club organizes a memorial tournament for my father's contribution. I have started swinging too, more for fun than accomplishment, many times culminating in sheer frustration rather than pure joy. But the spirit my father left behind is alive and well, I only wish I took those early morning wake-up calls more seriously!

Comments

  1. Another fascinating historical anecdote.

    On the theme of golf, I wonder whether it can still be considered an "elitist" sport. Golf equipment and course fees are definitely on the expensive side. After all, a golfer, the great Tiger Woods, is the world's first sports billionaire.

    Question being, how relevant is golf in the "Federal Democratic (maybe soon to be People's) Republic of Nepal?

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  2. Golfing is a major opportunity to attract foreign direct investment into the country as the course needs ancillary facilities like club house, restaurants, hotel beds, spa. Tourism growth is the target. Even deserts are greening today in Qatar and Dubai. It is time to take PKD swinging, he might even look like a real proletarian after he loses some pounds.

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