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Adventures of a Golf Instructor in Bhutan

In Golfing on the Roof of the World, Rick Lipsey recounts his adventures as a golf instructor in Bhutan. Here, he and his wife get a taste of what it's like to play the game with Buddhists.

Soon after arriving in Bhutan, Carrie and I were soaking up the glorious panorama while standing on the first tee at the Royal Thimphu Golf Club in Thimphu, which has nine holes and two sets of tees for those who want to play eighteen. The course is twenty-seven-hundred yards long. I've played a lot of golf. I've played the holes hard by the Pacific Ocean at Pebble Beach and in Amen Corner at Augusta National. The sights and sounds here, though, were unlike anything I'd experienced on a golf course.

In one sense, the atmosphere was otherworldly and distinctly Himalayan. There were eagles soaring overhead and cavernous and lushly wooded mountains rising vertically to the sky around us. Horns from monks praying at a nearby monastery were blaring. The course was next to the gargantuan Thimphu dzong, a fortlike structure housing Bhutan's top government and religious officials. As we stood on the tee at the 120-yard downhill par-three first hole, gleaming right ahead of us and less than one hundred yards behind the green was a golden spire atop a regal-looking building that resembled a big monastery.

There were also some amusing Bhutanese touches. One was a local rule printed on the scorecard: "A ball lying within one club length around the tree can be dropped without penalty, no closer to the hole. If the golfer plays and hits the tree with his/her club, the player will automatically be disqualified." Protecting the natural environment is a key facet of Buddhism, which is the foundation of Bhutanese culture and its state religion, but I never expected to see the Buddhist mores in force at the golf course. I also heard men in the clubhouse talking about a tournament that is definitely unique to Bhutan: the Yak Open. The event, held every couple of years at Royal Thimphu, awards parts of a yak—raw and unskinned—to the winners. "The legs have the juiciest meat, so they go to the first-place man," a golfer told me.

Golfing on the Roof of the World by Rick Lipsey is scheduled to be published by Bloomsbury USA in June 2007 Excerpt copyright 2007 by Rick Lipsey.

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