Himalayan Golf Course, Nepal

11th hole, 170 yards: At first this one-shotter seems innocuous, but a closer study reveals that its simple minimalist design would make architects such as Tom Doak proud.  With the strong left-to-right pitch of the ground and a drop-off to the right, the architects showed admirable restraint and merely located the green between the two.  The golfer cannot afford to miss the green to the right, but there is plenty of room for a well-played shot to find its way onto the green, whether via the direct or indirect (bounced in from the left) route.

HGC 11T

While there is a severe drop-off to the right, there is plenty of room to bounce the ball into the green from the left. This option offers a nice contrasts to the demands of the two preceding one-shotters (the 4th and 7th).

HGC 11 to 12 walk

Such is the nature of the property that the player can be forgiven for occasionally forgetting he is playing golf. Just as with the walk from the 11th to 12th holes at Cape Breton Highlands, the golfer does not object to the rare hike between holes.

12th hole, 360 yards: While the river is on the left, the smart as well as conservative play is to the right, as a pitch from the right side of the fairway leaves the golfer a view of the green, while a tee shot down the middle or left leaves a blind approach over the bridge spanning the river.  While just a pitch, the approach becomes more intimidating with each round, as the player realizes how difficult it is to hold the small, firm green guarded tightly on the left by a burn and on the right and behind by some of the few bunkers on the course.  Much like Royal Ashdown Forest, bunkers often are not needed at Himalayan Golf Course as the landscape provides plenty of challenge.

HGC 12F

This bridge obstructs a view of the green if the tee shot is played down the left.

HGC 12G

Invisible from the fairway, this burn tightly guards the left side of the 12th green.

13th hole, 460 yards: This big hole has much to offer: strategy off the tee (if a player hugs the river on the left, he is rewarded with an open approach to the green; if he cautiously plays to the right, he has a blind approach and awkward angle).  To top it off, this must be one of the most magically sited greens in golf.  Every bit the equal of the dramatic 6th, at least to this author.

HGC 10 - 13

From the clubhouse area on top of the canyon, the left-to-right sweep of the 13th hole (to the right of the river) can be appreciated, with the green out of sight beyond the bluff on the right.

 Not your typical parkland course: A pushed tee shot on the 13th may find water buffalo.

Not your typical parkland course: A pushed tee shot on the 13th may find water buffalo.

The view around the corner to the 13th  green after a well-placed tee shot.

The view around the corner to the 13th green after a well-placed tee shot.

HGC 13G

The 13th green, sited wonderfully between the river on the left and bluff on the right. (There was no flagstick this day.)

15th hole, 515 yards: A topsy-turvy hole in the finest links tradition, the 15th bends left before climbing up and over a hill that, for 75 yards, tumbles down to a green.  The thrilling view from the top of the hill, with the welcoming green below and the magnificent 6th beyond as well as, on a clear day, the Annapurnas, reinforces the notion that somehow this spectacular course keeps one-upping itself as the round progresses.

A view that would fit in perfectly on the back nine at Cruden Bay: The second on the 15th, with the goal of playing a long shot just to the right of the ball boy on top of the hill.

A view that would fit in perfectly on the back nine at Cruden Bay: The second on the 15th, with the goal of playing a long shot just to the right of the ball boy on top of the hill.

HGC 15G

The view from the top of the hill in the fairway, 75 yards short of the green. Even in this land-locked country known for having the world’s tallest mountains, this hole was designed and built in the finest spirit of links golf.

Looking back up the 15th fairway.  The way out of the canyon to the 16th tee is visible to the right.  While many would ordinarily be shocked at such a hike between holes, in Nepal few will blink at this, as, after all, so many people travel thousands of miles to Nepal for the very purpose of trekking.

Looking back up the 15th fairway. The way out of the canyon to the 16th tee is visible to the right. While many would ordinarily be shocked at such a hike between holes, in Nepal few will blink at this, as, after all, so many people travel thousands of miles to Nepal for the very purpose of trekking.

16th hole, 165 yards: The small tee on the very edge of the canyon, reminds the golfer of one of Loyal Chapman’s “Infamous 18” fantasy golf holes.  The tee shot must carry the sheer drop of at least 200 feet to a green that is, for practical purposes, set away from the edge of the canyon.  The green itself is one of the rare push-up greens of the course, ensuring challenging recovering shots from around it.

HGC 16T Version 2

The one-shot 16th. Believe it or not, there is a green on the far side of the rim, beyond the low stone wall. The 15th green is below, with the 6th hole extending beyond.

As can be told by the clubface position, this swing was definitely of the “don’t miss it right” nature; it was also of the “don’t lose your balance and fall to your death” variety.

So far this profile has barely mentioned the spectacular (an inadequate adjective) views that the course enjoys for part of the year (especially during the late fall and winter, when the course remains open).  On a clear day, the Annapurna massif provides a backdrop like no other in the world of golf, with three (!!) of the world’s fourteen 8000 meter peaks visible.  The reasons for this omission are that (1) mountains were not visible during the author’s April 2014 visit and (2) the backdrop is merely icing on the cake and not essential to the course’s greatness.  Even on a hazy day, the course leaves the golfer marveling at its design and canyon setting; on a clear day, the golfer is in danger of sensory overload, so strong is the experience.  Fream sums up this sentiment by saying that “’Golf with a view’ would be an understatement.”

This course profile would not be complete without reference to the course conditioning.  Not surprisingly, the course is on a tight budget for maintenance. For example, the holes on the putting greens are moved perhaps once each month.  Ron Fream notes “Hand built greens have gone from sand to a form of Tifdwarf Bermuda grass. Paspalum was delivered on one visit to see how that grass could compete on fairways with the local cow grass and animal grazing.  Maintenance remains basic.  Local women hand pull weeds and rake bunkers.  The greens are mowed by a power mower these days, but two men must carry the mower from hole to hole on their shoulders.  Fairway grasses are as rainfall directs and animal grazing progresses.”

Some of the maintenance staff tending to the 15th fairway.

Some of the maintenance staff tending to the 15th fairway.

An image that would make greenkeepers everywhere count their blessings – a greens mower being carried between holes.

An image that would make greenkeepers everywhere count their blessings – a greens mower being carried between holes. In fact, the greens mower itself was kindly donated by The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews after visiting the course about six years ago. Photo courtesy of Ron Fream.

Most holes in the canyon have fences around the greens, to keep off the sheep, cattle and buffalo (who also are responsible for much of the course maintenance).   The altitude of Pokhara is  nearly 2500 feet above sea level and has a sub tropical climate.  Combined with the little rainfall that the area sees, the result is an intriguingly firm course (e.g., the pitch across the river to the small, tightly defended 12th green is most demanding).  Ultimately the course plans to convert its fairways to Zoysia to provide better turf and allow golfers more reasonably to play the ball as it lies.

How, then to sum up Himalayan Golf Course?  Let Tom Doak have the final word:

High praise from Tom in the course’s guestbook after his 2012 visit.

High praise from Tom in the course’s guestbook after his 2012 visit.

The End