Kathmandu Golf

Capt. W. Patrick Gordon, M.Sc.
(Written before the Nepal earthquake. Best to recheck information if you are thinking of going.)

My wife, Emily, and I have made several trips to Nepal over the years. However, those trips were for the purpose of mountain trekking or river running. It never occurred to us to go to Nepal to play golf. It didn’t take much research on the Internet to find out that you really could play golf in Kathmandu, on a grass course. A full 18 holes and, conveniently located at the edge of this intriguing city.

I remembered the crowded traffic conditions in Kathmandu and wanted to get as close to the golf course as possible. On arrival, we learned that there are numerous, world-class hotels within a 30 minute cab ride of the course. For the first few nights we booked the Gorkana Forest Resort. It’s the home of the only 18-hole golf course in Nepal and it was carved out of the King’s hunting preserve by Gleneagles Golf Developments of Scotland. The 6,715 yard, par 72 golf course is on the Asian Pro Tour and was a delightful challenge for both of us with handicaps in the mid “teens.” 

The first hole is a wonderful attention-getting par four. A fairly long, downhill drive is required to a moderately narrow splash down area on the fairway. On the right side of the fairway, the jungle is steep and thick. The good news is that if you miss the fairway on the left you are in a bit of reasonable rough. If you miss the fairway a-lot-left you’re on another fairway and can play a reasonable second shot from there. Of course, with my natural slice, my caddy, Suboss, spent a lot of time on that hillside. I found it incredible that he could retrieve so many of my errant shots.

If you wonder why I refer to a “splash down area” on the fairway, it’s because I didn’t bother to check the weather when I booked this golf trip. After many years here in the Middle East, it’s easy to forget that other parts of the world have dramatically changing weather throughout the year. Since I didn’t check the weather, we managed to go there in the middle of the monsoon season. As a result of my cunning planning, the course was never very crowded, just a few other rabid golfers like us wandering around on the squishy fairways drenching themselves with each divot taken.

I thought Kathmandu would be a close and quick getaway during the Eid Al Fitr break and it certainly is. Etihad Airways has non-stop, direct, frequent flights into Kathmandu. The departure times from Abu Dhabi are convenient and the flight time is only about 4 hours.

The front 9 of the course runs back and forth among the foothills of the Himalayas with a few holes through what was probably flat, grazing land for animals when the place was a hunting preserve.

The altitude of the course, above sea level, was, surprisingly, not that high. I hadn’t checked that either and we were pleasantly surprised. I figured that if we could trek there we could play golf there. So, luckily, we had easy walking and very picturesque golfing on the front 9. Lots of monkeys on the course and we could hear “Barking Deer” in the jungle. We were told that one could spot the occasional Leopard on the property but we were never that fortunate. I wonder if fortunate is the right word for that?

The back 9 is a lot more hilly and, consequently, tougher to walk with water hazards on nearly all of the holes.

On our first day, the weather was “relatively” dry so we could use a golf buggy and we easily completed 18 holes of golf in a little over 3 hours. That night, the rains came and for the rest of the week the course was too wet to use buggies so we walked.

We played 9 holes of golf daily for the next four days in a row, alternating between the front and back 9. Both halves were quite enjoyable to play, even in the wet conditions with winter rules. 

The staff at the hotel was wonderful. Since the buildings had been constructed years ago for the royal family, the rooms at the resort were a bit dark. The hotel lobby, restaurant, facilities and rooms were huge, spotlessly clean but, again, dark. Old fashioned construction had utilized dark stone and even darker timbers. Windows were heavily draped to the advantage of late sleepers. After a couple of days, to experience more of Kathmandu, we changed hotels and moved to the Hyatt Regency where the staff was equally excellent but the construction was more modern and much brighter. 418|

The Hyatt in Kathmandu is lovely, the rooms are spacious, well lighted with big windows and lots of lamps for when you wanted the drapes closed and best of all, the beds were wonderfully comfortable and the internet connection was superb. You can’t walk from breakfast to the first tee but the hotel is only a 20 minute cab ride from the golf course.

While in Kathmandu, we celebrated our 28th wedding anniversary and went to the Dwarika Hotel for dinner on the recommendation of the Concierge at the Hyatt. http://dwarikas.com/images/flash/dw.swf

The hotel is a joy to visit and would probably be wonderful to stay at since it’s the winner of the PATA Heritage Award and the INTACH-SATTE Heritage Award. It also reportedly has the best Nepali restaurant in the country, the Krishna Arpan. We arrived at the Dwarika Hotel and took a short tour of the facility before we settled into our little seats on the floor of the restaurant. A Nepali man came up all smiles saying, “Hello Mr. Gordon it’s so nice to see you here in my country.” It’s surprising; no shocking, to be so familiarly addressed in a part of the world where you don’t expect to see anyone you know. I was recognized by Ramesh Sapkota who used to work in the restaurant at the City Golf Club in Abu Dhabi. He had been back home in Kathmandu for about a year. His expatriate time in Abu Dhabi had provided him with enough experience to now be the new restaurant manager.

The Nepalese are a very handsome nationality; extremely well educated and most of the ones I know speak excellent English. They are very popular in the workforce here in the UAE because of their honesty and work ethic.

I tried to keep our anniversary activities for the evening a secret in order to surprise Emily. However, I learned one thing for sure; if you want to keep a secret don’t tell a Nepali. The staff at the Hyatt kept coming up to tell us what a wonderful time we would have at the Dwarki Hotel for our wedding anniversary. I kept trying to cover Emily’s ears but we wound up laughing about the incessant information leaks.

Neither of us knew what to expect that evening so exposing my secret plan wasn’t all that much of an issue. We both enjoy the occasional “bubbly” and I wanted to surprise Emily with a great bottle of Champaign. When we completed our greetings with Ramesh, the waiter came up with the wine menu and I pointed to Dom Perignon on the wine list and nodded my head, trying to be discreet. The waiter looked at me, her eyes wide, and said loudly, “DOM PERIGNON???” There was instant silence in the room while everybody looked at us and another secret blown to hell in a hand basket.

The waitress retrieved, then opened the bottle for us. She obviously hadn’t been trained to open Champaign. As the cork popped off the ceiling and the precious contents spewed everywhere she stuck her finger in the bottle to stop the flow. She then asked, “Would you like to try it first sir?” I burst out laughing and replied, “No thanks it will probably taste like your finger. Just pour it.” Laughing and snorting “bubbly” through our noses, we drank it anyway. I imagine it’s fairly expensive to train staff to correctly open a bottle of Champaign, but it’s surely worth it to ensure that it’s done properly. It might even be considered good management training policy to allow the staff to drink their mistakes. Nah, probably not.

Our Champaign episode was followed by a wonderful 6-course, Krishnarpan Dinner that was a feast for the eyes as well as for the taste buds. Our previous exposure to Nepalese food was confined to what could be put together over an outside fire on the side of a mountain. We had no idea how lovely the true Nepalese cuisine could be.

If your significant other balks at the idea of going to Nepal, assure them that there is a lot to do in Kathmandu even if you’re not a golfer. There is fascinating shopping in the souks, day trips in the city, forest walks, bird watching, river float trips and more. If you are a golfer Gokarna Forest Resort, in Kathmandu, is one of those courses you must play, especially since, here in the UAE, we’re so close to Nepal anyway.

The monsoon season is easy to avoid if you’re smart enough to check the weather. It’s best during the winter months from October through February. Kathmandu is about the same latitude as Cairo so it won’t be that cold. 

Just think of the bragging rights back at your home golf club where, over a drink in the bar after a round of golf, you can say with elan, “By the way, did I ever tell you about playing golf in Kathmandu?”