Thimpu is the capital of Bhutan and home to the only publicly accessible golf course in the country, The Royal Thimpu Golf Club (RTGC). There are other courses in the country which exist for the Indian and Bhutanese military, however these are limited in size and also not in the best shape. RTGC is a nine hole course located roughly 7800 feet above sea level and thus is one of the most remote and unique courses in the world.
History of RTGC
Bhutan is a country of limited resources. It has thus received assistance in construction and other projects from a number of countries over the years. RTGC was actually first proposed by a General in the Indian military in the late 60s and initially completed in 1971. Further improvements to the course have been done with the help of visiting Japanese construction companies. As one travels through the country you will see plaques dedicated roads and bridges along with the name of the construction company or foundation that provided the construction expertise.
What is it like to play golf at RTGC?
Similar to playing golf in places like Colorado, the advantage of hitting a golf ball at this altitude is the carry! Flying about 20 percent farther, one simply can not escape the feeling of being equivalent to Dustin Johnson or Justin Thomas. The ball flies off the face and climbs up into the Himalayan peaks which frame the background. The view is stunning, yet also can play havok in club selection on par-3s.
Caddies are required. As is walking (there are no carts). Upon showing up at the clubhouse do not be surprise to be assigned a caddy... or perhaps two. When we played a second caddy (age 12) tagged along and helped carry clubs. No complaints from us, as the company was welcomed and we were glad to provide experience to the apprentice of the far more experienced 16 year old primary looper.
Bhutanese food options and accommodations have come a long way in recent years, and the balance between luxury and charm is very achievable thanks to options like the Zhiwa Ling hotels. In addition to its sister property in Thimpu, the Heritage is located in the Paro Valley and central to famed temples and monasteries- including Tiger's Nest.
This hotel's traditional Bhutanese architecture was handcrafted by local Bhutanese artisans and on the grounds exists a temple constructed with 450-year-old timbers. Its painted hand carved woodwork (both inside and out) combined with excellent western options for dining truly provide authenticity in addition to the comforts of home. This is truly a gem!
While the course is laid out clearly, the shape of the turf is not up to the standards afforded in more developed areas. Yet there is a watering system and the views of the government administration offices (Trashichhodzong) in the background surrounded by the mountains is something so unique.
The first 9 holes are to be played from the White tees while the second 9 are to be played from the Blue tees. Note, if playing in the afternoon, one must pause out of respect at 5pm while the flags are lowered when the offices close for the day.
1st Par-3: The first hole is an elevated tee box to a two-tiered green. There is an "artificial water hazard" on the left which should not come into play and attention should be paid to not flying the ball over the green due to the altitude!
A bunker on the right side and the back help contain errant initial strokes yet at a distance between 140 yards & 160 yards, and factoring the altitude and the rented clubs provided, the correct power should be perhaps a 110-yard pitching wedge stroke.
2nd, 502 yard par-5: The first of two back-to-back par 5s, being straight off of the tee is important as the rough under the trees is thick and fairway bunkers are a factor if the drive is not very accurate. The bunker seen in the picture below sits next to the green and protects it on the right side.
3rd, 532 yard, par-5: With a larger landing area this is an easier tee shot than the 2nd. While there is a fairway bunker on the right for those who slice, the only real worry on this hole is the deep bunker to the left side of the green.
4th- par 3: A tee shot through a trees to this green is difficult as there is both a bunker on the right and water on the left. Hit is straight and high to keep it on the green.
5th, 362 yard, par-4- A real treat! It's for pinch-me moments like this why we travel to places like Bhutan. This tee shot faces directly the Trashichhodzong directly and doglegs to the left. See the pictures below for inspiration.
6th, 267 yard, par-4: This is the easiest hole on the course, especially with the length provided by the thin air. Although there are six bunkers on this hole none of these will come into play with a controlled stroke off of the tee.
7th, 316 yard, par-4: Another jaw-dropping experience that one will not find on any other golf course in the world is the uphill tee shot on this hole. It should be played to the right of an old gate to the city. In the past this small temple marker was essentially the guard house on the road into Thimpu. Travelers would change from their soiled traveling attire into more formal attire prior to approaching the government offices.
8th, 216 yard, par-3: From this elevated tee box (47 feet above the green) club selection is interesting due to the elevation and thin air. There is a green-side bunker to the right but the real worry is carrying the ball too far and into the rough, which can be nasty.
9th, 411 yard, par-4: So sad to have completed the nine holes at such a quick pace, the approach shot of this hole is to a green located next to the club house. Because of the altitude a fairway bunker 300 yards on the right side easily comes into play... even by those who aren't big hitters.