by Matt Cooper

A few years ago I played golf in Kazakhstan – a remote and unlikely location, a mountain range overlooking the course, and a playing partner who lived in one of the houses lining the fairways. House? More like palace. He was something to do with oil and his golfing ability was ropey at best.

Fast forward to 2017 and I found myself playing golf in Nepal – another remote and unlikely location, another mountain range overlooking the course, another playing partner who lived by the fairway. That, however, is where all similarities end.

Pratima Sherpa, an 18-year-old from Kathmandu, lives with her parents in a room at one end of the greenkeeping shed at Royal Nepal Golf Club.

Different circumstances, different world and different golfer, too, because Pratima can actually play. In fact, she plays it very well and her dream is to become Nepal’s first female professional.

I first heard Pratima’s story from Oliver Horovitz, author of ‘An American Caddie in St Andrews’, who travelled to the Himalayas last year in search of golf that would inspire him and instead found a golfer who did the trick.

Horovitz offered to carry Pratima’s bag in the club’s Pepsi Open and says of that experience: “What she’s doing is a big deal and I got to witness it first-hand. I’ve caddied for pros, celebrities and for amateurs, and honestly that was one of my favourite days caddying because I could see the dream in her eyes and how hard she works for it.

“As we walked around all these ladies in flowing orange robes would be tending to the greens and she’s be waving at them because they’re her friends. But to these ladies Pratima is their hero. And you know what? She’s my hero too.”

As I also discovered, Pratima has an amazing effect on everyone around the course, not least when beating Englishmen: the caddies are tickled by it; passers-by, who stop at the wire fence to watch, are curious about it; even the monkeys seem to know something a bit special is happening.

She first played the game for fun, using sticks outside the shed, but when the club’s teaching pro, Sachin Bhattarai, heard about her, he quickly introduced her to his junior programme, persuading members to get her clubs and coaching for free.

Living on a golf course is the dream for any young golfer and Pratima knows it. That said, Royal Nepal is not quite like Birkdale, Troon, Porthcawl, or any other club with royal patronage.

For one thing it was bestowed by the King of Nepal, who played on an early incarnation of the course, when the greens were oiled brown. It has a distinct nature which explains Pratima’s strong ball-striking. Seven of the small greens are raised, several are very shallow, all are firm. To hold the greens you have to be aggressive, bold and control your ball.

The ninth hole shares a fairway with the driving range and it’s not the only quirky feature of the course – there are those monkeys roaming the rough, a road full of cars and trucks honking horns runs alongside the fourth fairway and the international airport is the other side of the clubhouse.

Pratima’s parents met working at the club and have lived in the shed all of Pratima’s life, but they were initially wary of her playing. Her father says: “Only rich people’s kids would come to play so I didn’t want to send her. Her studies would suffer.” His daughter’s passion overcame the hurdles.

Horovitz has set up “It has one simple goal – to help Pratima become the first ever female golf pro in Nepal,” he explains. “And we’ve been blown away with all the support so far. It’s inspiring and wonderful. Pratima’s journey really is just beginning.”

The imminent monsoon rains won’t keep Pratima from the course, but it struck me there was a way we might help. Lady Golfer spoke to FootJoy UK who watched the video and had no hesitation in donating a rainsuit which will make practice that bit easier as she furthers her ambitions.

How good is she? Tee to green she’s excellent. I’ve watched a lot of Ladies European Tour golf and was impressed. She and Bhattarai know work is needed on her short game and it is something they will address when she finishes school and can travel more.

Ability matters, but so does attitude and later in my trip I played at the Himalayan Golf Club where the caddies were keen to show me their swings, but it was notable that they were untrained and showing off.

The contrast with Pratima was marked. She played golf, she played to shoot low numbers, she knew what she was doing. They just wanted to hit the ball a long way.

It’s a fine distinction, but it might make all the difference for the small girl with the big dream.


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