“For the first time in Bhutan a nine-hole golf course has been constructed close to Tashichho Dzong. It will be known as Thimphu Golf Course (Tashi Tsethang).” 

Captioned, “Thimphu Golf Course Inaugurated,” the national newspaper published the story on 7 April 1971.  The weekly paper acknowledged the efforts put in by the Commander of the Indian Military Training Team (IMTRAT) for the construction. 

As a golf buff, IMTRAT Commander Maj. Gen. T.V Jeganathan, took personal interest in developing the nine-hole golf course. Instead of greens it had browns. The course was laid out on barren land on the fringes of prime paddy land in the heart of the capital under the General’s watchful eyes.

Popularly known as Jaggi, he was first the Chief Engineer of DANTAK. As the chief, with a rank of Colonel, he got to know His Late Majesty. After he got into an accident, he went back to India but he kept in touch with HLM and later came back to Thimphu as IMTRAT’s second Commandant (1968-1973) of IMTRAT. 

After constructing the course, Jaggi encouraged the Bhutanese to take up the new sport.  To ignite their interest, he employed the services of a professional coach.

According to Kuensel, His Royal Highness Prince Namgyal Wangchuck formally opened the Tashi Tsethang. The exact date is not mentioned. At the time, H.R.H. was President of the National Sports Association

When the course opened, the Association provided three and a half golf sets to the Club. For nominal fees, members could hire the club sets. However, members were encouraged to bring their own golf sets and balls. 


Besides the Kuensel article, not much has been written about the history of Tashi Tsethang. Fortunately, some of the early golfers are still around to share their stories. Recounting the history of the Thimphu Golf Club, Dasho Paljor J. Dorji (affectionately known as Dasho Benji) remembers Jeganathan putting up a request to His Late Majesty to build the golf course who supported and encouraged the idea. 

Dasho Benji said that His Late Majesty already had the idea.  Having seen Dantak’s golf course in Deothang in the southern foothills, His Late Majesty wanted to build a similar one in Thimphu.  The idea was that it would help safeguard the surrounding areas of Tashichhodzong from any form of construction.

One of the early Secretaries of the Tashi Tsethang, Dasho Tobgay Sonam Dorji confirms this. During the inauguration of the renovated course in 1992, he said, that the idea of establishing a golf course was first introduced by King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck to beautify the vicinity of Tashichhodzong and the town with open spaces. 

It is most likely that His Late Majesty first saw a golf course in Calcutta. In 1934, he accompanied his parents there as guests of the British. At the time, he was seven-years old. The British Political Officer (1933-1935) Mr. Fredrick Willamson and his wife accompanied the royal entourage. 

The Willamsons arranged His Majesty the Second Druk Gyalpo’s visit to the famous Tollygunge Golf Course. White paper records that the Bhutanese delegation visited many places of interest and on the list is the Tollygunge Golf Course. 

Founded in 1895, the Tollygunge Club was the only country club of its kind in India. Spread over 100 acres, it is ranked amongst the top 20 golf clubs worldwide, so befitting a royal visit. 

Amongst the photos from the Willamsons’ archive, there is one showing His Majesty the Second Druk Gyalpo trying his hand at golf.

A local resident who grew up in the vicinity of the Tashi Tsethang said that the Tashichhodzong restoration works had just been completed. Ugyen Wangdi’s father, Zimpon Jowchu was in charge of the renovation works. He remembers that as a consequence of the construction, a small rudimentary town had mushroomed next to the Dzong. All the elite business houses of today grew from this temporary township. A cinema was established next to the Chuba chu chorten near the bridge. The idea was to make a green precinct zone around the Dzong.

Building beautiful golf courses is not easy. It not only takes resources both human and capital, but also much time and personal commitment to build a world golf course. 

The driver of the sport was His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo. Shortly, after the Tashi Tsethang was opened, His Majesty the Third King passed away. His Majesty the Fourth King was the first Bhutanese to take a personal interest in golf. He not only opened the course but also was the main driver for the sport. 

Because of the royal patronage, it was not long before the course took shape. Trees were planted around the perimeter and the area was transformed from barren land into one of the most beautiful golf courses. 

As the first Secretary of the Golf Club, Dasho Benji recounts who in 1972, H.R.H Ashi Sonam Choden Wangchuck built the Club House as a gift to His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo. In an unprecedented move, H.R.H also gifted 9,300 shares of the successful Penden Cement Authority Limited, dividends from which were used to sustain the Tashi Tsethang.

In the late 1970s when His Majesty the Fourth King took a break from golf till the early 1980s, interest in golf declined. The number of players reduced drastically and the golf course was not in the best condition. 

Dasho Ugyen Dorji (popularly known as Dasho Rinpoche) stepped up. He helped maintain the course and kept it going until interest in golf picked up again. True to his form as one of our most successful entrepreneurs, Dasho introduced a flock of sheep with a shepherd. The 40 sheep were effective at keeping the grass down.

Browns to Green

In 1974, Dr. Len Milton led a group to Bhutan. The group consisted of American doctors and members of the American Olympic Association. According to Dasho Tobgay S. Dorji, Milton thought it was a good idea to promote a Bhutanese Olympic golf team. After training, the Bhutan golf team participated in the Asian games. While Bhutan came second last, it beat China.

The program culminated in the up gradation of the Thimphu Golf Course. Dr. Milton was responsible for sending to Bhutan an award-winning golf course architect, licensed landscape architect Stephen Kay, who has focused entirely on golf course architecture since 1983. 

In 1988, Kay came to Bhutan and transformed the Thimphu course, changing it from browns to greens. With a major facelift, the course was now at another level. Unfortunately, due to lack of funds, the Club could not maintain the greens. Eventually they fell into disarray and the golfers reverted to playing the browns. It is possible that Kay was responsible for setting up the two sets of tees that are assigned on each hole, one placed in the front and the other at the back, making it an 18-hole golf course.

Another avid early golfer was late Goob (senior attendant to His Majesty) Sonam Wangchuk. After seeing some old photos of the golf course taken by Brian and Felicity Shaw in the early 1980s, he said, “That’s when I started golf. It brings back beautiful memories.” 

Popularly known as Tally, he was a regular at the Thimphu Golf Course. Before he passed away, he recounted his happy times at the course. He said that in earlier years he used to ride a 250cc Honda motorcycle all over the course, jumping the tees and the drains trying to keep up with his boss.

Fulking Blue Grass

In 1988, Bhutan appointed Mr. Hajimi Onishi as its Honorary Consul in Japan. As proprietor of the Golf Promotion Company, he owned and managed 32 golf courses around the world. His construction company, Onishi Constuction had 40 years of experience in building golf courses. During a visit to Bhutan, he offered to improve the Thimphu Golf Course.

By mid-April 1992, work on the course started. Headlined “Japanese give Thimphu golf course dramatic face lift,” Kuensel covered the story in its issue of 18 April. 

In the article Kuensel shared the plans of how the Japanese company would smoothen the terrain, plant grass and trees, and construct an underground drainage system to drain away excess water. In July at the peak of the moonson rains, grass was planted. Five tonnes of seeds namely the Merion Blue Grass, Fulking Blue Grass, Kentucky Blue Grass and Creeping Bent Grass were imported to green the course.

Kuensel quoted the President of Onishi Construction Mr. Satoshi Onishi’s determination to make the Thimphu Golf Course a premier golf course. He said the reason for the renovation of the course was to promote friendship between the Bhutanese and others as it was a good platform to meet informally. He also said that many Japanese people enjoyed golf and it was cheap for many of them to fly outside the country to play the game. 

In six months the golf course had a complete make over. Kuensel again covered the event. Captioned “Renovated golf course inaugurated” the article of 31 October 1992 states “With a smooth terrain covered in lush imported grass, an underground drainage system and carefully planted trees coming up at selected locations, the Royal Bhutan Golf Course was inaugurated on October 29 by Her Royal Highness Ashi Dechen Wangmo Wangchuck.” The Head of the Golf Promotion Company Mr. Satoshi Onishi represented owner of the Onishi company, Mr Hajimi Onishi at the function. Mr Hajimi Onishi was made an honorary President of the Royal Bhutan Golf Club for life.


Nearly eight decades after our Second King’s visit to the Tollygunge Club, the RTGC established affiliation with this esteemed club. Situated at 2,300m altitude with breath-taking views, RTGC is renowned as one of the world’s most spectacular golf courses. The par 70, 2,965-yard course, featuring narrow fairways and challenging roughs, boasts over 100 members. A collaboration involving monarchs, an Indian General, a Japanese tycoon, an American golf architect, a flock of 40 sheep, devoted golfers, has contributed to make the Royal Thimphu Golf Club unique.

Contributed by

Tshering Tashi