Friday, July 11, 2008

Coaching at 14,000 Feet

Photo- Team picture Punakha, Bhutan

Editor's Note: This is the second in a two-part series on golf professional Scott Janus' trip to teach golf in the Kingdom of Bhutan.


As the golf coach for the Kingdom of Bhutan, Scott Janus had three objectives: to teach the game to the children of Bhutan, to introduce golf into the nation's school system, and to teach golf to the officials in the Indian army.

The first two aspects of Janus' nearly six-month visit to Bhutan created truly unforgettable memories for the 30-year-old Chicago native who now runs the Janus Golf Academy.

"The most interesting part of my stay was taking a 25-day trip across Bhutan," Janus said. "I traveled over 1,200 kilometers to help implement golf into the schools. I stayed an average of five days at each school."

Janus was assigned a driver and a four-wheel-drive sport-utility vehicle, and together, they braved Bhutan's dangerously inadequate roads through the eastern Himalayas Mountains, visiting schools along the way. Some schools, however, couldn't be reached by roads.

"One of my favorite trips was to Gasa Secondary School," Janus said. "It's just a few miles south of Tibet. We had to drive eight hours down dirt roads, and we literally came to the end of the road. They called it the end point.

"From there, a porter met us with six ponies, and we trekked for six hours through trails to get to the town of Gasa."

While the town itself has a population of just 50 people, the secondary school is home to 102 children.

In Gasa,
"Kids will walk up to 2 1/2 hours each way each day to attend this school," Janus said. "It was just so cool. The town was at about 14,000 feet. It was just amazing to see how desolate (it was), a town that has no road to it, and doesn't get many outside visitors. The kids were just so grateful to be able to learn about golf. Most of them had heard about it, but they don't have TVs or the Internet, so they didn't think they'd ever have the opportunity to play golf."

Janus started with the bare basics, teaching the rules of the game, then began working on teaching the students everything from proper grip and stance to finer points of swing mechanics. He even helped them build a few golf courses. These courses weren't modern nine-hole layouts with well-manicured tee-boxes, fairways and greens. Since Bhutan is located entirely in the mountains, Janus and his students took advantage of any flat piece of land to bury a cup, adorn it with a flag, and call it good.

"We actually built small junior courses in each spot," Janus said. "We cut holes, put flags in, and made tee boxes. Their lawn mowers are the goats.

"Technically, golf started with farmers in Scotland who would shoot toward a rabbit hole out in a field. They didn't have manicured greens or course layouts. They just went to a hole in the ground, so that's how I know this could happen. That's how golf was invented, so why not go back to how it originated in Scotland?"

Students in Bhutan are required to speak English as a secondary language, so Janus had a relatively easy time communicating with his pupils. They treated him like royalty.

"They were very grateful to have a coach from America," said Janus, noting that not everyone knew where America was.

"The kids in Gasa had never heard of America. When you don't have television or the Internet, you don't know about the rest of the world.

"Everything was 'yes, coach,' or 'yes, sir.' I was not able to carry a bag. As soon as it was on my shoulder, they would grab it and carry it. They knew it was a great opportunity, and they didn't take it for granted. They just constantly said 'thank you.'

"We went all the way from basic fundamentals to advanced swing mechanics. I taught them the same way I would teach a collegiate champion or a tour professional. Some of them were very good. I taught them everything from etiquette, to rules, to swing mechanics."

Photo-Coach Janus with the Principle of Gasa

A majority of the golf equipment in Bhutan is donated through the Bhutan Youth Golf Association, which was created by Sports Illustrated writer Rick Lipsey. Most of the clubs are old hand-me-downs, but during Janus' last week in Bhutan, Taylor Made donated 40 sets of youth clubs to the nation.

"That was pretty cool, unpacking 40 brand new sets of clubs for the kids. They were thrilled," Janus said.

Since his trip to Bhutan, Janus has devoted himself to building better golfers across The United States through his golf school, the Janus Golf Academy. But even helping turn a weekend hacker into a scratch golfer wouldn't bring about the satisfaction of sharing the game with hundreds of wide-eyed young Bhutanese children.

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