Friday, July 11, 2008

A Whole New World

Photo-Coach Janus in Gasa, Bhutan
Editor's Note: The following is the first in a two-part series about golf professional Scott Janus' trip to teach golf in the Kingdom of Bhutan.


Most Americans are quite familiar with Tibet, but ask the same people what they know about the Kingdom of Bhutan and you're likely to get nothing more than a blank stare.

It's not surprising. The Kingdom of Bhutan is a relatively small country — roughly a fifth the size of the state of Michigan — located just south of Tibet in the eastern Himalayas.

Up until the last quarter century, foreign visitors were not allowed in Bhutan, and even in 2006, just 12,000 tourists were permitted to enter the country for a taste of Bhutan's Buddhist culture.

Nine out of 10 Bhutanese are farmers, and the nation's No. 1 pastime is archery. All that being said, Bhutan would seem like an odd place for a golf professional to spend nearly six months. But that's exactly where Scott Janus found himself this past year, hired as the golf coach for the Kingdom of Bhutan.

"My three main tasks were to teach the youth of Thimphu (Bhutan's capital city), to coach the officials of the Indian army, and to implement golf into the schools," said Janus, 30, who now runs the Janus Golf Academy.

Janus, a native of Chicago, interviewed for the position in California with Rick Lipsey of Sports Illustrated, a member of the Bhutan Youth Golf Association.

After doing some research on his destination, Janus began a voyage across 12 time zones, a trip right out of an Indiana Jones film. He flew from Chicago to Detroit to Tokyo, then from Tokyo to Bangkok, before flying into Thimphu.

"The trip took 28 hours of travel time," Janus said.

"The first thing I noticed was there was a dirt road from the airport to the capital," Janus said. "It took us about three hours. Most of the roads in the country have yet to be developed. It was really interesting. Their entire culture is still intact. They still wear native clothing every day. It was very different, living on the other side of the earth. It was a totally different culture. It was exciting to see a country that just received television in 1995 and the Internet in 2002."

Photo: Downtown Thimphu, Clock Tower
Janus spent a majority of his stay in Thimphu, where he lived in a modern apartment building, complete with electricity and running water. The apartment complex housed guests of the nation who were experts in various fields, from the arts to professional trades.

Another resident of the complex was Ugen Tshering. Throughout most of its history, Bhutan's government has been run by a monarchy, but during Janus' stay, the king gave up the power of his position in favor of a democratic government, and Tshering won the first public election ever held in the country.

Photo-Ugen Tshering election ceremony

"It's the first peaceful transition from a monarchy to a democracy in the history of the world," Janus said. "The king gave up his power to the people. He gave up his rule in the favor of a democracy."

Visitors to Bhutan are typically provided a guide. Visa fees are among the highest in the world at over $200 per day, and tourists visas are typically for a maximum of 14 days. To stay longer, you must be invited by the royal family. Since Janus' stay was by invitation, he was free to come and go as he pleased during his time in Thimphu.

Photo-Coach Janus congratulating the new Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ugen Tshering

Golf In Bhutan

While the United States is home to many golf courses, the entire Kingdom of Bhutan features just seven golf courses, mostly of the nine-hole variety.

Photo-Royal Thimphu Golf Club

"There are three golf courses in the capital, one in Ha, and the remaining courses were built and are owned by the Indian army," Janus said. "Most of them are in pretty good condition. I'd say there are three championship courses."

Photos-Coach Janus training officials at the Indian Embassy Golf Course in the Capital of Bhutan

Janus said the popularity of the game of golf is growing rapidly across Asia, especially in India and China, where the number of golf courses has risen dramatically over the past decade.

The Indian army occupies Bhutan as peace keepers and defenders of the nation. The officers in the Indian army are golf fanatics, and part of Janus' duty in Bhutan was to help sharpen the game of these officers.

"Golf is just exploding in Asia," Janus said. "China had five golf courses in 2002, and now there are over 380. In Thailand and India, it's just erupting. It's by far the fastest-growing sport in Asia. It's all because of Tiger Woods.

"Golf is intertwined into the Indian army. The Indian embassy housed a nine-hole course. They were very passionate and very grateful to have a professional coach."

"They took full advantage of it. I had a full military transport to the embassy."

But teaching golf to Indian military officials didn't have nearly the effect on Janus as teaching the game to the children of Bhutan.

Check out Wednesday's Tribune to read about Janus' experiences teaching golf to the youth of Bhutan.

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