Golf course in Shingkhar (GCS): Why I say NO!

One fine afternoon as I went online wanting to update with facebook, I saw a notification about "Government planning to start a Golf course in Shingkhar" posted by Acho Phuntsho. It was just a news. It was neutral but he said we need to think and comment. I thought I could instantly comment and I wrote few lines on the wall but I felt I can better inform people by doing a search than instantly broadcasting my hunch. So, I searched the net for costs and benefits of a golf course for a semi-nomadic village. My search was quite generic and I couldn't get the answer I was looking for, may be a Case study. Later I learnt that officers from the dzongkhag along with the interested parties visited the village for a consultation. I couldn't collect a clear view of what they said then. After a couple of months Dr. Karma Phuntsho a research associate for social anthropology at Cambridge University came up with a petition ( against the GCS along with a Farsighted  futuristic view "Dialogue from the future" by Dasho Karma Ura  the president of Bhutan's only think tank the Center for Bhutan Studies. I connected this link to the Facebook page for the information of the Doro's. After many days and months, now I have ultimately formed an informed opinion and can say NO! to GCS based on the following justifications.

This justification is inspired by a private message ( on Facebook) from Acho Lhendrup Tharchen to me to come up with a sort of a report from a financial perspective. I tried to do so but this study was altogether of a different genre, far away from conventional accounting (costing concepts), that is, to stratify costs and benefits in quantifiable terms (numbers and decimals). I gave a second thought on why I should quantify those non-quantifiable qualitative dimensions (such as social, environmental, spiritual and cultural costs)?. I realized it is best to leave it unnumbered because the true picture will be distorted if I do so. In fact I wanted to present it in terms of two probable events.

1) If Golf course business is not successful

To start a business it is a normal practice to contribute own money or take loan. Lets assume they resort to  loan to develop the course. The basic reason being, a golf course is a million dollar business and 100% equity is not a sustainable option. There are three standards of golf courses viz, minimalist course, average course and up scale course. It costs US$ 0.521 million for minimalist course, US$ 2.218 million for average course and US$ 5.814 million for upscale course ( Turner Macpherson Golf Design 2007). Mind you, these costs are dollar denominated, not Ngultrum!. To avail loans of these amount the banks require mortgages. Most probably as Dasho Karma Ura pointed out in his "Dialogue from the future", the land under the    the proposed course qualify as the mortgage and say development starts.
Once it is complete, the they start teeing around without sustainable number of golfers; because Bhutan is not a professional golfing destination as we do not have any history of golfing to boast in the first place. Golf is an expensive and a game of the elite to second. Only the elites can play paying the exorbitant fees. Bhutanese market is largely made up of moderately educated middle income people and the only course in the Tashichodzong area is seen most of the time underutilized, so Bhutanese as a target market is ruled out on the ground of economic in-feasibility.
The only option to explore is the international market. To get access to international market is a herculean task; when the golfing business world wide is following a downward trend, that nearly 50% of golfing businesses reported fall in revenues (KPMG,Golf Benchmark Survey 2010). The resort courses and courses linked to residential communities appear to be hit the hardest than stand alone courses and the proposed course in Shingkhar seems to be a resort course. When established golf courses find themselves fighting to keep pace, for a golf course in Shingkhar it is an enormous challenge as accessibility is a real problem with just one expensive airliner and just one  bad road access point.
One main reason why revenues of the golfing businesses slumped in growth was the economic recession and its aftermath. Another reason why sporting tourists may not choose to come to Bhutan to play golf is because they have many cheaper options to go and play else where in other parts of the world. Bhutan with its tourism policy of 'high volume Low impact' discourages the number of tourists. For instance an individual tourist has to pay US$ 265 /day/person (inclusive of surcharge of $40 and single room supplementary of $25) during high seasons and  US$ 245 (inclusive of surcharge of $40 and single room supplementary of $25) during low seasons. This rate of tariff is applicable for cultural tourists as we don't have separate rates for sporting tourists.Generally sporting tourists tariff are quite higher than general cultural tourist tariffs. On the contrary  five star Spanish golf at Polaris World’s InterContinental La Torre Golf Resort in Murcia is offered at US$390. Due to sheer cost, golfing business will be very expensive here in Bhutan. For the reasons that i have stated above Golfing business will be bust at the end and the loan repayment will be defaulted. Subsequently the land will be seized by the bank in lieu of the loan. Thus depriving the local people the free use of the land permanently. A portion of Shingkhar will be lost permanently this way. Even if it is given back it would have been badly contaminated by chemicals rendering it useless.

2) If golf course business is successful

In contradiction to the event presented above, lets assume golf business picks up. Golf business might turn successful if exceptionally lots of money is spent on marketing. If marketing turns successful, then the case would be same like cultural tourists. The numbers can be expected to increase if proper arrangements for transportation and seasons not to coincide with the cultural or harsh seasons. One important factor in business is cost. Lets assume the project embarks on a penetration costing strategy, in which case the business will grow.
Over the short term people will be blinded by the drips and draps of the growing golf business. They will be getting a portion of lease rental provided the MoU mandates, after Royalty payment to the government. But then this will be a root cause of community dispute if not managed properly. Young people may be employed as caddies. Older lot may get as night gaurds, sweepers, lawn mowers and peons. I cant see any lucrative opportunity than this but these trivial opportunities are enough to lure our poor farmers from abondoning their cattle raising and farming over the long term.
As discussed earlier elitists' culture will gradually intrude peoples economic aspiration. People might turn money craving mad materialists from decently contended smiling farmers. Societal dynamics will be lost forever. For instance today you can trust that community labour contribution can bring home your construction materials at the cost of just a working lunch. Should grief strike you, villagers swarm for help that you sometimes forget to miss the deceased, and I mean it. Think if these values go out of the door. What price can you tag on this loss?
Shingkhar Chodpai is one avenue where we demonstrate our cultural and spiritual identity and solidarity. It was an exitement as a carefree small boy to watch the fearful mask dances and the fun of unconventional dramas of the Drala Pangtey by Chad Doji and his sons( as often used by Acho Kunzang Thinley in his writings about shingkhar). Now as a grown literate man I cant help but appreciate the meanings of my exitement and fun as a child derived from this five day program. This was simply a testimony of liberation and peace. What if, golfing replaces this event, because you dont get paid for carrying the mask of Chad Doji for five days which you do as a delightful voluntary duty but you earn for carrying the golfer's bag for a day. Golf has benefits in monetary terms whereas the Chodpai fulfills your spiritual needs and which is largely unverifiable but are the natural reasons for enduring peace and serenity. Losing this cultural identity for a consumerist golf culture could be a lose: lose trading. This loses may not happen overnight but with time it certainly will .
If we lose our community values, cultural identities and sense of belonging then no amount of US$'s can justify the change for good.
In both the situations people will be deprived of the pastures for their cattles, initiating a down turn of its own version economically; because cattle rearing supports on an average of 50% of household livelihood of all villagers.
From the two probable events that i have projected above, Shingkhar doesnt seem to benefit from either of them. If Golf business is not successful Shingkhar could lose the land or get back an unusable patch of land. If golf business is successful Shingkhar would lose itself by stripping off of  community values, cultural identities and all those aspects that describe Shingkhar the best. Therefore, in any case Golf course in Shingkhar is not a viable option and If any policy maker sees it otherwise, please dont hesitate to refer nine domains and 72 indicators of GNH. I bet it will cure your jaundiced-myopic view!

  1. Turner Macpherson Golf Design 2007, Golf Course Builders Association of America,  ASGCA, and DGA)
  2. KPMG,Golf Benchmark Survey 2010, A survey of golf course owners and operators in Europe, Middle East and Africa


  1. Namgay,

    I can very well see Shingkhar turning into a dismal contaminated village, should the golf course business come to our village.

    and its been quite sometime, that i have been contemplating on it. I am thinking of writing a small note to PM, since he is now on facebook.

    but on the other hand, I think the golf course business will die its own death and your reasons are good enough. May be in few days time, I might as well come up with my economic reasonings as to why golf course shouldn't come to Shingkhar..

    it was nice going through your writeup.

  2. Brother that could be a noble initiative! But now i am in a process of being very much sckeptical about what the government and the PM says!

  3. Namgay, Take it easy, i think golf course is never going to come to shingkhar for another century or so.

    so relax. Dont worry. I think Govt is; if not wise no fool either. for now lets pray to meme ragula and make suret that who ever touches shingkhar's plain for golf course, will be met with a damning consequences...


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