Nepal caddie turns into a golfing champ

More interested in football, the last thing Sukra Rai thought he would become was a professional golfer.

But when a friend asked the 12-year-old Rai in 2010 to caddie at the golf course in the former British Army base in Dharan during a professional tournament, he had no idea he would be launching a career.

“I earned Rs800 in just two days,” Rai recalls 12 years later. “I was attracted by the money at first. Even my friends who were into football later came along to caddie.”

An 18-hole golf course was built in Dharan in 1960 by the British and when the base was closed in 1985, locals started taking interest in golf and the course was revived.

It was not a love at first shot for Rai. But as he continued as a caddie boy, his interest in golf awakened. He would play with his fellow caddies on ‘Caddie Day’ which would take place every Wednesday.

He would also participate in the ‘Golf Clinic’ the senior golfers held for school children under the tutelage of professional golfers like Sabin Sapkota, Devraj Pakhrin and Munni Kumar Rai.

Gradually, the seniors noticed Rai’s strokes and focus. They set him up with clubs and amenities, and Rai’s golf life took off.

He participated in the first caddie match organised in Dharan and won. “The club members had raised money to organise the game”, says Rai. “I played 18 handicaps in the first match and crossed the level with 18 overs.”

Then in 2012, Rai participated in the Junior Golf Tournament organised by the Nepal Golf Association. He won second place in the junior category a year later. After that it was one win after another.

“Not being able to practice during lockdown was frustrating,” says Rai who practices ten hours each day, till 6 in the evening.

Rai started playing in the Surya Nepal tours in 2014 and won his first Surya Nepal Eastern Open in the amateur category that same year. In 2015 he came second but was the amateur champion in the 2016 and 2017.

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In 2018 he overtook even the professional players Shiva Ram Shrestha, Ravi Khadka and Bhuwan Nagarkoti to win the tournament trophy. Rai went on to win two major titles in the Surya Nepal Golf Tour 2019 season, becoming the first amateur golfer to win two trophies in the same season.

In 2017, he was the group winner and third seed in the Bhutan Open Golf Championship and went on to be first seed in the same competition in 2019. That year Rai also won the Amateur Open Championship in Bangladesh.

In the 7th National Golf Championship in 2016, he bagged gold in both group and individual competitions. The following year, he won the championship. In the 13th South Asian Games held in Nepal in 2019, he won gold in team and bronze in individual competitions.

“I was the happiest when I won in the South Asian Games”, says Rai. “If young people like me enter golf, then the sport has a great future in Nepal.”

Rai missed out on his studies as his sports career took flight, but he is not disheartened. Now a professional golfer, Rai won the Dharan Open and the Surya Nepal Western Open in 2021. He has also already won the 2022 Eastern Open and Central Open.

“More golf tournaments are taking place in Nepal and the prize money is also increasing” Rai says: “It is now possible to make a career in golf if one is willing to work hard.”

In the household previously run by his father and older brother, Rai has begun to contribute financially with his tour prize money. Even then, it is difficult to bear his golf and family expenses. A set of golf equipment costs up to Rs300,000, but a good second-hand set can be bought for under NRs40,000 and used for up to three years. In addition, professionals pay 12,000 rupees yearly to play in the Dharan course.

“So far, I have been supported by my seniors,” says Rai. “But it is tough without a sponsor.”

Rai’s immediate goal was the Indian tour, and to play, he needed to be selected in the pre-qualifying school. He had already entered for the selection, but the tour has now been stalled due to the pandemic.

“I will try again”, he says: “After the Indian tour, I want to play in the Asian tour. I have been working hard for it.”

“Rai is a mature player”, says golf professional Sabin Sapkota. “He works hard, asks questions, he has more to achieve in the future.”

Jitendra Rai, vice president of the golf club, considers Sukra Rai a pride of Dharan. “It is inspiring.  A labourer’s son is number one.”

Translated from the Himalkhabar Nepali original, published online on 28 January 2022.