The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North

The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North
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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Marinello's Story One of 'Gross National Happiness'


For years, Carl Marinello, a lifelong PGA golfer, and former Pinehurst resident, has entertained friends and strangers alike with his story of his career, including golf jobs in the Bahamas, St. Maartin, South Florida, New York and Australia.
Now Marinello, and the story of his time as coach of the Bhutan golf team, is the subject of a major motion picture, which is scheduled to begin filming in 2010.

The Bhutan golf team, a group of golfers whose average scores were in the high 80s and low 90s, rallied behind the teaching of Marinello to become good enough to beat the Chinese team at the Asian Games in Seoul in 1986.

Peter Cattaneo (who directed "The Full Monty" and has two Academy Award nominations to his credit) reportedly will direct the new film aptly titled, "Gross National Happiness," which refers to Bhutan's efforts -- launched in the early 1970s -- to officially measure happiness in terms of Buddhist spiritual values.


The story began when Marinello answered an innocuous ad in a Florida paper beckoning: "Spend a summer in Bhutan training a team for the Asian Games in Seoul."
Antsy and looking for a challenge at the age of 40, Marinello, who along with his wife Marcia, organized the Moore County Challenged Golfer Program, was soon flying East.

Bhutan is situated in the Himalayan Mountains, landlocked between India and China. The King (Bhutan has since become a democracy in 2008) shared a love of golf and pushed the idea of having a competitive golf team. The king had his cousin enlist the help of Marinello to make that goal a reality.

The story is reminiscent of the rag-tag Jamaican Olympic bobsled team in the movie Cool Runnings.

"Their discipline and self-control was amazing," said Marinello of Bhutanese.

Some credit that ability to concentrate to Buddhist values, other said some of it can be traced to their participation in archery, the national sport. Archers must have keen eyes, a steady hand and extraordinary focus. Skills that can also be beneficial on the golf course.

The team members played their hearts out with pride and natural ability and the outcome surprised all, including the King, as the players stated, "We will win this for our King and coach Carl."

Combine the great underdog story with the serenity and beauty of Bhutan and the story is sure to stir one's imagination.

National Geographic television channel has featured previous programming about this breathtakingly beautiful land.

The hardship of living in rocky terrain is taken in stride and seems to cause little strain on a people who are tranquil, peaceful and beautiful. They continue to wear the traditional dress every day. But in spite of these ancient customs and surroundings, The King often wore his golf shirt and pants underneath traditional garb, ready for a planned tee time, according to Carl.

Cantilever monasteries jut out precariously from stone cliffs and the villages overflow with monks in maroon robes. Colored flags adorn the roofs of houses, as they whip in the wind to stir prayers upward to heaven. Nearby Nepal is perhaps better known (where Katmandu is located); the highest elevation on Earth as Mt Everest is considered the nearest link to heaven.

Amid this pristine setting, the original golf course layout resembled early Pinehurst, with its brown greens made of sand and oil. The course was a far cry from the Arnold Palmer-designed course that the Asia Games were played on in Seoul.

The ability of the players and coach Marinello to adapt to different course conditions is another remarkable achievement, said Marinello's longtime friend and Pinehurst resident Tom Stewart.

"Golf in the Kingdom was a type of fiction, but Carl is the real experience," Stewart said.

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