Thursday, Jul 19, 2018 | Last Update : 06:51 PM IST

Swinging high (and low) in Bali

THE ASIAN AGE. | RAHUL BANERJI
Published : Jan 13, 2018, 1:41 am IST
Updated : Jan 13, 2018, 1:42 am IST

The island is home to a handful of layouts of varying design and difficulty, five of which are currently in operation.

Course facts (new Kuta): Par 72, Black tees: 6.713 yards, Gold tees: 6,268 yards, Blue tees: 5,852 yards, White tees: 5,403 yards, Red tees: 4,917 yards, Fees: $70-$170 per head, Caddie tips: Check with caddie master
 Course facts (new Kuta): Par 72, Black tees: 6.713 yards, Gold tees: 6,268 yards, Blue tees: 5,852 yards, White tees: 5,403 yards, Red tees: 4,917 yards, Fees: $70-$170 per head, Caddie tips: Check with caddie master

Think Bali, and you think beaches and parties. Or exotic dances and rituals, of a Hindu society stuck in a time warp. Or buckets of food good enough to die for. Or just a lot of sun and fun.

But not golf, at least, not readily, for many from the sub-continent. Even though Bali is a hotspot for the game of clubs and has world-class facilities, it is only of late coming on the radar of the traveling Indian golfer. For those willing to make the trek, there are rewards in plenty to be had in the form of well-maintained courses, trained caddies and excellent facilities to go with the golf, not the least of which is the astounding variety and quality of cuisine at course restaurants and eateries.

The island is home to a handful of layouts of varying design and difficulty, five of which are currently in operation. From the relatively venerable Bali Handara Golf and Country Resort up in the northern mountains that is close to clocking a half-century, to the spanking new Bukit Pandawa Golf and Country Club laid out along the southern coast, Bali leaves the discerning golfer spoilt for choice.

Other than February and parts of March, when the rains are even heavier than normal, golfing is possible through the year, if occasionally wet. Connectivity is good but Bali traffic has its own character and journeys that take half an hour early in the morning can take longer as the day wears on. But such is the quality of courses on offer that the time is well worth the while. And with increasing number of low-cost carriers and even budget full fare airlines now operating out of India, getting to Bali is no more than an eight to ten hour stretch.

This correspondent took the opportunity to play four of the courses featured here over the year-end/New Year period when tourist traffic is at its peak, the travails created by the rumbling volcano that is Gunung (Mount) Agung notwithstanding. Cancellations hit the tourist trade hard in Bali this season but golfers especially from around Asia and Australasia are regular and frequent visitors. Travel to and from the courses is easy as most of them are located not too far away from Denpasar/Kuta, which is in many ways the heart of the island. The Ngurah Rai International Airport offers quick access to the Mandara toll causeway that cuts travel time to the coastal courses as well in Nusa Dua, Uluwatu and Pandawa.

Only Handara is a longish drive up into the hills, but the journey itself is a capsule of the island, taking one past the legendary terraced paddy fields of Teglalang, villages and tropical forests. Ubud, a center of Hindu culture is just off the Denpasar-Bedugul road, Bedugul being the town closest to the sprawling and lush course. And with three lakes iu the area, the course offers welcome relief from the heat and humidity that prevail at the coastal courses.

Bali National Golf

Facing first-time golfers on the first tee box at Bali National is a vast sand bunker. It intimidates, and I promptly dumped not just the first shot, but also the mulligan into the trap. There’s no respite from recovery as the hole is a massive 440-yard par four. An odd feature here is that the front nine has only one par-five, while the back nine has the other three.

It’s an interesting introduction to what is probably the flagship course in Bali, especially after a complete revamp and redesign that brought it up to international standards a couple of years ago. Located in the upscale Nusa Dua area, which the tourism department of the Indonesian government has carved out and converted into a gated community, the parkland course is spectacular. From ocean views to flowering trees, statuesque palm trees, lush grass, water bodies in plenty and flowering nature trails, if offers challenges to the golfer, even as it soothes her soul.

The course is laid out in three distinct parts that are connected by road and cart-paths. The front nine is traditional more parkland though it also has some massive bunkers that I encountered with annoying regularity, and one small lake. From hole 10 to 16 in the second section which is dominated by water bodies and more bunkers while the final piece of the jigsaw is home to holes 17 and 18, also with three lakes and most of the club facilities.

So as I went hacking my way through hole after superbly-maintained hole, the layout and scenery were balm for a sorely tested golfer. Till the last, one needs to be fully switched on, the 17th being an island hole that requires you to be perfect off the tee and the 18th, a long dog-leg that brings you back to the clubhouse and under the eyes of a usually crowded terrace which makes the putter feel like a tonne of steel in your hands. As a consolation, the locker rooms are well appointed and the restaurant and bar well stocked.

New Kuta Golf

New Kuta Golf was probably my toughest challenger. Being a “scratch” golfer, it left me with little room to error but with a little persistence, it was possible to dig out a decent score. But keep your head down and the links-style layout — Indonesia’s first — will both challenge and reward you. As one of the numerous course reviews of New Kuta Golf points out, with five sets of tees, there’s enough variety to ensure a satisfying experience for all skill levels.

In terms of setting, New Kuta is probably the most spectacular of the four courses I got to play on. It sits on white limestone cliffs that overlook the deep blue sea and with beaches on either side of the course; keeping focus on the golf itself can sometimes be a hard task. With all the rain that can fall on Bali, keeping track of the ball is a bit of a chore but with the well-trained and efficient caddies at hand — as indeed they are at every course on this trip — it is a lot less tasking.

What is not easy, though, is finding the narrow and twisty fairways on a regular basis and it will need every club in your bag to plot your way out of trouble in the event of am errant or wayward shot. And as you sweep down towards the sea on the back nine, negotiate a tricky par three that brings you to a magnificent beach view and swoop back up towards the clubhouse, it is golf that can truly lift the spirits. What the designers have done is to preserve the original contours of the seaside site which includes the signature 15th hole, overlooking the stunning Dreamland and Balangan Beaches — Bali’s famous surf beaches, and the Indian Ocean as a backdrop with the steep cliffs falling away almost 200 feet to the ocean below.

For the rest, I leave it to a travel website, whose writer obviously spent more time in the clubhouse than I managed. “Set on top of brilliant white cliffs that overlook an endless blue horizon of the Indian Ocean, this championship golf course ranks among Asia’s best and most challenging. A magnificent clubhouse boasts a restaurant, bar, spa and function rooms, with panoramic views of the lush rolling fairways and sea. Overlooking the ninth and 18th greens of the golf course, The Atrium is a large sea of open space and shape, which flows from the Link Restaurant through the clubhouse

“There is even a lookout tower beside the clubhouse where members can climb up to watch the magical sunsets so typical of Bali. The elegant par-5 18th finishes (as does the 9th) just a few yards from the shaded patio serving New Kuta’s magnificent clubhouse, where the formidable Links Restaurant & Bar (and the club’s dedicated spa) make it an ideal place to relax after the round.”

The course also is home to the Golf Academy Bali (GCB) that opened in January 2013 under the direction of British PGA professional Neil Douglas. With its covered, grass driving range, short-game area, and massive putting green, New Kuta’s facilities are absolutely state of the art. Add to that regular classes for caddies — one group was undergoing instruction as we set out for the round — and it all makes for an interesting, if formidable, day out on the links.

Bali Handara Golf and Country Resort

My first round on the Bali visit was at the Bali Handara Golf & Country Club Resort, so it will always be a little special. Ranted by Golf Magazine as among the ‘top 50 greatest golf courses in the world’, it has seen better days that its current general manager Shaan, is striving hard to bring back. That, however, takes nothing away from its astonishing beauty and given the fact that it is no more than two hours away from the airport at Denpasar and less than an hour from the tourist hot-spot of Ubud, at an altitude of about 1200 metres, it is a welcome break from the heat that prevails on the coast.

Temperatures at Handara range between mild and chilly, and the day we spent at the course was marked by near constant rain and a cutting wind that made the change from Kuta even more evident — and welcome.

Set against the steep and heavily forested cliffs of a now dormant volcano and flanked by Lake Beratan on one side and the twin lakes of Buyan and Tamblingan in the Singaraja area of the island on the other, the course is spread out more in rectilinear fashion rather that a more traditional parkland layout. The championship course was designed by Australians Peter Thompson and Michael Wolveridge and is marked by mature trees that line the fairways, plenty of local flora and greens that test your putting abilities to the fullest.

Standout holes include the par-5 first that doglegs left, the long third that goes 90 degrees the other way in a dogleg right with a creek running down the right and thick undergrowth on the left. Says Golf Asian, “The creek along the right side of the fairway prevents cutting over the dogleg and the left side is well guarded by bushes. Driving accuracy is a must to par this hole. The second shot must carry across the water with a long iron to the green. Another par-4, the seventh plays 375 yards uphill and a dogleg left.

“The hole is lined on both sides by orange flowering trees that make you feel like you are hitting down a long shoot in a real golf tournament. The par-3 14th is the signature hole at 203 yards. Hitting to an uphill green with huge mountains in the background make you appreciate how special Bali Handara really is. The finishing hole a 560 yard par-5 plays downhill on the drive and then uphill to the clubhouse for the second and third shots. Fairway bunkers come into play on the drive and once successfully past them you are set up for a good birdie opportunity.”

That is for better golfers that this correspondent, who hacked and hewed his way around in a three-figure scorecard. The course has a long driving range and three putting greens, a chipping area, and bunkers to whet your clubs ahead of a round. After all the golf, there is a pleasant bar that opens to the outdoors, a restaurant with a small but satisfying menu, and ever smiling staff, whether on the course or off it.

All in all, Bali Handara Golf & Country Club Resort makes for a relaxed round of golf that is enhanced further if one stays at the resort itself. Rarely have we had a quieter night’s rest that the one in the dormant volcano’s crater and its surrounding jungles.

Bukit Pandawa Golf and Country Club

This little course, opened in October 2016, gave me what was possibly the most delightful round in Bali. Sitting on a limestone cliff-top that looks out over the world-famous surf of the Bukit Peninsula on one side and the popular Pandawa Beach on the other, the venue has 18 championship caliber par-3 holes, many marked by architectural relics and great views of the Indian Ocean.

While on paper this is a par-54 “executive” course, it is a testing one nonetheless. Superbly maintained and staffed by smart and knowledgeable caddies, I played off the black tees on a whim, and what a tribulation that decision turned out to be.

Every hole is deceptive and requires concentration that is often distracted by the location and the views. The 240-yard (approx) second hole is the longest on the course and will leave you in a fix for which club to use while the 18th is a trial by water (I failed the first time).

None of the greens are easy, often sloping twice or more, so putting lines are hard to pick. Leave it to the caddies, who know every inch and you won’t go wrong often. And I kid you not; par is easier said that done on this naturally landscaped spread that is tightly and intricately laid out. Bunkers, ponds, waterfalls and topography that often feeds away from the greens all add to the challenge.

The super-modern clubhouse has a stone and water theme that draws inspiration from Bali’s many grand temples. Importantly, it also houses a cool and quiet bar that you will need especially if it is a sunny day. The club is the planned centerpiece of an expansive development that will eventually include several five-star hotels, which would be a pity, as it will probably cut off some of the superb scenery and the ocean backdrop.

Tags: hindu society, bali, handara golf and country resort, bali national golf