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Bali Bliss - Golf in Bali
Melanie Garrett

My adventure begins the moment I get off the plane in Denpasar, Bali's bustling capital. I'm practically catatonic after almost 17 hours in the air, but the scenes flashing by the taxi window do a good job of rousing me: pagodas, elaborately carved gates, roadside stands, monstrous statues, swaying palms and crooked frangipani, displays of colourful offerings for the gods. And swerving cars - lots of them. This place gives a first impression of an exotic mess.

And just when I am learning to process all these weird and wonderful sights, the countryside opens up - scalloped rice paddies, rambling villages, mountains under billowy cumulus clouds that create more shadows and shades of green and gold than I can imagine.

It's like every postcard or

National Geographic special I've ever seen. Only better.

As if I need more in my first hour on Bali, I am handed an even greater spectacle that means we have to stop the car. Not only is it a Kodak moment, but the number of villagers in the street make it impossible to carry on. It is a pageant of colourfully costumed worshippers tripping their way to a temple on the edge of the village. Dressed in bright yellow and hot orange, with splashes of green and pink, a magnificent parade of Balinese women walk with casual grace as they balance elaborate offerings on their heads. The men are there, too, hoisting streamers and vibrant umbrellas and providing an hypnotic drumbeat. In broken (but respectable) English, my driver loosely translates the festival: 'Today we thank for the God of trees'.

Once I snap enough photos for a dozen wide-eyed westerners, we have to press on. And apparently the villagers do the same. The bit I see is the early stage - the processional en route to the day-long deeply religious festivities of dancing at the gates of the temple and worshipping the gods.

It's a dream come true that in my first 60 minutes I'm assured that the traditions of the past are alive and maintained here - no excuses, no interruptions - through daily practice of rituals. Then I recall my research: Bali is the only Hindu country in southeast Asia, which goes a long way to explaining their character. Every morning offerings are placed about the home, on tables in restaurants, around hotels, on paths and bridges, as protection in doorways. Basically these represent an untiring commitment of time and artistic endeavour; a constant reminder of the Balinese love of beauty coinciding with devotion to religious principles. It's extraordinary.

And what's more, as I soon find out, their traditions and culture gel well with modernity and are infused in the atmosphere at places like LE MERIDIEN NIRWANA, the splendid golf and spa resort on the more remote southwest coast where I lose myself for a few days. The manic tourist hotspot and Aussie surfer-hub is Kuta - about half-an-hour away - and so far I'm ecstatic that I had the foresight to seek out the timeless Bali first.

At once I'm awestruck by the almost endless landscape of terraced rice paddies that hug the drive towards the entrance of this newish resort. They just go on and on - up and down hills with watering systems that seem to defy gravity. The gaggle of geese to be seen bathing in one of the muddy paddies is a bonus.

Then it hits me. Clinging to that rice field I'm focusing on is the much-hyped Greg Norman golf course we've heard so much about. I start doing double-takes as I watch a foursome hole out on a green while trying to figure out if there's a farmer inside the little ramshackle 'relax hut' on stilts in the paddy field to the right. And then I get embarrassed - I'm muttering the word "Wow" a little too loudly.

As affecting as it is, none of this seems out of place, even when I wheel up to the entrance of the hotel and I'm greeted by some of the most smiley, happy people I've ever met. The sweet faces with bright white eyes and teeth bow courteously and are only overshadowed by the traditional bamboo alang-alang roof that soars high to a peak in the main lobby. And by the sight of Tanah Lot in the distance, one of the country's sacred temples that perches on the edge of the ocean and just yards behind the 7th green. Before I think anymore about golf, I try and take it all in. After all, this is still new to me. But by the time

I lie down on an open-air lounger, or bengong, on a bluff overlooking the Indian Ocean for my first Balinese massage, it's official - I am drunk on the visual juice and heady aroma of the place. I couldn't find my way to the clubhouse right now, let alone grip a 3-wood. And the Nirwana staff don't help one bit in sobering me up. Lavender-based oil, a frangi-pani lei around my neck and a vase of floating rose petals nearby. And oh, how about a specially blended Balinese cocktail for you? In my state it's no surprise that my head nods and my lips utter the inevitable.

Can Bali get any more magical?

Cocooned in a cotton sarong, I'm led away from the sound of crashing waves and back to my room. It's only now that I really start to contemplate what's in store. I decide, without too much deliberation, that it's all going to be pretty special. In fact I'm going out on a limb and saying it will exceed all my expectations. But, of course, this is the Island of the Gods,
the Morning of the World, or even more apt Paradise Found.

Greg Norman must have thought so, too. I try and imagine what went through his blond head when he first set eyes on this site - I'm sure it was more imaginative than "Wow." After an early-morning round, I take the view that of all the places Norman could have picked to design a signature course, Bali was probably the most obvious. There's no official or technical backing for this conclusion except that Norman's design style is very different to most other modern designers - and let's face it, this is a very different chunk of land. I can imagine his mind working in similar fashion when he sketched the Ko'ele Course in Hawaii where his dramatic flair and big ego really came in handy.

Over a mid-afternoon ginger and banana refresher, I contemplate asking for a calculator to add up my score from my first effort on this 6,775-yard course. But I am sidetracked listening to a group of golf-mad New Yorkers thrashing out their scores. It's pretty amusing and suddenly I don't feel so bad. But even more entertaining is their light-hearted look at where Norman fits into the large scheme of things here in Bali. You see. in the Hindu trinity peculiar to Bali, Brahma is the Creator God. He made the island and peopled it. Vishnu, the Protector, sees that everyone is well fed and comfortable. And then there is Shiva, who is the one who makes sure people die. Norman, in similar fashion when he sketched the Ko'ele Course in Hawaii where his dramatic flair and big ego really came in handy.

Over a mid-afternoon ginger and banana refresher, I contemplate asking for a calculator to add up my score from my first effort on this 6,775-yard course. But I am sidetracked listening to a group of golf-mad New Yorkers thrashing out their scores. It's pretty amusing and suddenly I don't feel so bad. But even more entertaining is their light-hearted look at where Norman fits into the large scheme of things here in Bali. You see. in the Hindu trinity peculiar to Bali, Brahma is the Creator God. He made the island and peopled it. Vishnu, the Protector, sees that everyone is well fed and comfortable. And then there is Shiva, who is the one who makes sure people die. Norman, they figure, is a reincarnation of all three.

The next morning I am well-rested following another massage - only this time I opt for the traditional Javanese lulur in the spa. This one involves a massage with frangipani-scent-ed oil, a scrub with a moist mixture of turmeric and rice powder, followed by a thin layer of yoghurt slathered onto my skin. Post-shower, I sip ginger tea while reclining in a bath sprinkled with flowers. My caddie meets me at the clubhouse and can obviously tell (or rather smell) what I've been up to and she predicts my golf will be better because I am relaxed.
She's right. For the first few holes I manoeuvre through the lush paddy fields, creeks and other exotic grasses native to Indonesia with grace, only losing one ball deep into a very muddy rice terrace. Then again, the fairways are quite wide, and your approach shots are often downhill to soft well-tended greens. Still, be warned - often the difference between being in the fairway and being in the wild is a matter of inches.

It soon dawns on me that Nirwana Bali is one of those courses that women should consider playing from the blue tees, something my caddie didn't approve of, given both her giggle and the ducked-head response. But the views of the volcanic mountain backdrops, and the little temples that are obscured by foliage, and the inspiring Indian Ocean, are even more breathtaking from here. There are also shots across bays, shots over sacred temples, and three holes - the 7th, 13th and 14th - that play along the cliff top with a crashing surf below. Due to nature, these are the most dramatic holes of the lot, but the 184-yard 7th, cut into a lush but rocky peninsula with its Tanah Lot temple backdrop, will become one of the most photographed in golf.

My round doesn't end in the spectacularly tidy fashion in which it began, but I was able to go to the bar safe in the knowledge that in this searing heat and rocked by such visual splendour, few would turn in their best score. My caddie was ecstatic that I only lost one ball. She said her father may get lucky and find it during the next rice harvest. Then, with another giggle and courteous bow, she wished me well in my "golfing life".

The days that followed included more golf, with another nine holes on Norman's Asian masterpiece and a round at the celebrated BALI HANDARA KOSEIDO course an hour and a half northeast by jeep. More so than the BALI GOLF & COUNTRY CLUB, down south in the more touristy region of Nusa Dua, Handara is the course to add to your list. Basking in a crater of a dormant volcano 3,000 feet up in the mountains of central Bali, it's greener than Augusta and seems to have emerged as a natural phenomenon, as it sits amid a lush rain forest.

On my last day at Nirwana Bali, I visit Lake Beratan, where the temple of Ulun Danu floats on a small island in the lake. It's a gorgeous way to end an unforgettable visit.

When I come to leave, someone asks me my opinion about something. Is Bali being spoiled by tourism, what with golf resorts and all? I almost have to laugh. Even Greg Norman's ambitious efforts can't wreck the magic here. Then I do chuckle to myself when I realise - if anything is spoiled, I am.

Golf Today Course Directory - Indonesia




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