Foreplay

Monty West keeps his head down and gives us the heads-up on the best places on Bali for a round or two of the royal and ancient game of golf. Photos: Lucky 8.

BALI HANDARA

“THAT outfit is a bit purple, mate”. That’s how my day began.

My playing partner didn’t understand until I explained that these were the colours of my Scottish ancestors. Colours carefully chosen for one simple reason – I was going into the jaws of one of Bali’s volcano’s to play golf. I had not been playing particularly well and I needed all the help I could get.

From the moment you turn off the road, you know that you are entering a special place. This is Bali’s oldest golf course. Set beside a lake inside a volcano at 1,142 metres above sea level.

The clubhouse reminded me of some of the Mid-Century houses I had visited in Palm Springs. Architecture buffs will love it, and upgrades to the rooms and lobby have not deterred from its charm.

The course itself is fair, challenging and fun to play. We played the first nine twice on the day and the second time around, with the benefit of having some course knowledge, it was eminently playable.

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A short, friendly par five 1st which you can overwhelm if you know exactly where to drive. For those finding their game it offers you two friendly shots around the bunkers and ditch before having to find your first green.

The greens run true and have good slope on them. But if you put the ball online, it will stay there and roll. Nice speed.

I had been a little caught up in finding my game. But it seems my ancestors had answered my calls by the par four 5th. After a few rounds of struggling with my driver, I had nailed one up the middle. As I stood over my drive that Scottish mist came creeping over the face of the caldera and I became struck at the majesty of the place, and the fact that I was playing golf inside a volcano.

The climate at that altitude was perfect for me. Much cooler – my brain wasn’t boiling and this golf course was totally enchanting. This is my type of golf course – a course of substance not trying to be something that it is not.

The third hole has to be one of the best holes on Bali. Really well designed – stroke index one on the course. A good drive to the right place and then your approach needs to be fired across a wee ravine (ancestors again) to a tricky green.

As we walked to the next tee we could hear the ceremonial music from the local village. Just like the clouds it wafted in and out of our golfing experience.
This is definitely a place I will be visiting again.

I have spent the last four years playing music at sunset in Bali at Ku De Ta and Rock Bar and I thought I had seen pretty much every variation of a sunset you could see. But that was something else across the lake. My playing partner agreed.

The mountain, the golf course, the tranquility has put a spell on me and I will for sure be going back to Bali Handara for more.
www.balihandaracountryclub.com

BALI NATIONAL

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SO you know when friends invite you over after telling you that they have fixed up their house or villa? Or added a swimming pool? Or a balé? Then you go over and . . . well it’s nice. That is how I approached Bali National Golf Club.

However this renovation is shout from the rooftop “NICE”.

Job well done indeed. Easily the best kept course now on the island. With the renovation you now get the best of both worlds – an established golf course that is also immaculate. I once had the pleasure of playing Wentworth two days after the World Matchplay Final and Bali National is at that standard. No doubt it will one day host tournaments.

The First at Bali National is a cracking start to any round. A sweeping long bunker running up the left side of the fairway, waiting for any pulled drives. If you hit a good drive it is still a decent five-iron out from an elevated sloping green. And what nice greens these are. True, fast, even and fair. But challenging. Quick scout during our round and you can see that the greenkeepers will have a few tricky pin placements up their sleeves if they want to take it up a notch.

Enjoyed the par three 6th with massive tier in the green and the par four 3rd which requires good strategic golf and placement from the tee.

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The front nine wanders its way through hills and tree-lined fairways and you do get to see some great views of the ocean at Nusa Dua.

Loved the 10th mainly because I was lucky enough to birdie it.

The back nine is a lot flatter and offers you some good chances to post low scores.

Coming towards the end of our round and we get the two new holes at Bali National. The TPC style Island Green 17th can make or break a scorecard. But it is the 18th that I enjoyed most. It looks a lot harder from the tee than it plays. A good strategic long iron will leave you a short iron in over water to the green, which sits perfectly in front of the clubhouse terrace.

The clubhouse is well thought out too. Two levels: entertainment and reception upstairs and great changing rooms below. The Restaurant Terrace is awesome for kicking back and watching other players approach the 18th.

I am going to go out there and say this is singularly the biggest turnaround that I have ever seen at a golf course. The attention to detail that the GM, Cliff, and the new owners of Bali National have put into the course deserves the utmost commendation.

I always find myself saying if you are going to do something, or fix something, that you should do it once and do it right. Bali National golf course I take my hat off to you. You have truly raised the bar for golf on the island.
www.balinationalgolf.com

NIRWANA

ON we march towards the Holy Grail of Golf in Bali – Nirwana.

When I started playing golf back in London I dreamed about playing golf courses like this.

Luckily for me Nirwana – located a stone’s throw from Tanah Lot – is the course I have been fortunate to play the most on Bali. It just never gets old. The moment you turn off the road you get the sense that this is a statement golf course. Winding in and out of trees and along a cliff with one of the worlds great temples as a backdrop.

Fairytale golf indeed.

My ancestors had called ahead and lined me up a young Scottish chap as my playing partner. Steven, the new director of golf, was a superb companion for my round – a great golfer with big plans and ideas to elevate and improve an already magnificent golf experience.

We set off on the nice, welcoming first two holes. The par four 1st plays quite easily and friendly and is a birdie opportunity for the better golfers. For sure you are in Asia as you tee off over the rice fields, being careful to keep it to the right of those cavernous bunkers. From there a fairly simple short iron into a welcoming green.

As you come to the 3rd, 4th and 5th things start to toughen up a touch. These can be extremely awkward and are all tough scoring par fours. Make it through those and the par five 6th is where the course starts to kick into dream golf. I love this stretch of the next three holes.

It is possible to get on the 6th in two shots. Your approach with the ocean behind the green is magnificent and it is hard to keep your concentration because waiting for you in full view behind the green is the legendary par three 7th.

You have to be on the tee of the 7th to appreciate the majesty of this hole. It must put the fear of god into most beginner golfers. It plays 170 yards from the blue tees and the wind is usually helping from behind. For me an easy six iron does the trick.

If you can for one moment ever take your eyes of the stunning vista and the magical Tanah Lot to focus on the green, it’s actually not that tough a shot. Dharma, the local teaching pro, plays this hole from the left edge of the green with a little fade. Works every time.

Standout holes for me are the14th, another par three on the ocean across a gorge and WAY harder than the 7th as it always plays into the wind. Once again the 17th gives you a make-or-break decision for your round. If you can push a drive up to close to the ditch you are in a great position for a low score. But there are bunkers left and right and a ditch in front of a sloping green.

The clubhouse is well established and the restaurant has a great view of a few holes on the course. My favourite way to rap things up at Nirwana is to slip over to the hotel and watch the sunset over Tanah Lot temple with a nice cold drink on the TLC café.
www.nirwanabaligolf.com

BALI BEACH

BALI Beach Golf Course in Sanur has become a secret little haunt of mine – a place where we merry band of brothers (nee hackers) meet for a nice social round of golf at a price that is super friendly too.

I recently returned to playing golf after once being a good player and Sanur is exactly what I need. It only has nine holes. It forces you to actually play the course. Position and strategy, and in nine holes most of the clubs come out of the bag.

Despite the beach name it is a parkland course. Weaving in and out of treelined fairways. This is a great place to learn to play golf and a perfect place to become a better golfer.

The 1st demands that you lay up. Yes you can take out a driver and smash it close to the green, but from the outset this course is teaching you a good golf lesson – take what the course is offering you. If you can put hit it 180 to 200 yards towards the bunker on the right it will leave you a nice short iron into a welcoming green.

The 2nd is a nice 165-yard par three – an honest golf hole with some water and trees waiting for errant shots. The 3rd again offers a risk/reward for long drivers but once again if you are playing “the hole” you leave it short of the ditch on the left side and have and mid iron to the green.

Here is the thing about Sanur: it keeps you honest as a golfer. Makes you think. You can smack it but once you get in trouble at Sanur it is easy to rack up a big score.

The caddies are great and here is the thing that I like most about playing Sanur: I can walk the course. I love to walk the course. To think about or not think about what I am doing wrong or right. For me golf is a walking meditation on some levels . . . a test of character and control. Herky-jerky cart driving on resorts never really leaves me in the right frame of mind to hit the shot.

Caddies are great but often my partners will get upset if you get the wrong read on the green. Well guys, here is a thought: read your own putts. It’s your ball and your name on the scorecard. Caddies are just there to offer some friendly guidance.

The clubhouse is super casual and friendly. I always look forward to my mie goreng after my round and a thirst quenching Bintang. Putting and chipping facilities are decent. The staff are super friendly and helpful.

www.balibeachgolfcourse.com