She briefly scouts the fairway and points to my ball, in a narrow ditch along a rice paddy. All eyes are on me as I give it my best shot. When a splash of mud squirts in all directions including mine, I am miffed. Yet, my caddy smiles and my golf buddies cheer: The ball is out!
Golf is not only about hitting a ball until the final putt. Here, at Nirwana Bali Golf Club – run by the 5-star Pan Pacific Bali Resort in the secluded area of Tabanan in southwestern Bali — it’s also about the Indian Ocean, the Tanah Lot temple, the tropical landscape, the rice fields, and the ever-smiling young ladies who caddy. This is why Golf Digest USA ranked it among the 100 best golf courses outside the USA, and the best in Indonesia.
In your Bucket because...
- It’s another way to experience Bali.
- The caddies add a touch of Balinese spirituality to the game.
- It won the Trip Advisor 2013 Certificate of Excellence.
- For golfers willing to value the experience more than the score.
Playing Golf along the Rice Fields: A World Heritage Site
As fairways unfold among natural landscapes, they reveal the various aspects of a culture, an environment, a landscape. At Nirwana Bali Golf Club, I couldn’t ignore the barefooted farmers bent over the immersed paddies: These are rice-producing fields after all. In fact, Pan Pacific manages them, throughout the year, so guests can see the various and labor-intensive stages of growing rice. The paddies — terraced along eight of the holes – are ornamental to this golf course, but rice farming is an intrinsic part of the island’s socio-agricultural and religious culture.
Known as “Subak” – which encompasses the rice fields and their irrigation system created by the farmers over the centuries— this “cultural landscape” is designated as a World Heritage Site.
Rice is the center of life on Bali where families grow it as their staple food. In fact, it’s quite revealing that “rice” and “eat” is the same word in Bahasa – Bali’s language. As people commit to live in harmony with their environment (including on the golf course, as I would find out), they also revere Bhatari Sri, the rice goddess also known as the “mother of life.”
Going Zen at the View of the Tanah Lot Temple at Hole #7
It’s easy to be further distracted on the Nirwana’s golf course: The roaring ocean crashes against the cliff; the perfume of tropical flowers fills the air; and in the far, the lush jungle seems to hide other natural wonders.
I am distracted again as we discover the stunning view of the course signature hole (#7): the Tanah Lot temple. Anchored on its rocky islet, it is one of six temples built at a visible distance from one another. Religion is fairly new to the Balinese culture, but devotion is noticeable by the lovingly garnished shrines set in the most unusual places. It is even said that there are more temples than houses on Bali.
I observe the Balinese pilgrims and tourists who stand on the beach below us. I wonder if they are pondering the mythological poisonous serpent that guards the temple. Fortunately, they are too far to need protection from my errant balls.
On this hole, thanks to my husband’s frustration with his rental clubs, and to the ever-gracious composure of our caddies, we all learn the secret of Balinese happiness: One must be kind to everyone, because anyone could be Buddha. (Note that Balinese Hinduism has roots in Buddhism).
Lessons Learned Hole after Hole
Eventually, the “paddy-holes” gave way to shots through valleys, and from cliff to cliff, and across a bridge over much-troubled waters: If an auspicious ball found the green, it also found its inauspicious incline toward the ocean.
I had never played with a personal caddy before — or have two of them ride on the back of the (compulsory) golf cart – so I was impressed when she could quickly combine her knowledge of the course with her understanding of my skill level. Besides, she always knew where my ball was, and she lined up my putts.
On one oceanside hole, after I asked for a driver, she handed me a 3-wood with a teasing grin on her face. Then she told me to aim for the right side of the fairway: the ocean side! Never mind, I looked up too early, and, lucky me, my ball plugged short of a sand trap instead. But when I reached the fairway level, I got it: The “ocean side” leaned toward the center: This Greg Norman course design does give a player a break.
By the time we got to the eighteenth hole, I had learned that, indeed, balls fly farther in the warm humid air. And, there was no point bragging about my score judging by the only two balls left in my rental golf bag. It didn’t matter anyway: My caddy always smiled as if all my shots were just as she expected… and the experience was greater than I had expected.
- Nirwana Bali Golf Club is located 22 km from Denpasar (Bali’s capital) airport.
- Hire a driver for the day: US $30 – Taxi: US $50.
- Nirwana Bali is a 72-par golf course over 6,002 yards for the resort tees.
- Separate practice and golf lessons available for novice players.
- The Pan Pacific Bali resort is family-oriented: golf clinics are available at the Kokokan Kids’ Club.
- The Subak Museum in Tabanan exhibits the physical and cultural aspect of rice.