Considering the strong likelihood of a hangover after a night out in Kuta street—Bali’s party central—it makes little sense to register for a morning tee time in Bali. And the folks who run the golf courses in this tropical paradise could not be more accommodating: there’s no martinet manning the marker’s desk at any of the three courses that you can tee it up at. Tee time registrations are either ‘am’ or ‘pm’; and as long as you drag yourself to the first tee in the general vicinity of those hours, you’re likely to get a round. And there’s no better layout than the Bukit Pandawa Golf & Country Club for a palliative round after a decadent night out. Scoff all you want—I certainly did—at this ‘championship’ par-3 links on the southern coast of Bali, but you’ll come around.
Opened for play in late 2016, what the Bukit Pandawa GC lacks in length, it makes up on the stimpmeter—10.5 as on the last week of August 2017—aided by a treacherous and persistent sea breeze. The two come together to present a reasonably stern test of golf—only single handicappers can expect to play to their handicap. Your columnist hit 14 out of 18 greens in regulation, but his performance with the flat stick, that was another matter. Suffice to say that the course record was never in any danger. Not only are the run-off areas cruel, but the greens are superlatively crafty and often present counter-intuitive lines, as the ball tends to veer towards the sea, and into the wind. Get too aggressive and you’ll hit the ball not just past the pin, but over a mound or two, off the green and down into the sand if you’re lucky, or one of the water hazards if you’re not.
Irrespective of how you fare on the course, the incredibly scenic location makes it hard to get too involved in your game (or lack of it). The outward nine stretch on natural limestone cliffs perched above the popular Pandawa beach with the blue waters of the Indian Ocean stretching into the horizon. Spread over a modest 30 acres, the par-54 course is a smorgasbord of holes ranging from 76 yards to 240 yards that are anything but straightforward. The heavily contoured greens have multiple approaches and three-four pathways—that, as your columnist discovered to his disadvantage, means that merely getting on in regulation is hardly the key to making par: you have to hit very specific parts of the greens and use the slopes to get the ball to roll towards the hole. Going for the pin isn’t smart play at all.
Designed by Bob Moore of JMP Golf Course Design, 10 holes of the course offer panoramic ocean views, none more so than the signature 13th hole—the 148-yard hole slopes gently away from the tee with the fairway abutted by green terraces edged by limestone walls that are so reminiscent of rice paddy fields. The green is guarded by three bunkers that nestle into the hollows between grassy knolls. A traditional Balinese kulkul tower, strategically placed on the side of the fairway, frames the hole with azure waters of the ocean forming a surreal backdrop.
If you’ve ever wondered what a ‘boutique’ course looks like, the 13th hole is the epitome of that picture-perfect curated quality, which boutique courses place emphasis on. Another noteworthy feature of the course is its unique grassing scheme. The course is one of only three courses in the world to use the latest grass type of Pure Dynasty—a flexible and durable seashore paspalum. This recently-developed grass type helps to generate a consistent speed in accordance with the international standard.
But, away from all the prettiness, the Bukit Pandawa GC makes a very pertinent practical case for short-format golf. I’m no fan, and most serious golfers aren’t impressed by par-3 layouts, even deriding them as ‘packaged golf.’ There’s credence to that argument on account of the numerous badly-designed-and-executed pitch-and-putt courses that are regularly used to sell realty. But as the Bukit Pandawa GC demonstrates, it’s entirely possible to create a challenging layout in a short-format. It took us 90 minutes to play 18 holes at this course, and within a couple of hours, we’d finished lunch, showered, changed and got back on the road. One of the biggest challenges the game faces is the time that it requires, forcing most golfers to wait till weekends to play. At Bukit Pandawa, people drop by for a quick nine on their way back from work.
Another facet of this game that has stayed with me is the number of irons that came into play—everything from a 3-iron down to a wedge. Yes, the driver stayed in the bag, but that was the only exception; in fact, at most regular length courses, playing has largely become a driver-and-wedge game. To pull out a four-iron on a 190-yard par-3, hit it well left, seemingly into the ocean, and then wait for the sea breeze to bring it back on course was thrilling to say the least. Regulars at the Delhi Golf Club’s par-3 course will testify to the advantages of honing your irons and short game at a genuine par-3 layout. I, for one, am a convert and intend to tee it up at DGC’s less favoured course at least once a month.
But if you’re going to Bali, and if there’s only one course you can play, I’d suggest you drop your prejudice and try something new. Like other courses in Bali, Bukit Pandawa GC isn’t cheap to play—in the region of $125 for a game, and throw in another $50 for club and shoe rentals—and there’s only a minimal difference in the weekday and weekend rates. Tipping caddies is mandatory and $20 is the minimum you’re expected to shell out. Which is why, ironic as it is, you’ll get value-for-money by playing this course slowly, soaking in the views, and deliberating longer over putts. And don’t forget to lounge about on the deck, maybe grab a bite, and relax. You’re in Bali.
A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game