Should you go to Indonesia to play golf? That depends on whether you’re clubbing it with a family vacation
Let’s address the white elephant in the room: no, there are no direct flights to Indonesia from India. That means that whether you’re going to Jakarta or Bali, the quickest you can get there is roughly 10 hours (from Delhi), including the transit in Singapore or Bangkok. Given that and considering it would take you the same amount of time to get to, say, Ireland, that’s not a very tempting proposition from a golfing point of view. And especially if we’re talking about playing in Bogor—Indonesia’s golf hub—a suburb that’s a two-hour drive from Jakarta. Bogor certainly has the chops to qualify as a golfing destination: 14 golf courses out of which half are bonafide championship layouts. Bogor spoils the itinerant golfer for choice when it comes to golf, but its allure starts and ends on that premise. Think of it as a resort vacation, with none of the off-course trappings of Jakarta—the bustling capital with some of the best nightlife in Asia. Considering the traffic can get pretty hectic, it’s not really a viable proposition to head to the Indonesian capital for a night out after a day on the course.
Coming back to the golf, it’s hard to pick the finest layout in Bogor (I didn’t play all the courses), but it’s a fair guess that the Rancamaya Golf & Country Club would take, if not share, the honours. Isolated within an expansive compound at the end of the Jagorawi toll road, the course is situated 450 metres above sea level, making it significantly cooler than Jakarta. I’m told that the weather, temperate and cool for most of the year, is one of the primary reasons so many golf courses have come up here. Rancamaya GC offers quite a sight as you descend from the clubhouse towards the starter box with the magnificent Mount Salak looming in the background, it’s cratered peak peeking through the clouds. The layout is landscaped around a central water body with the front nine descending in a loop around its periphery and the back nine ascending back up to the clubhouse. This is not a difficult course, but play can take as long as five hours depending on how many groups you’re sandwiched between. The ideal place to stay is the resort, a five-minute cart ride away.
But truth be told, there’s a reason that the island of Bali, an hour-and-a-half flying time from Jakarta, is the first name that comes to mind when it comes to a vacation in Indonesia. This idyllic, tourist-friendly tropical haven is everything you expect it to be and surprisingly diverse; to use a cliché, there is genuinely something for everyone in Bali. So if you’re looking for golf, then there are four gorgeous championship layouts, and if your better half is looking for a spa-cation, there’s no dearth of wellness retreats, meditation centres, yoga, pilates… you name it. But the most popular sport here is surfing, and the waves at Bali are legendary. Whether you’re a novice looking for safe breakers, or an expert seeking out the big ones, there’s literally no other place in the world with such a host of options for hitting the surf. The beaches, clean as ever, are peppered not with pubs, but rather co-working spaces where digital nomads from around the world come to work, get some sun, and a spot of surf. This intermingling of work and play is what, in my mind makes Bali truly unique and gives it a vibe all its own.
Back to the golf, the pick of the courses is the New Kuta GC, Indonesia’s first links-style championship layout, and the venue for the national open. New Kuta is a typical modern seaside layout and Ronal Fream, the designer, has thrown in patches of gorse in the rough interspersed with long grasses to give it a faux-Scottish feel. Situated strategically on limestone cliffs overlooking the Indian Ocean on Bali’s south-west coast, the course offers stunning views: the front nine work up and away from the ocean towards the low hills to the east, while the back nine meander back down to the ocean. It’s a lovely course, and certainly unmissable when you’re in Bali, but it’s a template that golfers who travel to play have seen before.
What they haven’t is the incredibly interesting par-3 ‘championship’ layout—the Bukit Pandawa GC—that I wrote about in my previous column. This course justified a detailed experience and you’ll find that online in this newpaper’s archives.
The one course that you’re truly likely to remember though is the Bali National Golf Club. The course reopened in 2013 after major renovations that have brought the oldest layout on the island on a par with the New Kuta GC in terms of course conditioning. More significantly, Bali National has managed to conserve its old-world colonial vibe: the high-ceilinged clubhouse and restaurants exude an elegance that is almost exclusively the preserve of historical golf clubs. The layout with its newly sodded fairways and lightning-fast greens, is still ensconced within a lush tropical forest and coconut groves set against the backdrop of the Indian Ocean. It’s the best of both worlds, Bali National is. The Club is situated in Nusa Dua, literally within walking distance of a number of five-star properties. Golf in Bali is not cheap: one round at Bali National will set you back IDR 22,00,000 and IDR 2,50,000 is an acceptable caddy tip (tipping is mandatory).
When planning your trip do check fares on the national carrier—Garuda—first: the Indonesian airline allows the cartage of a golf bag in addition to your allowed baggage limit (even in economy). Singapore airlines will let you take your golf bag as long as your entire baggage is within the permitted 30 kg. More and you’ll have to pay excess baggage.
Would I go again to Indonesia to play golf? The answer is a resounding yes, but my motivation is clearly betrayed by the admission that I would probably give Bogor a miss. Don’t get me wrong, Bogor has a fantastic collection of courses, and if I lived in Jakarta then I’d probably make the two-hour drive every weekend. But for someone coming all the way from India, I’d like to do more than just play golf. But Bali is another matter; here the golf is but the icing on a very tempting cake.
A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game