My caddie briefly scouts the fairway and points to my ball lodged in a narrow and soggy ditch bordering a rice paddy. I take in her encouraging smile as I deal with the outcome of my first drive. With all eyes on me, I give it my best shot, mud flecking my face. I know my ball is out when caddies and golf-buddies cheer.

Here, at Nirwana Bali Golf Club—run by the 5-star Pan Pacific Bali Resort in the secluded area of Tabanan in southwestern Bali—golf is more than about hitting the ball until the final putt. It’s also about the Indian Ocean, the Tanah Lot temple, the tropical climate. It’s another way to experience the Balinese landscape. And the gracious ladies who caddy add a touch of Balinese spirituality to the game. For these reasons and more, it won the Trip Advisor 2013 Certificate of Excellence.

Golf and Rice Fields

Fairways unfold alongside the terraced rice fields, revealing a distinct culture and environment. I couldn’t ignore the barefooted farmers bent over the immersed paddies. Managed by the resort, they inform guests of the labor-intensive stages of growing rice. The paddies are ornamental to this golf course, but rice farming is an intrinsic part of the island’s social, agricultural, and religious culture.

Known as Subak—which encompasses the rice fields and the farmers’ centuries-old irrigation system—this cultural landscape is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Rice is the center of life in Bali. Families grow it as their staple food, and it’s very revealing that rice and eat is the same word in Bahasa—Bali’s language. For this reason, they revere Bhatari Sri, the rice goddess and the mother of life. People commit to living in harmony with their environment, including on the golf course.  

Going Zen on Hole 7

It’s not easy to focus on the Nirwana 72-par golf course. The roaring ocean crashes against the cliff, the perfume of tropical flowers fills the air, and the lush jungle in the distance calls for attention.

I am distracted by the views of the course’s signature hole, with the Tanah Lot temple below. Anchored on a rocky islet, it’s 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 said that Bali counts more temples than houses.  

Balinese pilgrims and visitors stand on the beach, perhaps 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-serene composure of our caddies, we learn the secret of Balinese happiness: be kind to everyone because anyone could be Buddha—Balinese Hinduism has roots in Buddhism.

The Hole-After-Hole Lessons

The combination of paddies and fairways give way to shots through valleys, from one cliff to another, and across a bridge over much-troubled waters. If an auspicious ball finds the fairway, it also finds the ominous incline toward the ocean. Besides, I can’t seem to get my balls to fly.

Then I never had two caddies ride on the back of a golf cart before, and I have never played with a personal caddie either. I am impressed by how quickly she combines her knowledge of the course with her understanding of my skills. She knows precisely where my ball landed, and she even lines up my putts.

On one downhill oceanside hole, I ask for a driver, and she hands me a 3-wood, with a teasing grin on her face. She then said I should aim for the right side of the fairway. The ocean side…? Never mind, my topped ball scampers away and stops short of a sand trap. Down that slope, I discover that the ocean side leans toward the center. This Greg Norman’s design does give a player a break.

By the time we reach the eighteenth hole, I have learned that balls indeed fly lower and farther in the warm, humid air. As warmer air rises, it causes less resistance to ball flight, reducing lift. There is also no bragging about my score, judging by the only ball left in my rental golf bag. Never mind, the experience was better than any net score.


First published 2014