If you’re seeking an unusual and exotic venue for golf, you don’t have to go all the way to the moon, as astronaut Alan Shepard did in 1971 – famously swinging a six-iron, one-handed.
The tropical paradise of Indonesia offers plenty for the golf enthusiast. For adrenalin junkies, there’s Merapi Golf Course, which at times has been scorched by volcanic eruptions. But there are plenty of less nerve-racking courses.
My first, modest swings of a gold club in Indonesia were at a driving range in the compound of PT Badak, an LNG company operating in Bontang, Kalimantan. I was new to the game. While I appreciated there was a basic technique to master, I couldn’t understand why the ball persisted in veering disobediently to the right each time I struck it, although most of the time I didn’t actually hit it.
I blamed our location. Bontang is on the equator. It is well known that water swirling down a plughole changes direction if the bathtub is moved across the equatorial line, or something like that. Quite clearly, my golf ball was being affected by some such phenomenon.
There are nearly 150 golf courses throughout the Indonesian archipelago, many of them on the popular resort island of Bali, like the Greg Norman layout at the Nirwana Bali Golf Club. Some very good nine-hole and 18-hole layouts can be found in less predictable places, such as Papua on the western half of New Guinea where you’ll find Rimba Irian, located literally in the middle of a rainforest. Check out the top 100 Indonesian golf courses at https://www.top100golfcourses.com/golf-courses/asia/indonesia. You’ll be amazed at the quality and variety.
One of the most popular courses among foreign visitors is SouthLinks Country Club on Batam, an island located just 30km south of Singapore. Golfers from Singapore flock to Batam because of the ease of ferry travel between the two islands.
Incidentally, this makes Batam a good entry point into Indonesia for anyone with visa concerns – for example because of a suspiciously large number of tourist stamps in their passport. If you enter Indonesia via Batam from Singapore, you will melt into the general traffic of Singaporeans popping in and out for a golfing daytrip, even if you’re carrying a frayed backpack and a copy of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Teaching English as a Foreign Language.
Just why is golf so popular? It’s easy to see why football took over the world. It can be played with very little equipment and fuss. All that’s required is a ball, a few players’ jumpers thrown down as goal posts, and, at the very least, a street corner. In fact, any old space will do. As kids, we used to play football in front of some terraced garages, where the ball crashing against the metal doors had neighbours chasing us off, so we’d move the game to a nearby, empty paddling pool. A full-sized football pitch is not needed.
But what then, of golf? In most parts of the world, it’s not easy to find somewhere suitable to play this hugely popular game of Scottish origin. Yes, the modern game of golf was invented by the nation that brought us haggis, bagpipes, and the Bay City Rollers.
For a start, the playing area can’t be just a spare bit of tarmac. Not even the deck of an aircraft carrier would be big enough. It has to be acres of painstakingly landscaped terrain the size of a royal estate. This immense slab of manicured countryside must incorporate a range of features including sandpits, fairways, undergrowth, clumps of tall trees, and flat greens.
As for equipment, a serious golfer will carry with him an assortment of woods, irons, and putters – they’re the bent sticks. These should not exceed 14 according to the rules. This is probably to ensure that the caddy carrying the bag doesn’t get a dislocated shoulder. Surprisingly, considering the distances involved, binoculars aren’t part of the standard golfing equipment.
There was a golf course near my childhood home in England. I used to slip through a gap in the perimeter fence and offer my services as a somewhat apathetic caddy. I had none of the insightful advice and moral support expected of a professional caddy. My strategic knowledge of the course was confined to its boltholes and private spots.
If you’re staying in Jakarta, there are more than 40 golf courses within an hour of the city, if you can believe the marketing spiels. But honestly, they’re everywhere; like petrol stations. Most are well maintained, with plenty of flowers, no copulating young couples, and aren’t busy except on Saturday mornings. Some courses offer membership with annual play rights, though on many you can pay to play. In Greater Jakarta, the cost ranges from $1,000 to $3,000 for annual memberships. Of course, your company may allow you to use their corporate membership.
Talking of money, golf has always been associated with the rich and powerful. The list of international celebrity golfers is a long one. It seems that you can’t be a US president unless you can swing a golf club. Businesspeople, lawyers, and go-betweens strike deals over a round of golf. Pop stars sign record deals. I was pleased to find that rock-horror king Alice Cooper was a golf fan. But I was disappointed he didn’t play wearing his macabre stage make-up and ripped leotards; that he didn’t have a zombie for a caddy; and that thunder and lightning didn’t follow him from hole to hole.
When it comes to caddies in Indonesia, they tend to be young women, selected for their attractiveness, rather than their knowledge of the game. Some say they need to be adept at handling more than just the golfers’ clubs. But don’t let this excite or deter you, as you can focus on your game and admire the natural beauty of the courses instead.
So, the next time a walk in the country just isn’t satisfying enough without stopping every now and again to whack something, head to one of Indonesia’s many golf courses. You might also try checking out DOGS (Djakarta Old Golf Society: https://www.djakartaoldgolfsociety.com). Here you’ll find helpful, like-minded folk. Perhaps even an old astronaut.