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WHETHER YOU VISIT BALI, THE ‘ISLAND OF THE GODS’ OR ADJACENT LOMBOK, A COMBINATION OF SUPERB ACCOMMODATION AND OUTSTANDING GOLF-OPPORTUNITIES WILL NOT FAIL TO IMPRESS, AS LEO WALTERS DISCOVERS.
THE OBEROI, LOMBOK, INDONESIA
There is no shortage of good resorts with bad golf, or great golf that combines with a ‘just so’ resort. But the Oberoi group’s hotel at Lombok follows its sister hotel in Bali getting top marks for both.
Picture a resort far away from the ‘madding crowds’, where every room is a luxury villa fit for a prince and his princess. Here we found features that comply with every cliché of South Seas perfection. The breezes really were balmy, the staff genuinely friendly, smiling, pampering and attentive, and the cuisine superb! And for good measure, the Lombok Oberoi provided the sort of stylish solitude that the average executive dreams about while trapped in the pressure cooker of his go-go office.
Located on the sparsely-inhabited Northwest coast at Lombok’s Medana Beach, this 24-acre resort was opened early in 1997. It caters to the kind of clientele that prefer a resort so self-contained that they have no need to leave the boundaries of the property except for the short trip to the golf course. At other times they can head for the nearby Gili Islands for a day’s diving in the crystal clear waters of the area. But most of the time guests seem to want to stay in the garden-surrounded resort grounds, enjoying the amenities. The property, featuring only 20 villas and 30 terrace pavilions, appeals to those who want small, intimate, stylish accommodation rather than the mega-resort where the guest is just a computer number.
At the Lombok Oberoi, the 90 square metre pavilions include a large shaded terrace and most even have their own private swimming pool. But many guests prefer the mirror-smooth, 40-metre long swimming pool that stretches from the open-air lobby to the tranquil waters of Medana Bay. With its herbal baths, open-air massage pavilions, jacuzzis and steam showers, the resort caters to couples and groups who can afford the best, but it makes no effort at attracting singles. Want to learn how to dive? There is a PADI qualified dive centre. Health spa? The one here is outstanding. Cuisine? Two restaurants offer a multi-faceted menu with an incredibly high standard, and breakfasts here are among the best imaginable. Want back-to-back planned activity sessions, blaring music, Kuta-style crowds of swingers and a million tacky shopping options? Go elsewhere!
And for the golfer, the nearby Lombok Golf Kosaido Country Club is absolute heaven. But for the Japanese owners who are determined to keep this course up to the highest standards in spite of the fact that only half a dozen paying clients currently use this on an average day, the open, uncrowded golf course must be a financial nightmare.
It is the right course built at the wrong time – just before the Asian crash that stopped part two of the development, the building of the hotels and villas that were to surround the golf course. Consequently, the clientele of these unbuilt facilities that were intended to provide the players for the course, never eventuated, after the 18-hole course and clubhouse were painstakingly completed at great cost. We talked to Warren Duncan, of Thomson, Wolveridge & Perrett, the Australian golf course architects who designed this course, for their comments.
“The new course at Lombok, at Sira Bay was to be the glue for an ambitious and substantial hotel development,” says Duncan. “The centrepiece was to be a delightful 18-hole course set in a coconut plantation, overlooking the ocean on three sides. As designers of the course we were fortunate of obtaining the services of ‘gun’ shaper, Peter Waddell.
“It took over two years to carve out this link-style course set on well-drained, sandy soil. Coconut trees were meticulously relocated where necessary, the remainder left to form the boundaries of the fairways which had been planted with 419 Bermuda grass. Greens featured tif-dwarf Bermuda grass which gave splendid playing surfaces. All this was set in a pleasing tropical garden environment.
“The task was not always easy as there was much more involved than just bulldozing and landscaping. Villages had to be re-located and the houses shifted. Shops had to be moved, and this even applied to a mosque. It was only a success because Peter Waddell had made friends with the locals to the point where they implicitly liked and trusted him. In return Peter fell in love with the island and its peoples – so much so that he bought land in the project with the aim of building his retirement home alongside the golf course. That is about as big a compliment as one can pay to a project one is working on.”
Today the course is finished, and kept in pristine condition by 130 staff. Because the hotels and villas have not yet been built, it is almost like this was a private golf course for the guests of the Oberoi Lombok. What more could a keen golfer ask for?
THE OBEROI, BALI, INDONESIA
When this resort, the original five-star boutique property on the island of Bali, first opened, it was the benchmark of quality that all the top hotels that followed strove for. Many years have passed and now five-star luxury hotels abound, but The Oberoi is still one of Bali’s very best, though little about this property has changed. Sure, its 75 villas and lanais have been beautifully refurbished, and the drive from the airport through Kuta, which originally was a romantic trip past rice fields, farms and residential bungalows, is now a start-to-finish traffic jam along streets that are lined with shops, accommodation, restaurants and a fair number of medical clinics. But from the moment the hotel car or taxi turns into the hotel’s drive, the frenetic hustle and bustle is left behind and tranquillity reigns supreme.
Privacy and luxury is what the Bali Oberoi is all about, and the clients, most of whom are ‘regulars’, love it. Each of the rooms are free-standing villas, the larger ones, surrounded by stone walls for additional privacy, also have their own pools. It is no coincidence that the whole project resembles a Balinese village – it was actually part of one, and the many Hindu shrines around the grounds are the ‘real thing’. Architecturally, the Balinese concept of thatched-roof cottages has been followed, and most of the staff come from the adjacent village also. Spacious, air-conditioned rooms are furnished Balinese-style, with a special feature of this resort being the very large indoor/outdoor bathrooms.
The Bali Oberoi faces the beach with its rolling surf, and guests can stroll along the golden sand for many miles in either direction. All the usual luxuries – spa, water sports, a superb boutique, gym, beauty salon, sauna and massage parlour are all there.
The service is, like that of most other Oberoi properties, legendary, with many of the long-serving staff knowing guests by name. Dining is outstanding also, options being the open-air restaurant set around a lotus pool or the more casual roofless dining area where each table is shaded by a large sun umbrella. Traditional Balinese dishes are supplemented by European options that are equally delicious.
When it comes to golf, the options in Bali are also quite outstanding. The Bali Golf and Country Club (BGCC) located at Nusa Dua is considered by experts to be one of the top five golf courses in Asia. This, the Bali Handara Kosaido, and the Nirwana Golf and Country Club are world class. But don’t expect an inexpensive game just because you are in Indonesia. A game of golf here will set you back as much as it would on a top Hawaiian course, and those don’t come cheaply!
When the BGCC was home to the Alfred Dunhill masters a few years ago, Nick Faldo achieved the 18-hole, 6849-yard course record at 63. But this course is incredibly deceptive and most players will be pleased if they can get around in 80 or 90. Some of the holes provide panoramic ocean views that look across to volcanos, others wind through romantic coconut groves.
The 18-hole Nirwana Golf and Country Club, an hour from the Oberoi, has female caddies, splendid fairways, superb service and a great clubhouse, and was designed by Greg Norman. Watch out for the 7th! You need steady nerves for the tee-shot that will take the ball across a rocky beach to a seemingly miniscule cliff-top green, 168 yards away. No room for error here. This is a par 3, needing total concentration! The outstanding clubhouse also features one of the best pro-shops in South East Asia.
Completing the trio is the Bali Handara Kosaido, sister course to the one at Lombok, but one that is solidly patronised. Located in Handara, 12 hundred metres above the sea, its unique feature is that it sits in the crater of a volcano and avoids the humidity of the ocean-side links. It is a relatively difficult, but extremely interesting course, studded with magnificent vegetation.
Between these three courses, serious golfers will discover yet another reason why Bali is called ‘The Island of the Gods’.