In the words of Greg Norman: “When I first saw the site, I was immediately taken by the dramatic location, the fascinating local culture and the rolling hills covered with rice paddies. I was determined to keep all these features while building a golf course that would challenge even the world’s best. I’m proud to have played a part in developing this world-class golf course.” But is Nirwana Bali Golf Club that good? Let’s find out from James Spence, author of: The Finest Golf Courses of Asia and Australasia.
On its completion, the trip to Nirwana Bali from the tourist towns of Kuta and Kegian felt like somewhat of an expedition but as villa development marches northward from Seminyak to envelop the rice fields of Krobokan and Canggu, the formerly remote lands surrounding the Tanalot temple are getting closer to town. To the benefit of all visiting golfers – the developers secured a glorious stretch of coastal land with views of the temple of Tanalot.
You approach the sea for the first time as you play the sweeping dogleg par five 6th. But there is no view from the tee and the hole has such a pronounced curve that you almost play away from the green with the tee shot. From the high point on the fairway you look down to the green, with bunkers left and right. The shore is not far from the surf itself and the overlapping action of the wind, contour, sun and water make the 6th green one of the most difficult surfaces to read in Asia.
The most photographed hole is the 7th. You play across a small beach to a green cut out of the shoreline cliff, just a few hundred metres from the rocky outcrop on which Tanalot sits. From the blue tees this is a stout hit with a medium to long iron with all the incentive to play right of the flag. Most tee shots come up short.
Nirwana Bali is of that ingenious subspecies of golf courses, a course that looks more difficult than it plays. Being from the design stable of Greg Norman, there are plenty of his trademark do-or-die shots required, most of them on the back nine. The drive and second shot on the 10th, the second on the 11th, the tee shots on the 12th and 13th all bear the mark of great whiteness. Pitched just on the edge of the possible for a resort course, it will always be remembered fondly on account of the atmosphere and views. Almost all its holes are excellent and it has three of the best par threes, two of the best short par fours and one of the best longer par fours in Asia.
Nirwana Bali update: In 2015 it was announced that an new six-star luxury resort, part of the Trump Hotel Collection, would be developed at Nirwana Bali, but in May 2017 the new hotel and associated Trump Tower is angering locals before construction even begins.
Apparently the Balinese are ready to “demolish” the hotel if it does not respect local building laws, whereby local legend warns that anyone who builds higher than a coconut tree will anger the gods.
The Nirwana Bali course (opened in 1997 and designed by Greg Norman Golf Course Design) closed in July 2017 for a complete revamp under the architectural stewardship of Phil Mickelson.
This course and experience will remain one of my favourite golfing moments of all time. When I played there in 2012 I had only been playing golf for over a year and the sight of teeing off over a rice paddy field is one that will never leave me, nor will the sight of my two Korean playing partners, Mr Kim and Mr Kim. We didn’t share much common language but ‘hot shot’ was the most popular phrase used.
I had a caddy for the 1st time and this young lady was amazing in very quickly working how far I could hit a ball and therefore what club to use and her reading of the greens was immense.
The holes next to the sea are the most visually stunning and the par 3 7th with the view of the Indian temple as you tee off across a beach, never to be forgotten.
When you roll this all together with the experience of Bali this was a never to forget place and I truly hope they manage to reopen it.
The par 5 501-yard 6th is a relatively short dogleg to the left. The second shot is gently downhill with a great view of the blue Indian Ocean. It is easy and reachable in two shots but the green is well protected by a front left bunker. To avoid the bunker you tend to hit to the right where another deep bunker awaits your shot, which makes it difficult to get a birdie. The ocean lies very close to the green, so you can hear the waves and enjoy the comfortable sea breeze as you putt. The par 3 214-yard 7th is the signature hole over the ocean. As you aim for the green, the famous temple of “Tanah Lot” floating in the ocean is the backdrop, with water on the left and the front and bushes on the right. This hole is devilish enough to forgive your bad shots to the ocean or bush because the scenery is just like a postcard. The short par 4 337-yrd 12th is slightly uphill and a dogleg to the right. It is an easy hole but is framed perfectly with great views of the Indian Ocean. To read more about Nirwana Bali Golf Club, click here to visit my website.