You’ll need to travel to Papua on the western half of New Guinea to play Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw’s remotest design, which is literally located in the middle of a rainforest jungle. This was Coore and Crenshaw's first non-US design and they could not have picked a more isolated and undiscovered location anywhere in the world.
Commissioned by PT Freeport, Indonesia’s largest gold and copper mining company, the Rimba Irian golf course opened for play in 1996 for recreational use by the mining company’s employees. The golf course is one of Asia’s most unusual and it’s totally unique. Rimba Irian is routed across a lowland swamp – at one time inhabited by a Melanesian tribe – in the shadow of Indonesia’s highest and most sacred mountain, Puncak Jaya. The ancient rainforest frames the course and the design has incorporated a number of specimen hardwood trees that for some reason were left standing by loggers.
A significant amount of rainfall occurs in this rainforest environment and the course has been built on free-draining shale which copes well with the precipitous conditions by channelling rainwater into the natural streams. A cacophony of tropical birdsong is constant during a round at Rimba Irian.
There are so many excellent holes at Rimba Irian that it is almost impossible to single any out. Perhaps the hole that epitomizes the course is the par five 11th which plays very close to 500 metres from the back tees. The hole curves gently left towards a green that seemingly sits in a jungle clearing.
Bill Coore, “We’re in the pot”
From The Secrets of the Great Golf Course Architects by Michael Patrick Shiels and the ASGCA:
“One of the very few times I worked outside the country was a decidedly memorable experience. In the middle of the 1990s, I travelled to Irian Jaya, to build Club Golf Rimba Irian, a golf course for Freeport MacMoRan, which was an American mining company working on one of the largest gold, silver and copper mines in the world. Irian Jaya, near the equator, was truly one of the most remote, isolated places in the world. Downed World War II-vintage aircraft, which had crashed due to heavy cloud cover, were still being discovered high on the glacier.
The mining company commissioned the course for political reasons. President Suharto, the dictator at the time, loved to play golf, as did many Indonesian government officers. The company had already created a village, with a mosque, church, theater, and schools, for its employees.
Design associate, Rod Whitman and I laughed about it at the time, but we’d been warned that the golf course site was so remote that there were still tribes in the jungle that practiced cannibalism. “I wonder how they cook people?” Whitman joked.
One morning, after breakfast, Whitman and I went out on the site alone. We were clearing centerlines for the fairways when we were startled by four indigenous tribesmen who came out of the bushy growth right in front of us. They weren’t wearing any clothes, but they had bows and arrows, blowguns, and spears. We froze in our tracks.
The tribesmen looked at us. We looked at them. Nobody said a word until Whitman finally uttered, “Oh man… we’re in the pot!” Much to our relief, the tribesmen turned and moved on.”
I played here while on a trekking holiday to Lorentz National Park, a vacation I’ll never forget. The setting is completely jaw dropping where snow capped mountains tower above the wet and sticky tropical jungle. It’s not for the feint hearted and a local guide is essential.
The location of the course is completely bizarre where a mining village has been created with all the amenities you’d expect but completely encircled by rainforest. It’s extraordinary.
The clubhouse is majestic and the restaurant surprisingly good. The golf course is like no other I’ve ever played anywhere in the world. It has been carved through the tropical hardwoods and each hole plays in its own jungle amphitheatre. The sounds of the wildlife as you play is off-putting and you’re never quite sure what you’ll encounter next. You don’t go hunting for balls here nor do you wander off piste so to speak.
Take a cart as you’ll get drenched walking through the jungle trails. It rained in short bursts on two occasions during the round. I enjoyed the experience but I wasn’t paying as much attention to the golf as I normally do. This was a walking holiday and I didn’t get on with the rental clubs. This isn’t a golfing destination but if you find yourself somewhere nearby then I recommend making the effort to play here. There’s nothing not to like. Even the condition was surprisingly good. Just remember to bring your golf game to avoid being an embarrassing jungle hack.
Well done Niall.
West Papua province is not somewhere for the faint-hearted; it's listed as a 'Do Not Travel' destination by many western governments due to ongoing political unrest and the local separatist movement. Aircraft landing at the main airport near the Freeport mine (Timika) have been shot at, including as recently as this year and PT Freeport vehicles are regularly attacked.
Glad to hear that the golf course is still being looked after as it sounds like an intriguing destination.
Did you have any trouble being allowed to play, as I'd heard it was only for on-site staff and company personnel?
Scarlett, I played Rimba Irian in 2014 while on a short post to Manokwari and I was fortunate that my office was able to arrange the trip. The course was available on a pay and play basis, but I got the distinct impression that they see few visitors. For the period I was working in West Papua I experienced no unrest, quite the contrary in fact, all the people I met were really friendly.