‘At Nirwana we were lucky to get the spectacular cliff-top holes but we are most proud of our work in the open inland landscape, particularly the extensive rice fields we built to create the impression that the golf course had been laid out through them.’ Bob Harrison
Part of a large coastal resort on the Indonesian island of Bali, the Nirwana Bali golf course was designed by Greg Norman and Bob Harrison in 1998 and is every bit as good as their best work in Australia. Built on a spectacular seaside property, the layout boasts an intriguing mix of landscapes with a series of glamorous coastal holes mixed with an undulating interior surrounded by dense jungle vegetation. Although it is famous for its ocean-carry par three, the heart of Nirwana is the dynamic inland holes, which feature some of the best design elements on the course and most of the sites interesting ground movement.
From the opening hole Nirwana weaves through deep valleys and thick forests, across creeks and gullies, over beaches and onto the region’s stunning cliffs. Exposed to variable winds the routing cleverly changes direction regularly and is highlighted by excellent green shaping and strategic fairway bunkering. Driving is rarely cramped though you often feel the need to play down a tighter side to get a level stance, shorter shot or better angle into the green sites. A number of targets are then pressed hard against wandering creeks and ditches, and generally slanted toward danger forcing those hoping for decent uphill birdie putts to really flirt with the hazards.
The first four holes loop inland from the clubhouse and are a tremendous introduction to both the golf course and to Bali. The opening sidehill drive is actually played across rows of staggered rice paddies and needs to avoid deep inside dogleg bunkers to set up a good shot down toward a green nestled against a jungle backdrop. The 2nd hole is then a lengthy par three alongside a forest to a smallish green sloping sharply toward the trouble. After excellent approach shots into the 3rd, 4th and 5th, the long dipping par five 6th is the first to catch a glimpse of the sea as it heads toward an attractive target framed by the waters of the Indian Ocean. It is followed by Nirwana’s signature, a breathtaking short hole played across the ocean’s crashing waves into a wickedly angled green that punishes those cowering away from the water. Further along the coastline, and fully visible from the tee, is the haunting Hindu sea temple of Tanah Lot, which rests among the surf on its own rocky outcrop. Even without such incredible views this would still be one of the modern game’s finest par threes.
From here the course turns back away from the shore. Heading toward the clubhouse, the 9th is the first of several holes with hazards fronting the putting surface, the fairway sweeping left through trees to a green set just beyond a gully and pressed against the rice fields. The clever mid-length par four 12th is another such hole, it points seaward but bends late through a valley toward a steep back-to-front green beyond an estuary, the wind usually whipping in from the side as you attempt the treacherous approach. The next heads back along the coastline and is drivable with a favorable wind, though its narrow green is set at the very edge of the cliff making the gamble extremely dangerous. The last of Nirwana’s outstanding par threes, the 14th then plays partly over a volcanic sand beach in the opposite direction to the 7th and with a more receptive elevated green for those bailing away from the sea. Completing the round are a series of solid holes that form an excellent closing set, the 15th is a strong and strategic two-shot hole dominated by sand while the final three each feature a green guarded by a frontal ditch.
Asia is home to more disappointing ocean courses than any continent but Nirwana Bali is a real treat and much better than the one-hole wonder that some reviews imply. Indeed, the variety of holes and landforms incorporated within the design is quite remarkable, and when set up to play firm and fast this stunning layout is one of the world’s great resort golf experiences.