Java Tees Among paddies and volcanoes, great golf courses (Part 2 - Final)

Editor: In the second and final part of his article on Java’s golf courses, Paul Sochaczewski continues to dazzle us with his descriptions of these unique golfing delights as well as provides us with a trip planner for our next visit.

Central Java

The island’s middle-section contains the royal city of Yogyakarta, considered, along with neighboring Solo, the heart of Javanese culture. Yogyakarta is the better-known to visitors, trailing only Bali in popularity among tourists. A handful of good golf courses can be found outside Bandung (in West Java province), Yogyakarta, Semarang and Cirebon, amid volcanoes that spew whiffs of smoke and sulfur.

Merapi Golf

This 6,354-meter, par-72 setup, designed by five-time British Open champion Peter Thomson, is set in the foothills of Mount Merapi, near the royal cities of Yogyakarta and Solo. It is the home course of Sultan Hamengkubuwono X of Yogyakarta.

Among the holes on this attractive mountain course, the 17th looks like just another well-maintained example. But there is a powerful cultural tale attached, as I wrote about on a trip there in 2006. My caddie that day, Murwani, who like many Indonesians uses only one name, related a tale of having seen a few years back a brown and black snake, perhaps seven meters long and as big around as “a man’s thigh,” resting on a flat rock in the pond flanking the hole. Among the other locals who said they’d also seen the snake was one who reported it had had the head and body of a woman, sort of like a reptilian mermaid. Their conclusion was that it was an avatar of Kanjeng Ratu Kidul, the Mermaid Queen of the Southern Ocean—in Javanese cosmology, an ancestor of the current sultan.

When Mount Merapi gurgled a minor eruption on the day construction of the golf course began in 1994, the omenappreciative Javanese took it as a sign that Ratu Kidul was blessing the venture. And none of Merapi’s regular volcanic burps since then has done any damage to the course. If you need more proof, it’s said rain never falls here when the sultan is playing, even on the cloudiest, most threatening days. As soon as he gets into his car to leave, though, the skies can open up.

While an encounter with the Mermaid Queen is unlikely, all golfers can appreciate this layout. On my visit a few years ago I particularly enjoyed the fourth hole, starting with the view from the tee. On a fair day it’s about as Javanese as you can get, postcard-perfect Mount Merapi rising behind the elevated green. The hole itself is an uphill par 3, 145 meters to that green, which is three-tiered and steeply canted. When my seven iron landed on the top level, Murwani warned the downhill putt would be “slippery.” She was right: The ball slithered some three meters past the hole, leaving a tough putt coming back. But I sank it for a satisfying save of par.

62-274-896-176

Web: www.merapigolf.com

East Java

There are a handful of courses in Surabaya, whose three million people make it Indonesia’s second-biggest city, but for much more enjoyable golfing, drive an hour out of town to Pasuruan, home to Finna Golf & Country Club Resort and the Taman Dayu Club. The two courses sit amid three volcanoes, and with their mature trees, diverse vegetation and relatively light use of chemicals attract birds and animals only infrequently found outside such natural areas. Other pleasant courses can be found in the hill resort of Malang.

Finna Golf & Country Club Resort

Fanny Dewi, general manager of Finna Golf & Country Club Resort, has no trouble explaining what golfers might find appealing about Java: “The golf is good. It’s not expensive. Our tradition is to treat people with warmth and respect, so a visitor gets pampered.” I find something satisfying about playing near functioning rice fields in sight of looming volcanoes. I particularly enjoyed the 184-meter, par 3 fifth hole, with an elevated tee and a carry over paddy fields, which you treat as a water hazard if you’re unfortunate enough to land one there. The 472-meter, par 5 10th hole is an intriguing double dogleg requiring two blind shots; be careful of the stream in front of the green. This is a well-run operation—from the moment I first spoke to the telephone operator, who was knowledgeable, competent and fluent in English, I sensed that Finna is on top of its game. Visitors can stay in the resort’s comfortable cottages—mine had its own pool. The restaurant is good, and there’s even a grass tennis court.

62-343-634-888

Web: www.finnagolf.com

The Taman Dayu Club

The owners of Taman Dayu aren’t shy about promoting Golf Digest’s 2005 recognition of their course as one of the 50 best outside the U.S. And I can report having a very enjoyable round on this Jack Nicklaus Signature Course. Even the rental clubs were good, not a sure thing at many Asian courses.

I particularly like the par-4, 395-meter 5th hole. A diverse agricultural area (rice paddies, terraces of maize, mixed cropping of fruit trees) intrudes on the fairway on the right, putting a premium on an accurate tee shot. Behind the green soars the 3,156-meter-high cone of Mount Welirang, one of the area’s five semiactive—that is, quiet for the moment—volcanoes.

62-343-633-411

Web: www.tamandayu.com

TRIP PLANNER

Cities with direct flights to Surabaya include Hong Kong, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur; there are direct flights to Jakarta from those three cities and many more, including Bangkok, Tokyo, Seoul and Taipei. There are frequent domestic flights between Jakarta, Yogyakarta and Surabaya, all roughly an hour from one another by air.

Gridlock in greater Jakarta challenges even the most zen-like resident. When heading south to courses in the Bogor region, or west to those around Tangerang, leaving central Jakarta before 6 a.m. should get you to your destination within an hour. Taxis are cheap and plentiful; Bluebird and its ritzier Silverbird brand are recommended.

Some golf courses, such as Finna in East Java, are part of resorts that offer comfortable accommodation. Here are some choices elsewhere:

JAKARTA

Hotel Nikko

Jalan MH Thamrin 59

Jakarta 10350

62-21-230-1122

Web: www.nikkojakarta.com

Jakarta is rich in good hotels—and in these recessionary times also with good deals. The Nikko is near the Hotel Indonesia roundabout, the part of town where I like to stay. Ask for a room in the renovated Tower Wing.

Hotel Indonesia Kempinski

Jalan MH Thamrin 1

62-21-2358-3800

Web: www.kempinski-jakarta.com

A swank renovation of the city’s most iconic hotel, whose Ramayana Bar was featured in the film “The Year of Living Dangerously.”

Sheraton Bandara

Near Soekarno-Hatta Airport

62-21-559-7777

Web: www.sheraton.com

Conveniently located for the courses near the airport—it’s right next door to Cengkareng Golf Club—and to the west.

BOGOR

Hotel Salak The Heritage

Jalan Ir. H. Juanda No. 8

62-251-837-3111

Web: www.hotelsalak.co.id

YOGYAKARTA

Phoenix Hotel Yogyakarta

Jalan Jenderal Sudirman 9

62-274-566-617

Web: www.accorhotels.com

SURABAYA

Grand Mercure Mirama

Jalan Raya Darmo 68-78

62-31-562-3000

Web: www.mercuresurabaya.com

Sheraton Surabaya

Jalan Embong Malang 25-31

62-31-546-8000

Web: www.sheraton.com

(c) Paul Spencer Sochaczewski, Reprinted with permission.  Be sure to read Paul Sochaczewski’s new book The Sultan and the Mermaid Queen (Editions Didier Millet 2008), and can be ordered at Amazon.com

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