Golf: A Bali Course Gets Ready for Revival

By John Russell on 12:33 pm Mar 24, 2013
Category Golf, Sports
Tags: Bali, Golf, sports
One of Bali's oldest golf courses, Bali Handara, is undergoing substantial upgrading. (Photo courtesy of Mark Isley)

One of Bali’s oldest golf courses, Bali Handara, is undergoing substantial upgrading. (Photo courtesy of Mark Isley)

Bali Handara Kosaido Country Club is an interesting case study. For two years before opening in 1975, the golf course was crafted by hand by contractors and local villagers, due to its remote location and a lack of heavy equipment at the time.

Perhaps it was no coincidence that the design team of Peter Thomson, Michael Wolveridge and Ronald Fream was chosen, as five-time British Open winner Thomson follows the philosophy of working in harmony with existing landscapes.

Thomson was renowned not only for his length off the tee, but for his control and shot making, which was particularly effective on the natural links courses of the United Kingdom.

During the golf course construction boom in the late 1970s and ’80s in the United States, the trend among designers with big budgets was to battle against nature with massive earth-moving equipment and new technologies to create courses with bold design features and impressive signature holes. If nature could not offer the opportunity, then money and machinery would.

It was at this cusp of golf course evolution that Bali Handara was born, offering modest on-site accommodation for those travelers unwilling to make the long trek back to the luxury hotels near Denpasar airport, as well as for those seeking a few days of tranquil golf.

The Bali Handara was even rated in the world’s top 50 courses in 1980.

Since those early days, Bali Handara has slowly fallen behind.

With an unprecedented property boom and development of countless trendy and sparkling offerings in all areas of hospitality and tourism, the time had arrived for Bali Handara’s revival. While new developers in Bali would need to go through the impossibly difficult and expensive exercise of land acquisition and development, this gem only needed to be polished.

Mark Isley was hired in 2011 as general manager to initiate Bali Handara’s new phase. His training as a green keeper and years as a golf course general manager equipped him well to optimize the existing course and plan ongoing development to bring the facility to world standards.

In the past two years Mark has significantly imp roved the overall condition of this mountain course. Understanding that modern golf technology now results in longer drives, he also made changes in the shape and location of landing zones with astute mowing programs, and created more variation with positioning of tees and pin flags.

Over the past year, Fream, the youngest member of the original design team, has returned frequently to Bali Handara to consult on further substantial course renovations, which are planned to begin in 2014.

The intention is to retain the original iconic character and natural fauna but upgrade the layout using strategies such as more tee-box positions, new smooth grassing in the hitting zones and reshaped greens and bunkering. New watering systems delivering metered fertilizer doses where needed will ensure ongoing excellent course conditioning.

One may surmise that with all the new exotic courses now in the world, it will be a difficult task to claw back into the world’s top 50 courses. However, with a tentative partnership to build a new hotel with one of the region’s most exclusive boutique resort developers, Bali Handara could perhaps regain its former glory. The ball is in its court.

John Russell is a leading innovator of corporate golf in Asia. He can be contacted at