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Golfing the Jungles of Borneo

At the turn I made a quick pit stop for some more balls at the pro shop, and as midday approached, rain clouds started to gather, a portent not to take lightly. Rainfall here is a staggeringly soggy 216 inches per year, which poses a challenge for Tan Sri Lee's environmentalism. He strongly opposes using chemicals on his courses, although Ong Chin Aun, the course's greenskeeper, said he had no choice but to use some fungicide on the greens. Still, Aun assured me that their fertilizer was primarily organic, and to rid the greens of worms they employed hungry chickens. As well, throughout the round I passed women hand-weeding the course. But I was still unprepared when I encountered a man who was, seemingly at random, firing a flame-thrower at the ground. I would later learn that he was wielding one of Tan Sri Lee's eco-friendly inventions, a small "fire gun" to zap unwelcome weeds.

As I stood on the tee of the 313-yard par-four fifteenth, recalling Tan Sri Lee's observation that "higher altitude means that you're closer to God," I admired the view. The drop-off from tee to fairway is just over 250 feet, slightly more than the drop at the seventeenth hole at The Experience at Koele on Lanai. That hole, of course, is among the most photographed in the world. I was playing an empty jungle course in Borneo.

A short distance away, up by the Indonesian border, Allan and I heard the unmistakable whoosh-whoosh of rhinoceros hornbills in flight, sounding like a steam train picking up speed. The hornbill is the most important bird for many Borneo tribes. Its presence signifies a healthy forest.

After my round, I ran into Tan Sri Lee again and asked about the bird. He smiled broadly. He may have spent nine figures on a remote jungle outpost. His resort may be empty. But . . .

"The hornbills are back," Tan Sri Lee said with pride. "You see?We used golf to repair nature."


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