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Some Enchanted Island

In the end, a huge resort complex rose from the sand, with pompous avenues, elaborate landscaping, replete with roadside statuary, and even a shopping mall. In scale, the complex resembles the work of a Balinese Mussolini—but come to think of it, that's more or less what Sukarno and Suharto were. The centerpiece is the golf course, which opened in 1991—a 6,849-yard par seventy-two designed by the Hawaiian team of Robin Nelson and Rodney Wright.

ROLLING THROUGH Bali Golf's million-dollar fairways, with their perfectly kept Bermuda grass sward, I found myself musing on how desire alters landscapes. The first nine holes are hilly and elaborately sculpted, with heavier rough than the Nirwana. The second nine, down toward the beach, is all sand. Enormous bunkers are everywhere. The sixteenth hole, a 458-yard par four, has yawning chasms of hostile silicate all the way from tee to green on both sides of a narrow dogleg-left fairway. The back tees are designated as "kings," the regular ones as "lions" and the front ones, rather disparagingly to the ladies, as "frogs." When you do reach thegreens, you have to keep an eye peeled for roosters, which tend to scrabble up the otherwise smooth and fast surfaces in pursuit of worms. Occasionally water buffalo wander onto the course to graze, but they do no harm and are soon driven off, with shrill cries, by the greenskeepers.

The oldest golf club on the island is the Bali Handara Kosaido Country Club, high in the ranges of northern Bali, about an hour and a half—depending on traffic—out of Denpasar. This course is also Bali's longest: 7,024 yards from the championship tees. It was created in 1975 by the golf architects Peter Thompson, and Michael Wolfferidge and Associates. Its relative age has earned it a few snippy notices from golf journalists of late, but I thought it the most handsome of Bali's three courses, and it offers some challenging holes, particularly the 405-yard third and the 483-yard par-five fifteenth. It was built by a Japanese consortium, and most of the players are Japanese. Set in rain forest—a peaceful fugue of greens high up in the crater of an extinct volcano, with mountains enfolding it and, below, the glimmering sheet of Lake Bratan—this has to be one of the most beautiful golf courses in the world, and at four thousand feet the air here is much cooler than on the seaside courses.

Golf courses are idealized landscapes. But in Bali they are, in fact, trumped by the real landscape once you turn inland. For this part of the trip, hire a car and driver (fifty dollars or so a day) and let him cope with the anarchic Balinese traffic. Doing so affords at least the illusion of safety and leaves your eyes free to look out the side windows.

There is no agricultural form, not even a vine-terraced slope in Tuscany, more beautiful than the rice paddies of Bali. Rice has to have its feet wet, and over the centuries the Balinese hillsides—steep or gently rolling, mantled in fertile volcanic soil—have been worked into curved, descending terraces (defined by earthen dikes) with water running in complex channels through them. When they are empty of grain, they reflect the clouds and sky. With the young rice growing in them, they look like a mosaic of thick green plush across which the farmers have strung a web of cords, bamboo poles and fluttering ribbons of cloth to scare away marauding birds. Then there are the roadside shrines—thousands of them—decorated with floral offerings, and the old gnarled banyan trees, with people chatting in their shade, and the sudden gorges, with rivers plunging through them, and in the background, the mountains, trailing scarves of mist. It is an ancient, deeply satisfying landscape. Its produce is an epicure's delight, particularly the fruit: tiny, sweet bananas, melons, papayas, huge jackfruit, snake fruit, the hairy, lycheelike rambutan, the exquisite mangosteens and, if you are feeling adventurous, the durian. This is a fruit somewhat larger than a football, covered with blunt spikes. Restaurants don't serve it because of its smell, whose effect one visitor compared with eating a rich custard over an open sewer.

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