What golf is really all about: A hacker’s perspective

Golf in Singapore is expensive. For the cost of four rounds at most places here, you could buy a set of clubs. Literally. That’s why many golfers here – both good ones and hackers (not-so-good ones) – opt for cheaper rounds in Johor Baru, which is just over the other side of the Malaysian border, or on the Indonesian islands of Bintan and Batam which are both less than an hour away on a ferry. For around half the price of a round of golf in Singapore, you get a ferry ticket to Batam or Bintan, transfers to and from the ferry terminal and caddies who know their greens in the same intimate way that fifteen year old girls know the lyrics to all of Justin Bieber’s songs.


This weekend I played golf at Batam’s Tering Bay GC with my mate Duncan. We’re not exactly threatening to grab the PGA Tour by the neck to shake loose a swag of trophies but we enjoy playing. And that’s what golf’s really about: the chance to play a sport you love with your mates, to get a little competitive and to drink copious amounts of beer without having your girlfriend constantly saying “Another one? How will you post about this on your blog if you don’t remember any of it?”

Although it’ll never host a PGA tour event, Tering Bay GC is a nice course. It doesn’t have many of the elevation changes that I personally think make a golf course a little more interesting but the layout is very polite and courteous to hackers like me. Its wide fairways forgive wayward shots, its slow greens won’t punish you heavily for putting a little too much pepper on your putts and it’s not entirely shrouded in thick, ball-hungry jungle like some of the other courses on Batam and Bintan.

IMG_5494We decided on a matchplay format to determine who would be crowned Best Player Within A Fifty Metre Radius. Matchplay is great padding for the egos of not-so-great golfers because you can shoot seven on a par three and still have a chance of winning the hole.

My playing partner, Duncan, was hitting the ball well but he was frustrated. He was spending more time in the sand than the cast of Baywatch. His ball found bunker after bunker and, understandably, it was getting to him.


Jackfruit growing on the course. The flora and fauna on Indonesian courses is, at the very least,  interesting. At worst, it’s fanged and possibly poisonous.


Friendly local kids from villages bordering the course were cheering us on with cries of “Bagus!” (“Good!”) when we’d hit a decent shot. Lesser efforts were met with giggles.

Swearing like a Scotsman – because he is a Scotsman and that’s the only way Scotsmen know how to swear – he was cursing the sport of golf from top to tail. He angrily teed up his ball at the par-three sixteenth after a poor performance on the fifteenth. He swung and connected well but as it soared towards the green, it veered just a little too far left and found a greenside bunker. He was about twenty five feet from the hole and chest-deep in the sand trap. Frustrated and looking forward to beers after the round, I think he stopped caring what happened.  I, on the other hand, was only trailing by a hole and saw my chance to wrench victory from his sweaty grasp.


The local wildlife. Seeing monitor lizards – much bigger than this cute little thing, mind you – is pretty standard on golf courses in the region.

I stopped watching him as I thought about my shot. ‘I’ve got this hole’, I thought to myself. I was studying the green closely when he swung and fired it out of the bunker. I looked up to see the ball snaking its way towards the general vicinity of the hole.  “Nice shot,” I said to him as the ball edged closer to the hole. Seeing that it was actually going to end up very close to the hole, I repeated myself, this time with verve. “Nice shot!”

Then it trickled into the hole. Duncan, that #$%@.

It was an amazing shot, not least of all because I know he was in the throes of a palpable rage and that’s when it’s toughest to perform well.

Was he happy? See for yourself:


High fives, hugs, gleeful swearing and a huge swig of beer from our cans followed. And that’s what golf is really, really about: beer and swearing. It was beautiful.

Bintang Beer.

Bintangs, fresh from the cooler. On a hot Indonesian afternoon, they’re absolute gold.

We were in pretty good spirits and with reason. Cans of Bintang are three for $12 there (a pint costs $18 in Singapore), we had a good round of golf on a sunny Sunday at a nice course in Indonesia and, despite our complete lack of skill, each of us had a handful of the type of shots that give you a glimpse of what it would be like if you actually bothered to practice. And that’s what golf’s actually really, really about: eyeing that next level of performance and striving for it.

If you’re in Singapore and keen for a round of golf, Batam, Bintan and Johor Baru are definitely worth checking out, not only for the price but for the range of courses on offer.

But don’t play with Duncan. He’s likely to pull another shot like that out of his #$%@ and when he does, he will hug you, soaking you in litres of sweat.

Me? Dirty on that lucky #$%@? Can’t imagine what would make anyone think that. And that’s what golf’s really, really, really all about: hating your mates for having beaten you despite their ability to find nearly every bloody bunker on the course. Really.