The 19th Hole
Golf followed by Balinese massage at a Borneo megaresort
Crack! Splash. Those two sounds are the first that I hear on arrival at the driving range. They signal that another golfer has just hooked a ball into the moat.
Soon, I am emulating that feat and feeling bad about the waste of equipment. Happily, however, the balls are low-density, which means they float and can be retrieved.
So, as the two Aussies (both called Andrew) who run the course might say, no worries. After I have had a blast at the range, Perth product Andrew Farmers, 23, rounds me up and chauffeurs me in a buggy to the 27-hole championship course, which offers night golfing, should that take your fancy.
All palm trees, lakes and undulation, the course borders the South China Sea and embodies my idea of a desert island. Except it is part of the 384-acre Sutera megaresort on the outskirts of Kota Kinabalu, the capital of the Malaysian-Borneo state of Sabah. Farmers describes the course, which boasts the biggest bunker I have seen â€“ about the size of a tennis court -- as picturesque but lots of trouble.
Are they not always? I have never understood why people play golf to relax. In my experience, the game is about as relaxing as missing a flight.
Then again, the last time I played was in England on a vast nettle-infested stretch of rough flanked by cliffs. Because of the wind every shot turned into a hook. The trick was to slice hard and hope.
Teeing up, Farmers executes a graceful shot that sails lazily for about a kilometre then lopes left and lands straight on the green. Five shots later, I am there too.
Behind me, the fairway bears my scars. Farmers tweaks my technique gently, telling me to bend from the waist not the knees and stand further away from the ball.
Subsequently, one shot I make proves to be a divot-chiselling lob into the bushes. The next, a retry, fizzes down the fairway.
"You just have to work out what you did differently the first and second shot", Farmers says. Quite. Apparently your initial alignment can make all the difference between success and humiliation.
So too can getting in the zone, or maintaining the so-called iceberg profile. "Golf is very psychological", Farmers says.
He cites how German maestro Bernhard Langer suffers from the yips, which means losing your grip and fluffing repeatedly on the putting green. Langer has been known to take five putts before hearing the satisfying rattle. That's got to scar you psychologically, he says.
He adds that everyone, no matter how experienced, chokes putts and generally makes duff shots. "The moment you think you've conquered it, you are kidding yourself", he says.
Few would argue except perhaps Tiger Woods, whom Farmers describes asway ahead of anyone else. The reason: he is the complete golfer who can benchpress one-and-a-half times his own weight and play percentages successfully when in a tight spot, instead of making a desperate hack for the hole, he plays a safety shot, lobbing back onto the fairway.
I never know whether I am poised to belt the ball so that it blazes down the freeway, or hack a slab of grass further than the projectile. Farmers tells me I have pretty good hand-eye co-ordination for an occasional golfer. Some amateurs cannot hit the ball at all, which means they must spend remedial time on the range.
I can understand how someone might miss completely. During the course of our session, I execute an air shot myself.
That said, as Farmers points out with a grin, how hard can making contact be? The ball is not moving. Think of other sports such as tennis where it does not just wait at your feet.
The key lesson I learn is not to prod when trying to escape from a bunker. Thump the ball hard. That does the trick, preventing those gut-wrenching moments when the darn thing rolls back to where it was in the sand.
Once, from the tee I manage to land it in front of a fallen coconut, making direct progress impossible. Another time, after a violent slice, the ball rockets towards some golfers saved by a palm tree whose branches it rattles and ricochets around. Evntaully, outdoing either stroke, I hoist a ball into the South China Sea, to Farmers amusement.
At least it travelled and lifted. My putts are mostly average because I struggle to read the degree of slant and break successfully, which means the ball veers crazily, gaining so much momentum that it rolls from one end of the green to the other.
My finest putt comes at the final hole where, in a case of quitters luck, I sink a 15-footer. What a buzz.
Consistency, Farmers says again and again, is just a question of repetition. Doubtless, if I practice like Tiger Woods or Sabah product VJ Singh who both put in about 12 hours a day, in no time my game will be birdie, birdie, birdie.
My only gripe with golf is its current obesogenic flavour. Thanks to the cart, which admittedly reduces aggravation, keeps traffic flowing and is good for business, the average visitor takes minimal exercise.
I feel only a touch more puffed than I do after peeling an orange, say. Certainly, I do not feel that I have earned the right to flop in the opulence of the hotel spa. A cup of tea, maybe.
That said, a visit to a spa has to be one of the most positive things you can do. Google the words spa OR massage side effects and you will find hardly any relevant results.
If you are truly precious and delicate, you might be alarmed about the potential for increased sensitivity or irritation from oils. Otherwise, it is hard to find much to grumble about, especially if you waltz into Suteras Mandara spa, which lies on the edge of the harbour beyond a green glass canopy that immediately softens the light and the tone.
Inside, the mood is exotic if a touch severe in the manner of a Moorish spa. Think dark wood, black filigree ironwork and a discreetly tinkling square fountain. Pipe music plays.
My ghost-like gracious masseuse, Lina [sic], leads me up to a balcony where she offers not one but four choices of oil. Take your pick between Harmony (strengthening, rejuvenating mandarin, lavender and bergamot oils to balance body and mind), Island Spice (a spicy mix of clove, ginger and nutmeg to revitalise and brighten your spirits), Mandara (sandalwood, patchouli, cananga and ylang-ylang), and Tranquillity (a stress-busting jetlag tonic mash-up of lavender, vetiver, ylang-ylang and cananga).
So you do not know what vetiver or cananga are. Join the club.
Vetiver is a grass with heavy, fibrous roots, used to distil an oil which has the scent of moist earth with woody undertones. Cananga is the tree from which ylang-ylang comes.
I love the smell of ylang-ylang, which in case you failed to notice is rich and deep with notes of rubber and custard, and bright with hints of jasmine and neroli. I choose the signature Mandara blend because of its ylang-ylang content rather than its supposed uplifting, romantic flavour.
The subsequent massage is as diverse as the oil concoction I have chosen: a mix of Balinese, Swedish and shiatsu styles.
Suffice it to say that the Balinese style is the core of the experience.
Supposed to renew, strengthen and heal body and mind, it specifically aims to relieve tension, improve circulation and promote euphoria. Its shtick consists of stretching, long strokes, skin rolling and palm and thumb pressure techniques.
Rigorous and luxurious. You feel smothered in relaxation from every direction and are supposed to wallow in the experience and whatever feelings unravel.
Always for me, theres a degree of embarrassment, for instance the moment it becomes apparent that, under my shorts, I am wearing Speedos: almost worse than being naked. Initially, because of the embarrassment factor, any spa visit actually serves to make me more tense and nervous.
My ex once tried to initiate me into spa therapies, but I'd always thought of the whole thing as slightly suspect. Indeed, I viewed anything that wasn't actively bad for my health as effete, so would positively advertise all the toxic trash I had managed to ingest over the weekend: Big Macs, black beer, Chunky Monkey ice cream. No wonder men live less long than women.
I'm not sure whether any oil on the planet could do much to diminish my budding hypertension. But the ylang-ylang proves me wrong.
Afterwards when you exit floating on air and feel as if you could skim across the waves like a hovercraft or walk on water like Jesus, remember to pay a visit to what seems to be KKâ€™s only beach, set a stroll from the entrance. All the more alluring for being tiny and fenced off with a sharknet, it seems the ideal spot to shift down yet another gear. If that's humanly possible. No worries.
on 11 March 2008.
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