Back to Borneo
A Multi- Ethnic Natural Paradise


Story by: Bill Nestor

 

Colorfully clad competitors paddling brightly adorned traditional tribal boats and war canoes in the Sarawak Regatta.

A World Amateur Inter-Team Golf Championship (WAITGC) event took me back to Borneo.  Within minutes of arriving at the Grand Magherita Hotel, action on the Sarawak River captured my attention.  I wandered outside into a cheering throng of thousands lining the riverbank to watch colorfully clad competitors paddling brightly adorned traditional tribal boats and war canoes in the Sarawak Regatta.  The vessels, vintage designs modeled after century old historic crafts, were copies of boat types with enchanting names--Chinese Dragon boat, Malay’s Perahu Balok, Orang Ulu’s Haruk Adang Dang Usung Tingang- flying boat, Bidayuh’s Arud Diak, Iban’s Perahu Bidar.  The crowd was there to root on crews racing over a two-kilometer waterway course, as well as partake in other festivities during the two-day competition and cultural gala. 

The annual regatta is now held in Kuching, the state capital of Sarawak, on the Malaysian part of the island of Borneo.  Its beginning in 1872 marked an historic transition to settle local rivalries without resorting to war and headhunting.

Race start at Sarawak Regatta

Malaysia sponsors many amateur and professional sporting competitions throughout the country.  In addition to the WAITGC and Sarawak Regatta, competitive events run the gamut from horse, car and powerboat racing to soccer, kite flying, cricket, squash, field hockey, ping-pong and badminton.

The regatta exemplifies Malaysia’s presentation of competitive sporting events. The extravaganza along the river was a festive celebration of cuisine, handicrafts and cultural arts reflecting the influence of Sarawak’s diverse populace.

Malaysia opens its doors, hearts and minds to share the soul of the nation, their most treasured resource-a multi-ethnic society.  Its reverence and celebration of the diversity makes for an ideal international golf event host. The WAITGC, now in its sixteenth year, brings competing foursomes from around the globe- Australia, Brunei, China, France, Germany, India, U.S., Indonesia, Japan, Nepal, Pakistan, Singapore, South Africa, Taiwan, Thailand.

The beautiful Kuching Waterfront area

Teams vie in qualifying rounds to reach the grand finale.  The 4-6 day preliminary events are held at golf courses throughout Malaysia.  The top gross and net foursomes at each prelim win a return trip to compete for the overall championship, held in 2009 at Tonjung Puteri Golf Resort in Johor, on the Malaysian peninsula.

Selected courses host WAITGC qualifiers and finale in locations as varied as the country’s topography, customs and people.  They’re held at sites in the highlands and lowlands--under the peak of Borneo’s Mount Kinabalu, at beach resorts on shores of the South China Sea, in jungles and rain forests bordering Indonesia, on islands near Thailand and hills and valleys close to Singapore.

Sarawak Golf
The 2009 WAITGC qualifying round in Kuching took place at Damai Golf and Country and Sarawak Golf Club.  Kuchings 600,000 people benefit from an urban center blending contemporary and traditional commerce.  It showcases native people practicing ancient ways and serenely coexisting in current society.

Golf in Kuching and Sarawak compliments a wide-ranging multi-aged sports program including soccer, lawn bowling, swimming, biking, cricket, rugby, table tennis, softball and field hockey.

Water Hazard at Damai Golf & Country Club, Kuching (L-R Ahkim Sarok, GM, Damai Golf & Country Club- Sulaiman Suip, Deputy Director, Ministry Tourism Malaysia- Amad Johanif ALi, Sarawak Director, Malaysia Tourism)

Arnold Palmer’s fist course in Malaysia at the Damai Golf and Country opened in 1996.  The 6,911-yard, par-72 track in Kuching is at the base of Mount Santbong amid coastal beaches, mangroves and rocky outcrops.  Damai's Mountain nine sits in a rainforest with an elevated backdrop of large, lush tropical trees. There are views of the South China Sea from most holes on the backside Ocean nine.

Dumai has five sets of tees at each hole, Bermuda fairways and greens, and refreshment huts on both nines.  The restaurant, locker and changing rooms, pro-shop, ten bay driving range, caddies, carts, swimming pool, tennis and squash courts, and table tennis round out the amenities.

Club members and personnel designed the Sarawak Golf Club, also known as Kelab Golf Sarawak or KGS.  The expansive pyramid shaped clubhouse separates its two eighteens- Matang/Santubong and Siol/Demak. 

Matang/Santubong is named for two prominent mountain ranges visible from the course.  Nigel B. Douglas’ 2002 upgrade extended the layout to 6,995 yards with Paspalum fairways, Bermuda TifDwarf greens and numerous strategically placed hazards.  The 6,806-yard, par-72 Siol/Demak provides narrow fairways and many water hazards.  Both courses are a test of ball striking accuracy. 

KGS includes a lighted driving range and array of recreational facilities- snooker and billiard room, Olympic size swimming pool, gymnasium and indoor badminton, tennis and squash courts.  On premises food and beverage outlets serve Chinese, Western, Japanese and Thai fare.

The welcome sign at the Borneo Highlands Resort

A short drive from Kuching is Hornbill Golf & Jungle Club at the Borneo Highlands Resort.  The par-72 golf course extends to 6,885 yards.  Designer Neil Crafter has created a scenic bonanza on a highland plateau property bordering Indonesia with elevations reaching over 3,000 feet

Hornbill is part of Borneo Highlands--a Buddhist resort retreat, nature sanctuary and residential development.  The golf course plays up and down with many altitude changes.  It maximizes vistas and natural topography to add both challenge and focus that is a picturesque splendor. 

The resort is a visual treat engendering spiritual calmness on the course, at the spa or in the open-air restaurant.  A year round temperate climate and lush hillside jungle blends magically with the vegetarian cuisine, rustic lodge and cottages to foster a look and feel that it’s all been laid quite gently on the land.
 
The Prisons Golf Club, a 2,017-yard, par-36, nine-hole design by Cyril Pereira, opened in 1971.  Located at the old prison facility in Kuching, the course’s eight bunkers on four holes, hilly terrain and tight fairways with out-of-bound markers calls for target golf.  A number of the holes cross over each other. 

Hornbill Golf & Jungle Club at Borneo Highlands Resort.  One of the many golf courses in Borneo

Sibu Golf Club is just outside the town of Sibu; it's a 120-mile drive or 40 minute flight on Malaysian Airlines from Kuching.  A huge golf ball on the Oya Road lets visitors know there’s a local golf course nearby.  Public Works Department Engineers devised the golf course in the 1970’s.  A rocky route takes you to the clubhouse, pro shop, driving range and a rolling 88-acre 6,578-yard, par-70 golf course with undulating fairways winding around several lakes.

The 6,796-yard Bintulu Golf Club was originally designed by Dutch and British Engineers and later by other petroleum engineers.  Bintulu has been a flourishing community since liquefied natural gas deposits were discovered offshore in 1969.

Cut from 140 acres of jungle, the Old Course nine opened in 1988 followed in 1995 by the New Course nine.  Bintulu Golf Club’s narrow fairways, hilly and undulating terrain, numerous bunkers, ravines and water hazards add beauty and challenge. The sloping often two-tiered Bermuda greens, prevailing sea winds, layout and conditions make this 127-slope rated course a test of skills.

The hilltop clubhouse serves up a dramatic view of the South China Sea and taste of local and continental cuisine on the open-air terrace.  Updated facilities include locker rooms, restaurant, pro-shop, driving range, tennis and squash courts and swimming pool.  Bintulu is 200 miles by car or 1-hour by air from Kuching.

Miri, a modern city of 300,000 is a vibrant center for business, commerce and education.  Malaysia's petroleum industry began here.  Shell built an oil well in 1910 and refinery in 1914.  It’s 300 miles by land or 1-hour by air to Kuching.

Miri Golf Club was established in 1910. The first six holes of the course were constructed in 1924 by Sarawak Oilfield Ltd, predecessor of Sarawak Shell, still in operation.  The present day 18-hole, 6,963-yard, par-72 Chris Fay designed course is outside the city with rustic surroundings of an old Malay Village. 

Boat on the Sarawak River

The golf course, built on a sand bar between the Miri River and the South China Sea, presents strategically placed water hazards and bunkers that add difficulty to a flat seaside terrain layout.  Tall and ancient Casuarinas trees throughout the property add shade and attractiveness.

Eastwood Valley Golf & Country Club, designed by the San Francisco Nickles Golf Group, opened in 2005.  The par-72 routing plays 7,250 yards from the tips.

The design has conserved much of its tropical forest location.  Paspalum grass and tree lined fairways meander between manmade lakes. Strategically sited green side bunkers call for on target approach shots.  

A spacious, pleasant clubhouse encloses the Lake View Terrace serving local, Chinese and western food.  Eastwood also maintains locker rooms, driving range, fitness center, practice greens and bunkers and swimming pool.  Eastwood is primarily a public golf facility with a small membership base that’s conveniently situated near the airport and downtown Miri.

Sarawak—A National Park and Eco-adventure Mecca
Sarawak, “Land of the Hornbills”, is internationally known for its coastal and inland national parks exhibiting niche habitats and unique indigenous flora and fauna.  Various parks feature jungle, lake, cave, mountain, rainforest, waterfall, river, reef, shoal, coastal or sea environments.  Others highlight archeological sites or geologic formations.  Cultural sites display Longhouse communities along the Lemanak, Rejang, Skrang, and Batang Ai Rivers and at Bario, highland home of the Kelabits, a widely respected tribe of fierce warriors and headhunters whose advanced cultural and linguistic development sets them apart.

Eco-adventure travel attracts many to Sarawak.  Intense wilderness travel, like that documented by O’Hanlon’s “Into The Heart of Borneo” is still possible.  Although there’s heat, humidity and seasonal torrential downpours jungle, rainforest and mountain trekking in this equatorial locality can be enjoyed. 

Gunung Mulu National Park preserves a notable, remote 291 square miles of Sarawak.  The UNESCO World Heritage site encompasses extensive caves and limestone karst formations in a mountainous rainforest expanse.  It holds a vast cave network and enormous chambers, rock pinnacles, cliffs and gorges.

Above: Cave entrance at Mulu National Park,  Home to 2 million Bats
Below: Semenggoh Orang-Utan Rehabilitation Center

Each year new discoveries add to the 179-kilometer cave system already mapped.  Sarawak chamber, the largest known underground natural hall, could fit several jumbo jets.  Ecotourism activities--adventure caving, hiking, spelunking, exploring—promote preservation of the parks and natural wonders.  Travel on small rivers via perahu boats or walking trails lead to isolated caves, sites and habitats.

There is no shortage of wildlife in Mulu Park.  Eight species of Hornbill, a dramatic tropical Asian bird, including the rare Rhinoceros, White-crowned and Helmeted inhabit Mulu.  There are twenty-seven species of bats.  Up to 2 million leave the caves to feed each evening in a  spectacular aerial exodus display.  It is also home to unique and unusual mammals. The Bearded pig, Bornean Tarsie, Moonrat, Long-tailed Macaque, Gibbon, Small barking deer, Mouse deer and Malaysian sun bear, the only bear known in Southeast Asia reside in Mulu Park.

The quickest and most direct way to reach Mulu is by air, a 30-minute hop from Miri.  A small prop aircraft drops onto an isolated runway enveloped by thick jungle vegetation and mountain rainforest.  Travel by riverboat and then long boat is possible but can take 12 hours, water level permitting. 

Set in a sultry jungle site, the Royal Mulu Resort connects guest rooms to its open-air restaurant and bar via an elevated longhouse-like boardwalk.  The tropical-style boutique hotel Matumau Lodge and more cost effective lodgings are also available along with limited accommodations at the Park Headquarters.

Land of Adventure
Visiting with longhouse Iban tribes in countryside settlements granted a personal audience and sharing of practiced customs.  Exploring indigenous tribal communities, parks, cuisine, wildlife sanctuaries, bat caves, mountain retreats and interacting with people and cultures in towns and villages provided delightful adventures, treasured experiences and genuine taste of Sarawak.

Bako National Park is in Sarawak

Many tribal people still produce and consume Tuak, a rice based wine.  For centuries this traditional drink has been offered to visitors.  Herbs are added to enhance the fermented nectar and induce a variety of desired results.  The Iban, a dominant Sarawak headhunter tribe, traditionally consumed Tuak during pre-battle ceremony. Today it is primarily shared with guests and for celebration at weddings and during Gawai, the seasonal harvest festival.

Multi-cultural, Multi-ethnic Malaysia
The country’s 27,500,000 people inhabit eleven states and two territories on the Malaysian peninsula and Sarawak and Sabah on the island of Borneo. Their multi-ethnic population consists primarily of Malay, Chinese, Indigenous and Indian.  Many other nations are also represented in this peaceful, officially Muslim nation where all religions are welcomed and freedom of worship is a constitutional right.  Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Confucianism, Taoism and other faiths are openly practiced.

English is widely spoken. Bahasa Melayu is the official language.  Dialects of Chinese are also spoken as is Tamil and numerous distinct dialects spoken by each indigenous group.  There are 30 such tribes in Sarawak.

Zulkifly Md Said, Ministry Tourism Malaysia in traditional dress with Bill Nestor, writer for GoGolfandTravel.com

Malaysia’s sophisticated contemporary society lives harmoniously with traditional native tribal people and customs.  It’s an inextricably interwoven blend of the best of both worlds and exotic destination embracing an enlightened mixed population.  Festivities at WAITGC events are a testament to this way of life.  Multi-cultural musicians, dancers, and cuisine were celebrated with great pride, as is respect for all people and customs in Malaysia and around the world.

Traditions of celebration, tolerance and acceptance pervade the fiber of present-day culture in Malaysia.  It was appreciated and experienced wherever I traveled- from Kuala Lumpur to Kuching.

As Zulkifly Md Said, Director, Research & Industry Development Division, Ministry of Tourism Malaysia expressed, “Carry the message of goodwill from all of us here to your part of the globe. As a human being, no matter what race or religious belief you embrace, the message of peace, tolerance, respect and understanding must be practiced by everyone.”


FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Malaysia Tourism www.tourismmalaysia.gov.my
Suria Getaway Traveler www.borneo2u.com
Sarawak Tourism www.sarawaktourism.com