Imagine

Story by: Bill Nestor

"Imagine"...John Lennon recorded and released his powerful plea for world peace, Imagine, in 1971.  In many ways Malaysia exemplifies Lennon's dream: "Everyone is part of everyone else and here all the people are one," said James Chew, an ethno botanist and adventure guide from the Borneo state of Sabah.  "There is no more racial prejudice.  Centuries of mixed marriages have resulted in a blended interracial population."


Imagine that.  And imagine an exotic, intoxicating land that blends contemporary western-style commerce and lifestyle with an eastern spirit of harmony.  And imagine 200 golf courses designed by the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Robert Trent Jones II, Greg Norman and Ron Fream, in lowland, highland, and seaside settings. Better yet, don't imagine, play them, as I did when I traveled to Sabah for the World Amateur Inter-Team Golf Championship (WAITGC).

The Sutera Harbour Golf and Spa Resort sits on the South China Sea in Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah, Borneo

When I wasn't playing golf, I was pursuing the wild side of Malaysia, and I don't mean its nightlife (although there's plenty of that, too).  I took river trips through jungles, boat hopped to islands in the South China Sea, and wandered on rain forest trails in search of the country's fascinating and unique wildlife--birds, primates, mammals and reptiles, fish and ocean dwellers--hornbills, orangutans, pigmy elephants, flying snakes, sharks and sea turtles.  I visited James Chew's headhunting tribal village and its house of skulls, experienced cultural traditions, dance, music and cuisine.

And then there was my encounter with the King, although that was back on the golf course.  Golf is clearly not an afterthought in a country where the supreme ruler sports an 11 handicap.  The nine hereditary Sultans of the Malay states elect the King of Malaysia to a five-year term.  The position is currently being filled by the Sultan from the state of Terengganu, a golfer by the name of Yang di-Pertuan Agong Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin.  I spotted the monarch while he was playing a social round of golf at the AWANA Golf & Country Resort outside Kuala Lumpur.

The Dalit Bay and Country Club

The King is not alone in his passion, according to Imsany Hasart, Director of Sports for Malaysia Tourism (www.tourismmalaysia.gov.my): "Malaysians and our neighbors from nearby Australia, Brunei, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines love the game and are avid golfers.  We have hosted pro tour events including the Malaysian Open, European PGA Tour and Volvo Masters of Asia."

Courses in Malaysia can be found in myriad terrains high in the mountains, amidst verdant rain forests, in urban areas, playing along South China Sea beaches or meandering through jungle vegetation.  Borneo's Hornbill Golf and Jungle Club plays in the clouds, 6,000 feet above sea level, while at the other extreme the Golf Club in Datai Bay inhabits an enchanting jungle setting between the mountain and the sea, surrounded by a million year old rain forest.

Sutera Harbour Golf and Spa Resort

The Sutera Harbour Golf and Spa Resort sits on the South China Sea in Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah, Borneo.  It incorporates a golf and country club, hotel, marina, and an ideal location for spectacular sunsets. 

The 27-hole Graham Marsh design roams over the Lake, Heritage and Garden nines, all traversing rolling terrain with well-placed bunkers, along waterways and seaside holes.  Night golf on 20 holes offers an alternative to hot, sunny, humid daytime play.

Amenities include a driving range, putting green, chipping and bunker areas, clubhouse, restaurant and locker rooms with sauna. Greens fees $33-$90.

Imagine an exotic, intoxicating land that blends contemporary western-style commerce and lifestyle with an eastern spirit of harmony

I played both courses used for this years preliminary round two of the World Amateur Inter-Team Golf Championship held in Sabah.  Dalit Bay Golf & Country Club and Borneo Country Club are public courses situated amid indigenous natural areas with lodging and dining facilities.

The WAITGC is open to all amateur golfers with a verifiable handicap of 18 and below for men or 24 and below for ladies. Teams can enter any of seven preliminary rounds held throughout Malaysia from March to October. The four winning teams (two gross teams based on stroke play and two teams based on Stableford points) in each round are invited back, all expenses paid, to compete in the Grand Final Tournament in December.  (www.waitgc.com)

Malaysia has more than 200 golf courses designed by the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Robert Trent Jones II, Greg Norman and Ron Fream, in lowland, highland, and seaside settings

The Borneo Country Club, a Jack Nicklaus design, is 41 miles from Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah, Borneo.  Play from the championship tees stretches to 7,129 yards, a distance even Nicklaus would probably avoid these days.

Better to move up a set or two of tees and enjoy the 200-acre layout spread over the 900-acre site, playing around lagoons, waste areas and 84 bunkers.  On the holes built along or exposed to the South China Sea, strong crosswinds typically add to the challenge.

There is a driving range, practice area and putting green, and the clubhouse offers both open air and air-conditioned restaurants and lounges, and an adjacent hotel. Greens fees $70-$100.

Dalit Bay Golf and Country Club is part of the Shangri-La's Rasa Ria Resort, 21 miles from Kota Kinabalu, and set amid peaceful countryside villages. 

Ted Parslow designed the two nines, the Mengkabong and the Tambalang (named after rivers that border the course), cut out of a mangrove swamp.  Water comes into play on every hole at Dalit Bay.  There are holes running along the river, stretching across the river mouth, or with a lagoon as background or adjacent to green, tee or fairway. 

Aerial view of Borneo Island
Beautiful Kinabalu Park

The many water hazards and bunkers, natural vegetation bordering playing areas and Mount Kinabalu as backdrop offer a scenic lushness, which combined with often-spotted large monitor lizards, orangutans, or macaque monkeys makes for an engaging round of challenging golf.  

The facility includes lodging, health club, spa, restaurant, driving range, putting green, chipping and bunker practice area, and locker.   Greens fees $60.

As good as the golf is, Malaysia is so much more.  It's a charming, fascinating land of warm, friendly people with a multinational taste of Asia that is safe and easy to explore.  The national language is Malay but English is widely spoken. So it offers visitors a rich diversity of experiences, be it observation of wildlife and birds, diving, strolling white sand beach islands, fishing, shopping for local arts and pearls, cultural exploration, or delving into the exotic cuisine.

Food reflective of the integrated society can be found throughout the country- chicken dishes with a curry and chili sauces, spices from the throughout the orient mixing with local herbs and condiments that create a sweet, spicy, hot accented meat or vegetable.
 
Traditional and delicious fare is available everywhere.  Oxtail is a Malaysian delicacy.  The tail of beef is skinned and cut into short lengths. It is a bony, gelatinous meat that is usually slow-cooked, often stewed or braised. It is a good stock base for soup.  Oxtail soup is a very popular indulgence.

Malaysia has 16,000 known medicinal plants, 1500 varieties of orchids, 743 species of birds, as well as apes, monkeys (above Proboscis & below Orangutan), elephant, leopard, flying snake, whales, turtles, and legions of fish.

In the countryside near Kuala Lumpur, the capital and largest city of Malaysia, I enjoyed a local breakfast favorite, roti canai with dahl. Roti canai, a puffy tortilla-like flat bread, can include fried eggs and onion, or be stuffed with margarine and sugar or sardines. It is served with sides of curry and dhal- a spicy and nutritious accompaniment to curries.  The yellow dhal sauce made from lentil, yellow split-pea or chickpeas with a variety of spices is a traditional a mainstay of Indian, Pakistani, Bangladesh and Southeast Asian cuisine.

Monsopiad warrior with blow gun

Comments made by Dato' Seri Tengku Zainal Adlin, Chairman of Sabah's Tourism Board, during a remote broadcast he did with me for Where To Play Golf Radio, expressed the essence of Sabah and perhaps all of Malaysia:  “I'd like to extend to all of you - Selamat datang- a very warm welcome from the Land Below the Wind, Sabah Malaysian Borneo.  Sabah is an emerging, exotic, highly diverse, unique, friendly, and safe world class destination.  It is promoted as Sabah naturally because the people are warm, friendly and hospitable.  Sabah is a premier ecotourism and nature adventure destination that offers biodiversity of land, sea and rich living habitats, both natural and cultural." (www.sabahtourism.com)
 
The name "Land Below the Wind" is given to Sabah because it is located below the typhoon belt, making it free from major climatic disturbances. 

Malaysian culture, politics, religious freedom, reverence for nature, and natural medicinal practices reflect a civilized society based in respect for one another, the land, its inhabitants, history and traditions.  The hospitality shown to visitors parallels this lifestyle.

Malaysia has 16,000 known medicinal plants, 1500 varieties of orchids, 743 species of birds, as well as apes, monkeys, elephant, leopard, flying snake, whales, turtles, and legions of fish.  It possesses a rich diversity of ecosystems, habitats, animals, plants, cultures and people blending harmoniously together.

You may say I'm a dreamer.  But I'm not the only one.  I hope someday you'll visit and see how the world can be as one.  Until then – Imagine.


FOR MORE INFORMATION:
www.tourismmalaysia.gov.my
www.sabahtourism.com
www.waitgc.com