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Tropical Heaven at Nirwana
Stepped landscape and encroaching bamboo

Adam Calver shares the mysteries and complexities of managing the golf course at Nirwana, Bali

Posted on December 06, 2012 at 12:00 PM

Adam Calver, Director of Agronomy - Nirwana Bali Golf Club

“We have adopted a preventative style of maintenance”

“Bali could not be more different from Canada where I grew up – but my ambition was to work in as many different climates as golf could provide, and that’s what I’ve done – from the extreme cold of the Canadian Rocky Mountains to the relentless winter rains of west coast British Columbia, the searing heat of the Arabian deserts of Dubai, and now the lush tropics of Bali.” Adam Calver has enjoyed his first two years getting to know the culture of this beautiful island of the gods.

Nirwana truly is a unique property and it’s very important to the local community historically as well as economically.

The land for the club and properties was provided by local families and they have stayed involved. “We have a good working relationship built on mutual trust, respect and resource sharing throughout the entire resort.

There are 19 Hindu temples throughout the property – many of them over 300 years old, so on our 5th hole there is an ancient temple right near the landing zone – very much in play. The temples are used by local families – some to provide blessings and offerings daily, some for prayer. We maintain the landscapes around them and repair any damage done to them by the golf balls.

Locals are encouraged to take the bamboo and any trees we lose in wind storms to use for construction. Many of the bamboos around the golf course grow up to a metre a month and are an excellent renewable resource for the community.

The landscape is rich. We have the Indian Ocean on 5 holes, paddy rice fields, and jungle on the rest of the holes. We’ve preserved 10 hectares of rice production on traditional stepped land, and have a team of local rice farmers who cultivate and plant and harvest the rice working alongside the golf course maintenance crew. Guests at the resort are welcome to come and learn about the traditional rice farming methods, and this system of shared responsibility works well for all of us.

The rice fields dominate the landscape, and they actually come in to play on 9 of the holes. Some of the tee boxes are surrounded by stepped rice terraces, which are full of water for much of the year, so it’s tough to find a ball in them. Once the waters gone in the dry season some of the locals come out at night to recover any lost balls they can find. They may even sell them back to the club.”

Adam came to the job with great plans. “There was a lot of work to do when I arrived. All the equipment was out-dated – 15 year old mowers for the greens, tees and fairways. Part of my objective was to restore and replace these and get some new systems in place. I bought new mowers and a set of Bernhard grinders. I’d used them before at the Kananaskis Country Golf Course, Canada, Olympic View Golf Club as well as at Jumeirah Golf Estates in Dubai which hosts the Dubai World Championship each year as the finale to the Race to Dubai…so I knew exactly what I was buying.

We work very hard because the jungle grows so fast and takes over very quickly.

It’s now the dry season, so from June to September we won’t have any rain, but the rest of year we’ll get a couple of inches a week and so everything grows like crazy, some of the bamboo can grow up to a meter a month. It never slows down, so we have to keep on top of it.

I’ve been in golf management for 15 years and I’ve been looking at different ways to manage and identify problematic situations. We keep a lot more records and data now which allows us to identify how and why things happen and that helps us to adopt a preventative style of maintenance.

Here, with consistent heat, there’s no real sense of urgency because the climate doesn’t require it. It’s just constant – and to some degree, predictable.

Quality of cut is hugely important, and also education. 90 % of our team are very local, and they are interested to learn and improve their knowledge, as much as I am about the local conditions.”

Adam has a staff of 75 on the golf course which works out to around 30 personnel each day, but employs 150 overall with the rice paddy team, resort landscape, and mechanics - who oversee all hotel and resort transportation as well as the golf course transport and equipment. This is a much bigger operation than a normal 18 hole project.

“I use an integrated pest management (IPM) philosophy so we are very aware that we only spray if we have to and then only the areas that are infected, so if you have high disease pressure we apply when we have to. We spot spray and keep a close eye on the areas and progress. We have reduced our use of fungicides and only spray the green that are infected. If the grass is cut sharply and cleanly it’s much healthier and has less stress. We do get more pressure in the rainy season but again we just keep a close eye on things.

There is no low season for the golf course here in Bali. With an average annual temperature of 28 degrees, people play in big numbers right through the year – whatever the weather, so in the rainy seasons it can be a real challenge for us to maintain quality, and that’s why we have large crews. It can be a few days that we are unable to get any large equipment on the golf course so we use the labour and push mow a lot of the areas. The course will play well but the clay based fairways cannot handle the heavier units. We do 3000 rounds a month in rainy season so we have to do what we can to keep the place ready for play.

The Balinese people are delightful and were very welcoming to an expat. Everyone at the club has been keen to change, adapt and learn new methods. This is a unique place, not just for the cliff top ocean holes, temples and jungle, but the strong culture of balance and harmony. The climate and the enormity of the job has been a huge challenge, and I am enjoying it very much.

I am really proud that we have just been recognised as 66 in the top 100 golf courses outside US. It’s an on-going great challenge to bring the course back to international standards and one I love doing, and it’s good to know we have been recognised for that already.”