In search of perfecting her swing, and to prove to her husband that the months of golf lessons were worth every penny, EMILY FINCH heads to newly revamped Laguna Golf Bintan and discovers she can (nearly) hold her own over 18 holes.
So, if you’ll excuse the terrible pun, I will start from scratch. Last year, I took up what some people (shame on you!) perceive to be the ultimate game for the middle-aged: golf. The competitive side of me wanted to get a good decade’s head-start: learning such a sport in your late 40s, when the body’s not quite as supple as it used to be, has surely got to be way harder, right? The folks at Laguna Golf Bintan clearly recognised my potential (hee hee!) when they read my golf entries on our EL blog and kindly asked me to come and try out their updated course. Not content with just a day’s golf, we decided to super-size our day on Bintan to a few nights away.
George and I are big fans of the staycation. While our friends back “home” think we live in the world of helper-heaven – and certainly the live-in help is a huge bonus on a daily basis – we do miss being able to drop the kids with their grandparents and do a proper runner. It had been six years since we’d last had more than one night away together. One step up from the stay-cay is a trip that doesn’t involve flying, but where you get to head off for more than one night, still relatively guilt- (and child-) free. This is where Singapore’s neighbour, Bintan, has the edge.
We chose to do our two-nighter from a Thursday, meeting at Tanah Merah for the 5pm ferry to Bandar Bentan Telani. We knew we’d feel a lot happier leaving the girls on a day when they were at school, rather than floating around at home over a weekend. Also, being back by Saturday lunchtime meant we had most of the weekend still ahead of us to make up for our bunk!
Remember, Bintan is an hour behind Singapore time, so you gain an hour when you get there; this meant we were ensconced in the resort and hoovering our first Bintangs by 6pm Indo-time.
There are so many options now on Bintan. We’d come away for a bit of luxury and wanted somewhere close to Laguna Golf Bintan – I’m not a morning person, but in this climate an early tee-off is essential – and the Banyan Tree Bintan provides exactly those things.
On arrival at Lagoi, we were assisted by a Banyan Tree staff member through immigration (British passport holders no longer need a visa, by the way) and ushered with our kit onto one of the resort’s smart people-carriers. Ten minutes later, we’d arrived.
As you would expect, the place is beautifully kept, charming (thatched roofs get me every time) and well run. Buggies take you everywhere you need to go – it’s a big site. We were whisked across the resort to our Sea View Villa and during our buggy ride could see how clever they’ve been about the positioning and aspect of each plot; no villa is overlooked by another. We felt a real sense of privacy entering our digs, complete with its own private terrace and plunge pool, and facing west to capitalise on those sunsets. We could also see the lights of Singapore in the distance, which was quite comforting, having left the kids behind.
Inside stood a massive double fourposter bed complete with romantic mozzie net draped over the top, and ceiling fan above. Don’t worry, there’s air-con too, along with a desk in case you need to work, and a large day bed by the window with another magnificent view. In classic Banyan Tree attention to detail, the feather and hypoallergenic pillows that we had requested following the “personalise your villa” email prior to our arrival were all there. The bathroom was spacious, with a “his and hers” layout and a smart marbled shower next to a floor-to-ceiling window, with yet another view of the sea splashing against the rocks beneath. The usual big white fluffy towels, treat bags containing “smellies”, smart bathrobes and slippers were waiting in the wardrobe.
Don’t overlook this resort as somewhere to visit with children. I was shown around a two-bedroom villa with a small, private pool: it was gorgeous, well laid out over two levels and with its own kitchen. It looked ideal for those with babies, and would also enable you to put kids to bed downstairs while carrying on your evening upstairs. The villa we stayed in could have accommodated two kiddies too, with the day bed turning into a single bed and the option to request another single.
I can’t believe my usual holiday lie-in has now been replaced by an early morning tee-off: I have changed! But, you know, an early morning is so different when you’re waking up to a monster buffet breakfast at Banyan Tree’s Treetops restaurant, with an awesome view out to sea and no fear of being interrupted by demands to go and find a lost hair bobble.
Slap-bang next door is the Laguna Golf Bintan, which has recently undergone a makeover, and is the only golf course on Bintan to feature beachfront holes on both the front and the back nine holes. (As you can see from the first photo above, the views from some of the holes are awesome.) This was only the second time I’d attempted a full 18 holes – I usually lose interest a bit by about the 14th. So, when that happened, I was able to hang in the buggy and just admire the amazing views and setting. You can ask your caddy to sort out some drinks for the buggy too – a few cold beers to aid play!
After the morning’s activities, I retreated to the Banyan Tree Spa for a head, neck and shoulder massage with a reflexology add-on. The spa has a few villas that serve as dedicated treatment rooms, each equipped with shower, resting room and balcony. There’s a couple’s treatment room too, if that’s your thing.
There are so many dining options at the resort that we didn’t venture far. Treetops was the breakfast destination each morning, perched on the rocks by one of the swimming pools with an unspoilt view out to sea. Funnily enough, we didn’t see one single ship at breakfast, which is a rarity for this neck of the woods; we did, however, encounter a few monkeys who attempted to steal my croissants!
Lunches were enjoyed at the Beach Pool Bar, where we devoured a few wagyu cheeseburgers – the view from this pool (there are two in the resort) overlooks the long, white-sand beach, which has a small private section for resort guests.
In the spirit of romance, we had dinner on the first evening at Saffron, Banyan Tree’s signature restaurant. Thai Chef Pimswat Pairote’s classic Thai menu included all our firm favourites – think fine dining in a low-lit and quiet setting.
Keen on some no-frills Indonesian cuisine, for our final night we booked the Kelong Dining Experience. Only on offer for three months of the year, the experience involves being taken out to a floating fisherman’s abode on the sea and indulging in a seven-course eat-athon of freshly caught seafood. Needless to say, we were gutted when the weather suddenly turned and we couldn’t embark on this mini-adventure; however, the impressively thoughtful staff brought it all to us instead. There are some interesting inclusions on the menu: George took on a few of the sea snails, but I was less brave and stuck to the curries and rice dishes!
Next time, I hope the weather holds and we make it onto that floating fisherman’s platform to experience the real deal. I also hope my golf has improved by then and I manage the full 18 holes. Might be time for me to book in for some more lessons… and another stay-cay!