Standing on the seventh tee of Nirwana Bali Golf Club's signature par-three hole, I wasn't humming a song from the movie South Pacific, which the island inspired. I was more inclined to mutter a prayer as I gazed at the Lot Sea Temple situated on a tiny island just left of the undulating green and confronted a hole with raging surf in front of me, not to mention a putting surface well defended by bunkers. This 194-yard hole (from the championship tee) on the Greg Norman-designed layout is just as beautiful and intimidating as Pebble Beach's signature seventh, which I saw during a visit to the famous Californian course. At about US$500, including a caddie, to play the links, Pebble Beach would have cleaned out my wallet, so here I was on the island paradise of Bali. While former world number one Norman's challenging hole suggested I hit a low note, the gods must have been with me as my three-iron shot sailed over the ocean and landed softly on the green. I now had a chance to make a birdie, but my ball, scampering across the green like a mouse, just missed and I settled for a par. My intention was to play four courses in Bali, and the par-72, 6,805-yard Nirwana (green fee US$140), which is about a 45-minute drive northwest from Denpasar airport, gave me my first encounter with one of Asia's finest layouts. Like much of the island it was decidedly quiet; a GO, or gentil organisateur, at Club Med in Nusa Dua told me the club was bereft of Americans, many of whom had continued to stay away on the advice of the US government. So at dinner I talked to French, Austrian, German, Italian, Australian and South African fellow guests. 'We're going river-rafting tomorrow, then taking a tour of the island,' said one. As for Club Med, which has a capacity of about 1,200, the week's guest list ran to only 250. What the Americans and others don't realise, perhaps, is that a magical world awaits when you leave behind the hotels, beaches and fake souvenirs of Nusa Dua, Kuta, Legian and Seminyak. River-rafting may not be your game, so why not ride an elephant, watch a public cremation, visit the lush paddy-fields of Ubud, view the crater of a volcano, buy yourself a sterling-silver bangle or go jungle trekking or scuba-diving? And then there is the Barong dance, a thrilling, perpetual battle between white and black magic fought by combatants in outlandish gear. Barong, a force for good, opposes the destructive Rangda. The theory is that these two forces keep the natural world in balance. So, on a day's bus trip into the countryside, our party took in a Barong dance, a trip to the monkey forest of Ubud, with a little shopping on the side, lunch overlooking a volcano crater and a visit to a temple dedicated to ... more monkeys. All this made a gratifying break from branches of McDonald's, pubs, shops and hawkers whose philosophy does not stretch to backing off. My next swing around a golf course, the following day, was nearby at the par-72, 6,871-yard Bali Golf and Country Club (green fee US$156). Like Nirwana, every hole on the Country Club's layout presented a challenge. Maybe Tiger Woods would have taken a drive and wedge to the green but I found myself whacking a driver and four-iron to most of the daunting par fours. Avoiding the numerous cannily placed water hazards needed skill and some of the greens were lightning fast. The caddies were superb, giving me a true Balinese line ... while I was reading the greens in English. My guide, John Clarke, an Australian from Perth who has lived in Bali for 13 years, provided invaluable advice and soothing solace when my hopes sank with my ball into a pond. My next drive was a two-hour one, by road to the par-72, 6,983-yard Bali Handara Kosaido Country Club (green fee US$90), a lush layout built in the crater of a volcano. 'You'll love it up here, it's cooler and it's an experience you won't forget,' said Clarke. Like Nirwana and Bali Country Club, Handara can claim to be among Asia's finest courses. Designed by Australian great Peter Thomson, who sipped victory from the Open Claret Jug five times, Handara had me by the jugular more times than I would like to admit. But a cool breeze prevented me from erupting when my temperature rose. The par-72 Bali Beach Golf Course (green fee US$65), 20 minutes from the airport, was next. The nine-hole course, which can be played twice from different tees for an 18-hole round, is well kept and one of the locals' favourites because its rough, short and doesn't present too many problems. Bali Beach provides a far easier proposition for the higher-handicap player. All four courses toured were in excellent condition and all offered resort and golf packages - an option that allows the visitor to avoid crowded Kuta, Legian and Seminyak, where the ubiquitous touts, pimps and T-shirt sellers are a constant annoyance. Compared with some of the top American courses, where you might face green fees of US$225, as at Harbour Town on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, Bali prices weren't too 'hai' and the courses were Bali good. Getting there: Cathay Pacific ( www.cathaypacific.com ) and Garuda Indonesia ( www.garuda-Indonesia.com ) fly from Hong Kong to Denpasar. For more information on courses, visit www.99bali.com/golf .