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Over the years I have traveled extensively throughout the US and the world. I have always looked forward to visiting a new city, a new country and playing new golf courses. Recently I had the opportunity to travel to Grand Junction and Montrose, Colorado to play golf. As with every new golfing venture, I was curious about the area and its golf courses. So I did what everyone does these days, I went to the Internet. Upon reading about the Colorado National Monument, Colorado's answer to the Grand Canyon, and viewing photos of the courses I was going to play, I developed a keen interest in my upcoming trip to these cities located four hours west of Denver by car. Along with my three companions on the trip, golf writers from Vancouver, B.C.; Mesa, Arizona; and Yakima, Washington; I played 72 holes of golf in two days, 18 holes at Redlands Mesa and Tiara Rado in Grand Junction and 18 holes at Cobble Creek and The Bridges in Montrose. I found all four courses, although different in terrain and difficulty, to be well designed, quite scenic and fun to play. Redlands Mesa is a semi-private course located in an upscale community at the base of The Colorado National Monument. Rated the #1 Best New Affordable Course in America by Golf Digest in 2001, and the #1 Public Golf Course in Colorado by Colorado Golf Magazine in 2009, Redlands Mesa is an outstanding track. It stretches from 4,890 to 7,007 yards, has 41 strategically placed bunkers, 11 elevated tees and spectacular views of the multicolored sandstone face of the "The Monument", as The Colorado National Monument is referred to by locals. With its challenging course design and its breathtaking views of "The Monument", Redlands Mesa is a "must play" when visiting Colorado. Tiara Rado, a municipal course owned by the city of Grand Junction, is a course for all ages and all skill levels. To me it was much more interesting and scenic than most municipal courses I have played. When the back nine's extensive remodel is totally completed, and the new lakes and tee boxes come into play, I think Tiara Rado will rank as one of the best municipal courses in Colorado. Playing to 6,289 yards from the tips, the course is tree lined with well placed bunkers guarding small to medium sized undulating greens. It is an enjoyable course, one that will only get better when all the remodeling if done. It is well worth the reasonable green fees of $41 including cart Monday thru Thursday and $46 Friday through Sunday.. Following our first day of golf, our group dined at Naggy's Irish Pub in Grand Junction. With Irish music playing in the background, we recounted the day's golfing success and failures while enjoying tasty Irish dishes and pints of Guinness. I dined on an Irish stew that would have made anyone from the Emerald Isle quite proud. Our second day of 36 holes was spent in Montrose, an hour south of Grand Junction. As a native Californian who lives in Vista, a relatively wind-free city forty miles north of San Diego, this day was a new experience. Playing in winds with gusts up to 40 miles per hour, I gained a new respect for Tour players who often are subjected to winds of this velocity. Both courses, Cobble Creek, known for the creek that winds it ways throughout the course, and The Bridges, a Nicklaus course with water on 15 of its 18 holes, are links style courses. Both have left and right dog-legged fairways, lengthy par 3's, large undulating greens, and of course, lots of water.. Played from the 6400-yard tees, both courses were challenging, particularly the holes played into the wind. Playing downwind at an elevation of nearly 6,000 feet was a lot less difficult and in fact was lots of fun. Both Wes Bolyard, my playing partner from Mesa, Arizona, and I hit balls way beyond our normal length. Never in my life had I hit a 155-yard pitching wedge onto a Par 3 and I doubt Wes had ever hit a 343-yard drive followed by a 240-yard five wood onto a Par 5. It was truly an experience being able to hit drives and iron shots of that length, shots that Tour players hit on a regular basis without the benefit of a blustery tail wind. When we finished playing The Bridges, we adjourned to the elegantly designed clubhouse which overlooks the Par 5 seventeenth and the Par 5 eighteenth. Both holes feature water to left of their fairways almost the entire length of each hole. Both are wonderful closing holes and a true credit to Nicklaus and his design team. After golf, we headed to The Stone House, an excellent restaurant in Montrose. We dined on melt-in-your-mouth steaks after a brief stopover in the bar's relaxing lounge next to a warm and inviting fireplace. The Stone House, well known in Montrose for friendly hospitality and tender and delicious steaks, was a great place to finish our day following golf at Cobble Creek and The Bridges. On my last morning in Montrose, before heading back to Grand Junction for my flight to San Diego, I had breakfast at Damiano's Cowboy Caio. Owned and operated by nationally known restaurateur Anthony Damiano, a member of the World Master Chef Society, and his wife Lisa, an accomplished pastry chef, Cowboy Caio has become a favorite for locals and tourists alike. There aren't many places I know of where you can you get large portions of really good food served by a fun waitstaff in a restaurant with an unusual mixture of cowboy and Italian décor and cuisine. Breakfasting at Cowboy Caio was a real treat. In addition to golf, my four days in Grand Junction and Montrose included a two mile hike up and back on the Serpentine Trail on "The Monument". Located just minutes away from the agriculturally oriented city of Grand Junction, the trail offers spectacular views of both the extensive valley and the rock rimmed canyons formed millions of years ago by glaciers and broad rushing rivers. At one overlook along the trail, a sign explained the various layers of rock I was observing dated back 1.6 billion years. I highly recommend a Serpentine Trail hike when visiting Grand Junction. However, if you are a non-hiker, take the 20 mile drive through "The Monument" and make stops at vista points along the way. You'll see incredible multi-colored rocked canyons, spectacular views of the valley and the city of Grand Junction in the distance. When in Grand Junction, be sure and dine at one of downtown's most well known restaurants, Il Bistro Italiano. Housed in an unpretentious pink building, Il Bistro Italiano is a comfortable unassuming restaurant that serves mouth watering Italian food at reasonable prices. Our family style dinner, which followed recipes brought over from Italy by owner/chef Brunella Gualerzi, included antipasto, salad, pasta, sea bass, and boneless beef short ribs cooked in a tasty red wine sauce. Dinner, which was enjoyed with more than one bottle of Cabernet Franc from the local Garfield Estates Winery, was topped off with a dessert of a chocolate cherry almond tart covered in a rich chocolate sauce. A quick note about the wine industry in the Grand Junction/Montrose area. There are 19 wineries in the area, 18 of which have tasting rooms. You may not be familiar with the wines or wineries as most all of the wines produced in the area are sold and consumed in Colorado. However, I think this will change as the wineries grow larger and increase production. My prediction is that Grand Junction/Montrose area wines will be winning prestigious awards at wine tastings throughout the US and quite possibly the world. The Cabernet Franc from Garfield Estates Winery definitely gets my vote. Venturing to new places to play new golf courses is a real treat for me. My four days in Grand Junction and Montrose only scratched the surface of the many things to do and places to see in the area. I have decided to put these two cities on my "Places To Go Back To" list as both are ideal cities for a family vacation, a romantic getaway, or an even longer golfing getaway. For more information about Grand Junction and Montrose, go to www.visitgrandjunction. com and www.visitmontrose.com. There you will find information about the area, accommodations, restaurants, etc. as well as information on the Redlands Mesa, Tiara Lado, Cobble Creek and The Bridges golf courses.
Over the years I have been fortunate to have traveled to all seven continents and 70 countries around the world. One country I had always hoped to visit, but never had, was the South Pacific island nation of Fiji. When a chance introduction to members of Tourism Fiji opened up an opportunity for me to visit Fiji recently, I jumped at the chance. As a golf and travel writer, I looked forward to checking out the golf scene, to learning about the Fijian culture, and to finding out about things to do and see when vacationing in Fiji. Since Fiji is a country made up of 332 islands covering 20,000 square miles, it was impossible to see everything I wanted to see during my 10 day visit. However, I did see and learn a great deal and would like to share some of my findings in this two-part series . . . Golfing and Vacationing in Fiji. Fiji is a nation of 900,000 people with 85% of its population living on its two largest islands, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu. It is a nation of diversity in people, geography, and lifestyle. Its population is primarily native Fijians and East Indians with a smattering of Chinese, Europeans and other Pacific Islanders. Fiji's geography has a little bit of everything . . . blue-green lagoons, lush rainforests, tall mountains, pine forests, miles and miles of white sand beaches, and wonderful friendly people. It is an environmentally conscious nation with energy efficient technology, a marine protected area and an unwritten rule that no high rise hotel or resort can be built taller than a coconut tree. It also has a variety of golf courses including a 9-hole course that can only be played when the tide is out.
Musket Cove's Plantation Island Course- Links Style Golf Amongst Coconut PalmsDuring my visit, I had the opportunity to play three of Fiji's 14 golf courses, five of which are 18-hole championship length and nine which are shorter 9-hole courses. The first course I played was the 9-hole Plantation Island Course on 600-acre Malolo Lailia Island, 45 minutes by catamaran or 10 minutes by air from Port Denarau on Viti Levu, Fiji's main and largest island. It is a short 9-hole 2800-yard par 32 course with seven Par 4's ranging from 238 yards to 329 yards. Its two Par 3's are 180 yards and 196 yards. Designed and built by Ananda Madhwan, winner of the 1996 Nadi Fiji Open, it is a "Fiji Style" golf course, meaning it is very natural with fairways that are more like light rough, greens that are small and slow, and bunkers that are left unraked. I played with Joe Mar, General Manager of the Musket Cove Resort on the island. He explained that when a cyclone toppled hundreds of coconut palms on the island, rather than replant the trees, the golf course was designed and built. Although the course was dry because the only irrigation comes from the heavens above, and I was there in the dry season, I loved playing it. Playing on the non-manicured conditions of the course which I have described to friends as "a links course amongst coconut palms", I got an insight into what golf must have been like for Scottish golfers when the game golf was in its infancy in and around St. Andrews. Despite the fact that the Plantation Course didn't have manicured fairways or large smooth undulating greens, it was an extremely fun course to play and challenging to say the least. One of the highlights while playing was watching three course employees play as if they were vying for a US Open title. They bombed their balls long and straight from the tees and chipped and putted with tremendous accuracy. I was told they played every day of the year and all shot in the low 30's for nine holes. Their excitement for the game, played on a "Fiji Style" course with used clubs and balls, was wonderful to see. We should all have the love for the game of golf as displayed by these three friends and golfing competitors. The course is located only minutes from the Musket Cove Resort on the island. Guests at the resort are "chauffeured" via golf cart to and from the resort when they wish to play. Before or after golf there are numerous other things to do at Musket Cove. Azure clear waters and seven miles of white untouched sandy beaches offer opportunitiesto swim, snorkel, scuba, sail, and kayak. Speedboats are at the ready for island hopping and yachts are available for sailing or fishing trips. Musket Cove's sheltered lagoon is a haven for visiting yachts from all over the world with more than 100 arriving yearly to participate in the annual Musket Cove Regatta. Musket Cove Resort is Fiji's oldest resort company operating for over 40 years. Its founder, Dick Smith was a pioneer in developing Fiji tourism which this year will see over 600,000 visitors travel to Fiji. Smith's original vision of a relaxed and peaceful lifestyle is still present at Musket Cove. Traditional thatched roofed Fijian "Bures" and larger two-bedroom villas at the resort offer quiet surroundings which have been updated with modern conveniences including air-conditioning. A selection of dining options, which include "Dick's Place" Bar & Bistro for breakfast, lunch and dinner, The Marina Coffee Cove for coffee and pastries, and the Ratu Nemani Island Bar, an open bar with a sand floor leading straight into the ocean, all are lay back in style as befits a relaxed and peaceful South Pacific island resort. For more information about the facilities, accommodations, and activities including golf at the Musket Cove Resort, visit their website at www.musketcovefiji.com.
The Pearl Is A GemThe second course I played was The Pearl, a Robert Trent Jones, Jr. designed course which was built in 1974. In its heyday it was considered one of the top courses in the world. It's located about a half hour from Suva, Fiji's capital, and three hours from the International Airport in Nadi (pronounced Nandi). Set amongst tropical rainforests and winding canals, it plays to 6800 yards from the tips, 6350 from the Yellow Tees, and 5800 yards from the Red Tees. Sixty-seven bunkers dot the fairways and guard small greens. Golfing great Greg Norman has found the course to his liking over the years. He won the South Seas Classic there in 1979 at age 24 and the Pacific Harbor Golf Open there in 1983-1984. According to Course Manager Alan McCulloch, The Pearl is "one of the most adventurous courses in Fiji". Its lush jungle setting, with abundant shots around or over river, lake and lily pond hazards certainly made my golf game an adventure. My favorite hole was the scenic 152-yard Par 3 eighth hole which required an accurate tee shot over a small lake covered in flowering water lilies. Playing The Pearl was a real treat. It's a "must play" when you visit Fiji. After a very enjoyable round of golf, I returned to The Pearl Resort which is only minutes away from the golf course. The resort advertises itself as a "boutique retreat" which I found to be quite accurate. It has a relaxed South Pacific atmosphere, quality accommodations, four restaurants serving Fijian and European menus, six bars, an excellent spa, and a warm friendly staff. As most resorts in Fiji, The Pearl offers a wide variety of water sports, sandy beaches, a large swimming pool and a close proximity to numerous sightseeing opportunities. While there, I was able to take a motorized canoe trip up the Navua River to visit the Koro Makawa village where I participated in a Kava ceremony, the ancient and sacred ceremony performed for visiting chiefs and important visitors. There I had the opportunity to meet a number of the villagers, most of whom are direct descendants of Englishman John Humphrey Danford who established the village in the early 1800's. The village is one of hundreds if not thousands of villages throughout Fiji which date back hundreds of years. Most of the villages are inhabited by 50 to 300 or more native Fijians who are governed by a Chief and a village spokesman. Every trip to Fiji should include a village visit as such a visit will give you a better understanding of Fijian life and the importance family plays in the daily lives of the Fijian people. Other activities close to The Pearl include the opportunity to visit Suva, Fiji's capital; go for an exhilarating zip-line ride; surf Frigates Passage, one of the world's premier surf breaks; or take a jet boat safari ride. All are exceptional activities, both educational and thrilling. Five minutes from The Pearl you can visit the Arts Village to shop, watch a cultural show, and/or observe the famed fire-walkers of nearby Beqa Island walk across hot stones. Visit www.thepearlsouthpacific.com. for additional information about The Pearl Resort and Golf Course. For information about Fiji in general, visit www.fijime.com or www.TourismFiji.com. Next month, Part Two in this series will describe golf at Natadola Bay and Denarau Island golf courses, sites for the 2011 Asia Pacific Golf Confederation Teams Championship tournament also known as the Nomura Cup.
In August of this year, Fiji will play host to the prestigious Asian Pacific Golf Confederation Team Championship. The tournament, played every two years since its inception in 1962, will be making its first stop in Fiji. As many as 20-30 four-man teams of top ranked amateur golfers from Asia and South Pacific countries will compete. As of this writing, in addition to host Fiji, Australia, Bangladesh, Cook Islands, Guam, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Taiwan and Thailand have confirmed their desire to send teams. On my recent visit to Fiji I had the opportunity to play the Natadola Bay Championship Club and tour the Denarau Golf & Racquet Club course, the two venues for the competition. The two are totally different. Natadola Bay has rolling hills, elevated tees and greens while Denarau has level fairways and 15 holes that require shots that must avoid water hazards. Both courses will be excellent tests of golf. The Natadola Bay Championship course, which was designed by Fiji native Vijay Singh, is described as "World Class Golf on a World Class Beach". That pretty much tells the story. It is a splendid course with challenging holes, breathtaking views of mountain ranges, coral reefs and the glistening waters of the largest water hazard in the world, the Pacific Ocean. Opened in June 2009, this South Pacific gem measures 5509 yards from the Red Tees, 6659 yards from the Blue Tees and almost 7,200 yards from the Black tees. There are no White Tees so I chose to play from the Blues which proved to be a great challenge in the warm but windy conditions. As most golfers playing on a new course, I wish I had brought my "A" game. However, even after only one birdie, three pars and lots of bogies and double bogies, I came away delighted that I had had the opportunity to play Fiji's newest course. I was also ready to head to the South Pacific inspired clubhouse for a cold beer. Sitting in the clubhouse restaurant looking down the 18th fairway to the waves breaking over the top of coral reefs in the distance, I reflected on my round and what lies ahead for the Nomura Cup competitors. Natadola's wide undulating fairways will offer non-threatening tee shots. However, second and third shots to well guarded greens may prove difficult. They certainly were for this 11 handicapper. I suspect the amateurs who play in the Nomura Cup will find the course's 7200-yard length, the tundra that eats up wayward shots, the hard fast greens, and the probable windy conditions quite challenging. The Natadola Bay Course is located a convenient 45 minute drive from Fiji's international airport in Nadi (pronounced Nandi), and a leisurely two-hour drive from Suva, Fiji's capital. It is also just minutes away from the Intercontinental Golf Resort and Spa where my significant other Shirley and I stayed for three wonderful days and nights. The Intercontinental, which opened a little over 18 months ago, is an idyllic location for a relaxing vacation. It offers everything one could want for a casual but luxurious vacation. With its spacious grounds and uncrowded atmosphere, its wide variety of daily activities, its luxurious accommodations and wonderful restaurants and bars, staying at the Intercontinental was like taking a cruise on land. During our three night stay, Shirley and I stayed in one of the resort's 271 large and superbly furnished rooms which also had an open air enclosed private terrace with a comfortable day bed and Cleopatra-style bath. We walked on the miles and miles of white sandy beaches, swam in two of the four swimming pools, dined or had cocktails at all of the five restaurants and bars, had soothing massages in the spa, watch children laughing and giggling in the kids club, checked out the wedding pavilion and conference rooms and enjoyed the friendly and wonderful Fiji hospitality. One evening we had a scrumptious dinner at Navo, the Intercontinental's excellent up-scale restaurant which features a fully glazed open kitchen, the very best of locally caught seafood, delicious prime cuts of meat and local Yaqara beef and pork. Having dinner while watching the glorious fireball we call the sun turn the sky into brilliant shades of orange was a treat we will long remember. When you travel to Fiji, plan a stay or at least a visit to the Intercontinental and definitely schedule sunset cocktails or dinner at Navo. Following our time at the Intercontinental and golf at Natadola Bay, we headed to Denarau Island to check out the Denarau Island Golf & Racquet Club course. Denarau Island really is an island; however, unlike most of the islands of Fiji, it is only necessary to cross a very short bridge from Viti Levu, Fiji's main island, to reach it. Unfortunately we weren't able to play the course as a large group from Australia and New Zealand had it reserved for their yearly tournament. I did have a chance however to drive around the course to get a feel for what the Nomura Cup participants will encounter. While driving the course I quickly realized how different it was from Natadola Bay. It is a traditional resort layout with flat terrain and hotels and houses on its perimeter. My first impression was that it would be a rather easy course to play as the fairways were quite wide and would be friendly to "sprayers" like myself. This is what I thought until I saw that 15 of the holes require shots that must stay clear of the numerous canals and small lakes all over the course. I was told that when playing Denarau Island, "it is important to bring plenty of balls". The course, which opened on June 9, 1993, was created from a mangrove swamp. Since its opening it has become the "go to" resort course for Aussies and Kiwis because of Fiji's proximity to New Zealand and Australia and the abundance of resort amenities. Although it has private members, the course is open to the public. I was told that except when it is reserved for tournaments there are always openings with resort guests enjoying special rates. Unless you overclub and blast a shot past the green into the Pacific, you won't find water on the course's signature hole, the 440-yard par 4 fifteenth. As I drove from the tee to the green, I understood why the hole is the signature hole. As you proceed toward the green, you see coconut palms swaying in the breeze and white caps hurtling waves toward the beach. When you reach the green you see waves breaking over coral reefs and in the distance a few of 332 islands that make up the country of Fiji. The location behind the green is the site of many weddings and is a perfect spot to observe the magnificient sunsets that are so frequent in Fiji. At over 7,100 yards from the Black Tees, with water coming into play on almost every hole, the Denarau Island course is one that requires good course management. Hitting long isn't always the answer…hitting smart is. It will be interesting to see how the top amateurs do as pressure mounts during the Nomura Cup. For those of us who don't play from the tips, Denarau offers three additional sets of tees… Jade at 5625 yards, Silver at 6322 yards, and Gold at 6680 yards. Because of the many water hazards, no matter which tees are played, I could see that accurate shots are a must. The Denarau Island course, which is managed by Troon Golf the world's largest golf management company, is well situated being only a few minutes from downtown Nadi and the international airport. I think it would be a fun course to play and with numerous hotels bordering it, it is definitely a convenient course to play when visiting Fiji. After my tour of the course, I headed back to the Westin via the shuttle that runs between the hotels on the island. After a quick shower it was off to do what most visitors do in Fiji, relax around a pool or head for the beach. Although we were there for only one day and night, Shirley and I found The Westin to be an excellent resort offering up-dated accommodations, delicious food, and a relaxing South Pacific atmosphere. When we returned from Fiji, we were asked "why do vacationers go to Fiji"? My answer was lengthy yet simple…beautiful scenery, sunny bright days with cooling trade winds, warm hospitable people, accommodations and dining to fit any budget, clear crystal water for swimming, snorkeling and scuba diving, opportunities to hike, play tennis, go white-water rafting, shop, and have the opportunity to meet local Fijians and learn about their centuries old culture and why and how they continue to relish connections to their ancestral traditions. Oh yes, did I mention Fiji is a terrific place to play golf? If you are seeking a location for a relaxing vacation that offers a myriad of activities for singles, couples, families, golfers, or non-golfers, investigate Fiji. If you decide to vacation in Fiji and want to watch teams of the best young amateur golfers from Asia and the South Pacific compete for the prestigious Nomura Cup, plan your vacation in mid-August of this year. For more information about vacationing in Fiji, visit www.Fijime.com and www.TourismFiji.com. Information about the Natadola Bay Course can be found at www.NatadolaBay.com. The Intercontinental website is www.intercontinental.com/fiji. Denarau Golf & Racquet Club information is located at www.denaraugolf.com.fj and information about the Westin Denarau Island is at www.westin.com/denarauresort. Air Pacific information on flights to Fiji can be accessed at www.airpacific.com.