I Played Paradise In The South Pacific – Part II

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.

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