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.
During 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 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.