NATADOLA, FIJI — Thank goodness when Natadola Bay Championship Golf Course was finished in 2009, V.J. Singh, a native son and architect didn’t go all Donald Trump on us and declare it was the greatest course ever built.
The host course of the Fiji International is certainly breathtaking – located on a pristine, spectacular expanse of the Coral Coast of this boondocks nation in the South Pacific.
It’s also a blast to play with adventurous, fun holes that have turquoise-ocean views on 15 of the 18 as the surf breaks on coral reefs in the distance.
Singh, however, actually left the design team before it was finished and praises the finished product, but says it just doesn’t allow enough room for the gale-force wind that battered this year’s Fiji International.
OneAsia and Australasian tours co-sanctioned the event, won by the USA’s Matt Kuchar. It was so windy countless professional golfers were seen muttering as yet another hat blew down the lush fairways.
“That is the hardest wind I’ve played in my entire life,” said Singh of Tuesday’s practice round. If it keeps blowing (30 to 50 mph gusts caused by a rare tropical depression) the winner will be plus six instead of the 10-under 278 that won last year by Steven Jeffress.”
“It was a lot like this year’s British Open at St. Andrews when they had to stop play,” said Kuchar. “Conditions like this test a golfer’s best abilities.”
Kuchar was up to the task. He shot 3-under 69 on Saturday and Sunday, when the wind slowed, for a four-stroke victory proving why he is ranked No. 16 in the world. The seven-time PGA Tour winner finished at 4-under 284. No other player was under par.
On the second hole of the first round Kuchar was jubliant as his putt went two feet past the hole only to watch, seconds later, the wind blow the ball back in to the hole.
“This golf course is tough and tight,” Singh continued. “As soon as the tournament concludes we will make a plan to increase the size of the green complexes and widen the fairways because we do want people to come back and play.”
Translation – novice golfers have been known to lose 12 or more golf balls playing the 7,169-yard layout on such windy days easily making it one of the hardest tracks in the world.
Fiji golf holiday? Start with the InterContinental Fiji Golf Resort & Spa
The luxurious, sprawling InterContinental has 35 acres of hotel and outdoors activities — a sandy beach, four swimming pools, kids club, spa, and concerige ready to schedule snorkeling, scuba diving, deep-sea fishing and even a Sigatoka River Safari.
The 271 rooms, suites and villas include a private terrace complete with a deep bathtub for two, daybeds and view of the ocean.
Five restaurants (my favorite was Nuvo), bars, conference facilities and a wedding chapel make this an all-inclusive resort. No need to leave the grounds except for the shuttle bus ride to Natadola Bay golf a mile away.
The Port at Denarau
About an hour away near the Nadi International Airport is The Port at Denarau. Located on the water’s edge this is Fiji’s largest single collection of shopping and dining and is a launching point for island hop cruises, deep-sea fishing, paddle boarding, kayaking and the occasional ocean liner.
It’s also a couple of minutes from several luxury hotels that can be your base for Denarau Golf & Racquet Club, a 6,513-yard, par 72 golf course designed by Eiichi Motobashi. The course plays firm and fast and water traverses your sight line constantly with giant coconut palms. The ocean comes in to view on a couple of back nine holes.
Stay across the street from the golf course at the Sofitel Fiji Resort & Spa and check in to the adults-only Waitui Beach Club. That simply means that outside my sliding porch door was a swimming complex, infinity pool, champagne bar, restaurant, poolside cabanas and workout area where no children are allowed.
By no means is Fiji not children-friendly. In fact Austrailians and New Zealanders love Fiji because some hotels offer free kids activities at certain times. Nanny services are very affordable.
I also checked out The Pearl South Pacific Championship Golf Course about two and a half hours away. This Robert Trent Jones Jr. layout is lush and green getting more rainfall than the Denarau Island area. Canals, 66 bunkers and numerous water hazards makes this a fun tropical rainforest golf adventure.
Fiji Islands — get away from the hustle and bustle
Fiji, a rugby crazy nation, includes about 330 islands and one, Monuriki, was where “Cast Away” was filmed with Tom Hanks.
Fiji is renowned for its stunning beaches, beautiful warm climate, and its unique relaxed island atmosphere. You won’t be able to escape the friendliness of the Fijian people or the sheer natural beauty — swaying palms and warm, clear water. Consult Tourism Fiji for complete information.
Most of the Fiji Islands are not inhabited. The main island Vitu Levu contains the capital Suva in the east and Nadi (pronounced “Nandi”) on the west coast. The Mamanuca Group of islands are located very close to Nadi and contain a number of popular island resorts. Transfers to the closer islands are easily facilitated by boat with air transfers being more common for the outer islands and those further away.
Fiji Airways your gateway to friendly islanders
Getting to Fiji on Fiji Airways sets the tone for a vacation that will slow your pace and bring a smile to your face. Every where you go you will be greeted by “Bula” — Fijians’ hello.
Go in style — fly Fiji Airways business class from Los Angeles International Airport and be pampered with two hot meals, movies and a vast selection of alcoholic beverages.
It is 10 and a half hours, but you will arrive already with a taste of this island’s famous hospitality. Your spacious business class seat assignment reclines to almost flat on an Airbus 330-200 and sleep can reduce that flight time significantly.
Story by David R. Holland