Mention Fiji and the first things to come to mind are tropical weather, breathtaking sunsets and, of course, rugby. But unbeknown to most, this is also where you’ll find Natadola Bay Golf Course, arguably the top layout in Oceania.
Golf in Fiji? A reasonable question given that diving and idling under the sun by the beach are arguably the two most popular activities for vacationers here. But if you do enjoy teeing it up when on holiday, then you’ll be surprised by the quality, challenge and beauty of the Vijay Singh-designed course that is part of the InterContinental Fiji property.
Located in the south-west corner of the main island of Viti Levu (the country comprises more than 330 islands), the course and its accompanying hotel enjoy the famous sunsets the country is known for. Planning a round in the late afternoon affords a glimpse at multi-hued skies and a straight-line horizon that is as devoid of boats as far as the eye can see.
Taking your eye and attention away from the irresistible surroundings when playing Singh’s course is probably something you’d not want to do if you don’t want to find yourself losing too many balls or needing a calculator to add up your strokes. Though it’s ‘resort’ in nature, the course crafted by the Fijian Major-winner throws up 18 holes that are as varied from each other as they are linked by their stunning countenance.
You’re never too far away from the water – whether it’s the ocean or one of the ponds and canals – when playing Natadola Bay. One of the great privileges is that the sea is visible on many of the holes. And on those that don’t afford that view, the tranquil hills and lush vegetation of the Fijian countryside more than make up for it.
Given Singh’s penchant for practice and the high standards he puts on himself, it won’t surprise that the course kicks off with a testy, long par-4 that slaps you awake from the get-go. The 415-metre first hole features a narrow fairway with bunkers on either side, and a green that instigates all balls hit long and right to find the pond at the back. If you don’t hit it long enough, and can’t shape the ball left to right, be happy with a bogey and carry on.
It’s worth mentioning again that the variety of hole designs at Natadola Bay is one of its many strengths. You’ll never know what you’re going to get if you don’t look at the nicely designed course guide before teeing off, which is really one of the many pleasures of playing here. My suggestion is to let yourself be surprised at each tee and take the challenges as they come.
Many of the holes compete for ‘signature’ status, and there is no clear winner. The fourth – noted as “the hardest and most scenic par 3” on the course – plays along the beach; the par-4 sixth has a tee atop a bluff looking down at the entire hole with a view of the Pacific behind; the short but treacherous par-4 12th has the ocean beyond, and water all along the right; and the 16th is a delightful hole that demands a straight and true tee shot over a large lake.
Fairways that have more twist and turns than a Formula 1 track aren’t the only thing to contend with at Natadola Bay. The location of the course lends itself to the strong winds that sweep in from the Coral Sea. And given that on several holes you will be teeing off on high ground, the stiff breezes can play havoc with those drives. Your approaches onto the green complexes here also need to be on the mark. Many greens have fall-off sides that can lead your ball to places where getting up and down is more than just a tricky proposition.
But ultimately, the combination of challenge, beauty and playability rule the day for anyone playing at Natadola Bay. Singh’s achievement in his homeland is a feather in the cap for a player who has brought golf glory to these small islands in the sun.
It goes without saying that staying at InterContinental Fiji is almost a necessity when you intend to play at Natadola Bay – and even so if you’re just visiting the island. The resort reeks of high-end quality and offers nearly everything anyone needs or desires when looking for a tropical, seaside holiday.
Spread across 14 hectares, guests have the benefit of a variety of room and suite choices, several swimming pools (some are adults-only) and a list of restaurants to choose from. Navo restaurant offers a luxe experience for diners who want something special, Sanasana provides all-day dining and a buffet spread that doesn’t leave any culinary stone unturned and the more casual Toba Bar & Grill allows you to enjoy lunch and dinner right by the beach.
The spa at the hotel can’t be missed. In its exquisite setting, therapies run the gamut from body treatments, massages and scrubs to pedicures, manicures and waxing. And if you can’t make up your mind, then choosing one of the many packages lets you enjoy an entire suite of pampering.
Island on an Island
It is true that Fiji is made up of more than 330 islands, many of them uninhabited, but perhaps the most famous island of them all doesn’t require a boat to get to.
Denarau Island, located just 10 kilometres from Nadi where the main airport is located, is reachable by road. In fact, you won’t even realise that you’re on the island given how well it’s connected to the ‘mainland’. But cross the bridge into this resort-cum-residential neighbourhood and you’ll see why many expatriates and visitors choose to make this their home or base when they’re in Fiji.
Several global-chain hotels can be found on Denarau, and one of the premier ones is the Sheraton Fiji Resort. Although the décor may reflect a ’90s vibe, the spaciousness and grandeur of the property is likely to be something few resorts offer today. The rooms here are well spaced, located on low blocks that offer quiet and privacy. They’re larger than the usual hotel variety and most come with balconies on which you can enjoy the balmy seaside breezes that blow in from the beach.
One of the greatest advantages of staying at the Sheraton Fiji Resort is you can just walk across to Denarau Golf Course on the other side of the road (the hotel offers a cart ride). Opened in 1993, the course is truly resort in nature, featuring wide, palm tree-lined fairways and little undulation. But designer Eiichi Motohashi put together 18 fun and highly playable holes that stretch 6,538 metres, so it’s no pushover by any means. Mangrove swamps and marine-shaped bunkers and greens are unique to Denarau, and 15 of the holes have water hazards.
Having a hit while on a beach holiday is one thing here, but this is also a great place to hone your game. Lessons and clinics are available, and the practice facilities include chipping and bunker areas and a very nicely appointed putting green.
Another advantage of staying and playing at Denarau is that the dining options extend beyond the hotel restaurants. Bulaccino, situated next to Sheraton Fiji, offers meals prepared from ingredients straight from the restaurant’s own 12-hectare organic garden farm. And for something more familiar and hearty, The Rhum-Ba & Denarau Yacht Club offers breakfast, lunch and dinner, and a rum list that features more than 100 labels from around the world. Rhum-Ba is also a great place if you come in a big group, and its setting right by the marina should put everyone in a great mood to have a great time.
Home Of Adventure
If you have time, and the desire, to play one more course in Fiji, you may want to venture south to Pacific Harbour where you will find The Pearl Resort. Like Natadola Bay and Denarau, The Pearl Championship Golf Course is associated with the resort of the same name and is located conveniently next to it.
You may want to keep your expectation in check when you bring your clubs here, though. Although this Robert Trent Jones Jnr layout is a gem, you may need to look past the fact that the course has suffered the test of time. If you do, then this Trent Jones Jnr design is a hoot to play. The 18-hole course was where Greg Norman won one of his first professional titles, in 1978, and was ranked the country’s No.1 layout shortly when it opened that year.
You’ll see a little bit of everything on this rather exotic track. Thick tropical foliage gives way to open expanses of farmland. The 6,285-metre course comprises several rivers and ponds filled with colourful water lilies. Water hazards are found on 12 of the 18 holes, so keeping away from them is a key strategy that you’d like to take note of.
The par-4 16th is a rather unique hole where you need to park your cart on one side of a road, then cross underneath it to get to the elevated tee. From there, you have a view of the entire hole. And if you play it approaching sunset, the skies are illuminated gold, red and blue, dampening the difficulty of walking away with a par.
Pacific Harbour, where The Pearl Resort is located, is known as the “adventure capital of Fiji”, most notably for its position where myriad outdoor activities may be had. Boats depart from here to dive sites just a little yonder, and visitors can opt for inland visits to waterfalls and cultural villages to get a closer glimpse of traditional life in a Fiji.
Of course, just staying at The Pearl Resort and enjoying its many facilities, is a viable option. The accommodation is contemporary in design and the many dining choices allow you to taste from the best Fiji has to offer. Of these, you can’t go wrong with Seduce, the waterfront restaurant that boasts dishes from locally sourced ingredients amid a setting that oozes tropical sex appeal.
Whether you’re coming for the golf, for the sea or simply to get away in a land where the temerity of urban living is overcome by the tranquility of the tropics, there is something for everyone in Fiji. Most of all, wherever you go, and whomever you meet, the smiles and warmth of the Fijians will make your experience one you’ll never forget.
Natadola Bay Golf Course
Maro Rd, Natadola Bay
natadolabay.com +679 673 3500
Denarau Golf & Racquet Club
Denarau Island, Nadi
denarau.com +679 675 9711
The Pearl Championship Golf Course
The Pearl Resort, Pacific Harbour
thepearlsouthpacific.com/play/golf/ +679 773 0022
InterContinental Fiji Golf Resort & Spa
Maro Rd, Natadola Bay
ihg.com +679 673 3300
Sheraton Fiji Resort
Denarau Island South, Nadi
sheratonfiji.com +679 675 0777
The Pearl Resort
Queens Rd, Pacific Harbour
thepearlsouthpacific.com +679 773 0022
rhum-ba.com +679 770 7486
Discover Fiji Tours
This adventure outfit operating out of Navua offers several tour itineraries that include jetboating and whitewater rafting. Their Jewel of Fiji itinerary lets visitors ride on longboats up Navua River to see Magic Waterfall, and end with a visit to a traditional Fijian village with a delicious, authentic meal provided by the inhabitants.
PO Box 171, Navua, Fiji Islands
discoverfijitours.com +679 346 0480