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The splurge: Best luxury golf destination - Australian Golf Digest The splurge: Best luxury golf destination - Australian Golf Digest

Ever wondered how the other half live? Australian Golf Digest editor-in-chief Brad Clifton sampled life as a castaway on an ultra-exclusive Fijian island you have to see (and experience!) to believe. 

Fijians hail the versatile coconut tree as the ‘tree of life’ for its incredible value to man – there’s literally nothing they can’t use or make from the tropical wonder palm. 

It’s only fitting, then, that a former coconut plantation stranded in the middle of paradise, haloed by the crystal-blue waters of Fiji’s enchanted coral reef, entices the rich and famous with, well, just about everything!

The island life isn’t for everybody, or so they say. But those naysayers have clearly never stayed at COMO Laucala Island. Think of the best-case scenario for Tom Hanks’ character in “Cast Away”. While the fictional plane-crash survival film saw Hanks find his own food and friendship in a volleyball named ‘Wilson’ on a deserted island, had he washed ashore just 360 kilometres to the north-east of the movie set’s location, he could have been sipping on Chateau Petrus and chilling with fellow Hollywood A-listers like George Clooney and Oprah Winfrey.

Suffice to say, whatever your definition of ‘luxury’ is, remove it from your consciousness right away and prepare to replace it with what may just be the most opulent fly-in fly-out golf destination on the planet. 

A total of 46,680 visitors arrived in Fiji during April this year. While most of those partook in your typical tourist junkets like a family holiday in Port Denarau or a spot of business in Suva, a very small number made a beeline for COMO Laucala Island, a 50-minute
flight by private plane from Nadi International Airport.

Laucala – pronounced ‘law-thala’ – is no ordinary isle. It’s the private playground of billionaire Red Bull tycoon Dietrich Mateschitz and a place reserved exclusively for those who can afford it. While it remains one of Hollywood’s top-secret hangouts (an 11-hour flight from Los Angeles for total anonymity is very appealing), more and more Aussies are splurging on this ultimate escape at our doorstep after two-and-a-half years of lockdowns. 

On Laucala Island, just 25 – yes, twenty-five – luxurious residences are spread out on private beaches, above lagoons, atop hills and amid jungle, each designed in harmony with Fiji’s extraordinary natural heritage and finished with a level of luxury one would expect from a place once owned by the Forbes family.

From the moment you touch down the red-carpet treatment begins. A traditional welcome serenade is followed by the introduction of your own private ‘Tau’ (Fijian for ‘friend’) – a personal butler who’s on hand to organise whatever you want, whenever you want it. It was here your scribe was whisked away in my mode of transport for the week – a golf cart – to my beachside villa. Although, ‘villa’ is underselling things a little. My accommodation was 2,000 square metres in size, split into two halves. One half was my palatial living quarters with an uber-luxe bedroom, bathroom and sunken lounge. The other half of the building was my own personal bar and secondary living space, stocked – and constantly restocked – with only the finest wines and spirits
on offer. 

Outside, an infinity pool with burning torches flanked my villa, with more outdoor dining, bathroom and bedding arrangements spread out for me to take full advantage of as waves gently rolled onto the sand of my own private beach. It turns out $US5,600 a night buys you quite a lot.

When hunger strikes, you’re well taken care of. Around-the-clock menus are inspired by the bounty of surrounding field and ocean in mind, all conceived by Australian executive chef Dan Boller, who hails from Newcastle.

“It’s a pretty special place to be a chef,” admits Boller, who oversees an impressive self-sustainable farm spread out across 97 hectares of lush fields that produces everything from organic fruit, vegetables, honey and coffee to seemingly unlimited supplies of poultry, pork and mouth-watering Wagyu beef.

When you’re not busy over-indulging on Boller’s fare, every imaginable island-based activity is part of the Laucala experience: sailing, scuba-diving, fishing, jet-skiing and horse riding are popular. If that’s too much for your ticker, the Riviera 41 Flybridge yacht will have to suffice. You party pooper, you!

Speaking of otherworldly, we haven’t even got to the golf yet.

Island greens

There is perhaps no finer example of feeling the complete anonymity and sanctuary of COMO Laucala Island than when navigating its epic golf course.

Designed by Scotsman David McLay-Kidd of Bandon Dunes fame, this 18-hole imitation of Jurassic Park cuts through dense jungle and along the island’s picturesque shores. Rated the hardest test of golf in the South Pacific (and apparently the second hardest course Adam Scott has ever played!), you’ll more than likely have the entire layout to yourself to play over and over again, just like “Ocean’s Eleven” star Clooney often does. “He always arrives with a giant box of golf balls and bottles of tequila,” reveals the club’s assistant pro. Nothing like preparing for the elements, hey George?

Like the island’s many restaurant options, this is a golf course that dishes up surprise after surprise – a tropical blend of long and short holes, many with elevated tees and breathtaking scenery that aids you in overcoming some otherwise intimidating sightlines with driver in hand. Make no mistake, though, miss the fairway around here and it’s almost certain to be a ‘reload’. Not that you’ll care. In fact, this writer has never felt more relaxed watching his ball sail into oblivion. It’s a place that has that kind of effect on you. 

“Laucala was a challenge,” admits McLay-Kidd. “We didn’t have great mapping so the course was laid out old-style: machete through the jungle and wading through swamps.” 

A couple of non-golfing guests were as amazed as I was at the condition and setting of the course. The mix of Bermuda greens and Zoysia fairways clearly hold up well in the tropical climate, and pave the way for many memorable shots, not least the signature hole – the par-5 12th – that hugs the shoreline and can play differently on any given day, depending on the tide.

“Ultimately, we tried to find a way to explore the island through a golf course,” adds McLay-Kidd. “We left as much of the natural terrain alone. When we got to the ocean holes, we couldn’t figure out the routing but then thought we can cross holes as there will never be enough players for it to be a safety issue. I mean, there can’t be a more remote golf course on earth!”

I’m wracking my brains…

The real beauty of McLay-Kidd’s work is that if your game is more Clooney than Cam Smith, you can enjoy three different sets of tees that adjust the course length from 6,245 metres to 4,614. Whichever you choose, it will be a round you won’t forget anytime soon, unless you’re going too heavy on the tequila.

Above and beyond

Nothing is off limits at COMO Laucala Island, hardly surprising when your owner co-founded a brand heavily involved in extreme sports. But steer away from the jet-skiing, game-fishing and kite surfing for a moment and you quickly pick up the hospitable nature of the place and its staff. It’s as clear as the water around you that the only priority on the island is you. Case in point: the husband who wanted to treat his wife to something extra special on her 50th birthday during a recent stay. After plotting with island management on a host of little surprises throughout the day, they turned things up a notch with a helicopter ride around the island to reveal a gigantic birthday message spelt out with coconuts along the guest jetty. “The birthday girl was truly blown away and the following barbecue with serenades helped create a memory of a lifetime for the couple,” recalls COMO Laucala Island general manager Gary Henden, no stranger to opulence himself having arrived at Laucala from previous management roles at Six Senses resorts across Asia.

“COMO Laucala is a true escape for everyone looking to rejuvenate and pamper their senses, either by slowing down to island life or immersing themselves in an abundance of experiences,” Henden adds. “The spacious island resort offers everything for all ages, from the most outdoor and active to those who’d rather enjoy a leisurely tee off followed by a COMO Shambala spa treatment.”

This writer can attest to that last bit. A wonderful day’s golf capped off with an incredible spa treatment and some cocktails on the beach is living your best Laucala life.

Something else not to be missed is the wine list. You’ll stand captivated in the island’s Plantation House cellar, home to a plethora of international varietals undoubtedly highlighted by its Bordeaux range. Among the collection during my stay was Château Lafite Rothschild (2009), Château Latour (1994 and ’98), Château Margaux (1995) and my pick of the lot, Château Pétrus (2004), which can have a re-sale value upwards of $US$6,000 a bottle, such is its demand.

Getting there

You own a private jet, no? If so, you can just fly in with your friends or family and for a set fee of $US10,000 upon arrival and $8,000 upon departure, all of your landing, customs and immigration requirements will be taken care of. 

If your Gulfstream happens to be out of action at the moment, you can fly into Nadi and take advantage of Laucala’s private charter service that includes use of its own private lounge at Nadi International Airport. 

COMO Laucala Island villa rates start from $US5,600 a night for a one-bedroom beachfront villa. A two-bedroom overwater bungalow with private lagoon access will set you back $US9,800 per night. And if you want Oprah’s choice of rooms – the Hilltop estate with panoramic views of the entire island – well, that’s available upon request, too. Keep in mind, all prices are exclusive of prevailing government taxes (15 percent) and are subject to change, while some activities on the island may come at an additional cost.

So, go on, spoil yourself! You’ve earned it. 

The details

COMO Laucala Island
Where: Cakaudrove, Fiji Islands
Phone: +679 888 0077