Golf par­adise Done to a tee

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel - Bren­dan Moloney

WITH lit­tle fear of con­tra­dic­tion it can be stated there is no more ex­otic place on earth to play golf than Toberua Is­land, 20km west of Suva (30 min­utes by taxi and a fur­ther 30 min­utes by ferry).

De­signed by Aus­tralian artist Ken Done in 1985, Royal Toberua Golf Club’s nine-hole course plays along the beach be­tween trop­i­cal palms and the azure shim­mer of the South Pa­cific Ocean.

Ul­tra-private and with its own res­i­dent pro­fes­sional, stun­ning views and main­tained so there is not a blade of grass out of place, the course is al­most per­fect.

The only thing keep­ing it out­side the top 100 in the world rank­ings is that, ac­tu­ally, there is not a blade of grass here.

Toberua dis­ap­pears un­der about a me­tre of wa­ter at high tide, which re­duces the area of the is­land from 10ha to just two.

Al­though this means lim­ited tee times, no one is fussed. In Fiji the con­cept of time is dif­fer­ent. In Aus­tralia we work to ei­ther stan­dard or sum­mer time; in Fiji, work­ing to day­light is near enough.

The laid-back na­ture of golf­ing in par­adise is best summed up by the lo­cal rules, de­vised by Done and Michael Den­nis, for­mer owner and co-de­signer of the course.

Rule one: Snakes may be lifted and dropped two club lengths away with­out penalty. (Al­though ven­omous, the snakes are timid, slow mov­ing and clearly marked in vi­brant black and white bands.)

Two: It is ab­so­lutely for­bid­den to wear long socks and shorts.

Three: Guests out walk­ing shall be treated as haz­ards.

Four: The sea shall be treated as ca­sual wa­ter and a ball may be re­trieved and dropped with­out penalty, no closer to the hole.

Five: Tak­ing the game se­ri­ously shall in­cur a shout at the bar.

Play pro­ceeds from a line drawn in the sand to the first ‘‘ green’’, a flag­stick set in con­crete and cir­cled by an­other fur­row in the sand about 2m in di­am­e­ter. There is no hole as such and play con­cludes when the ball lands inside the cir­cle. The length of the holes varies from 90 to 180m, giv­ing a round of about 1200m and a par of 27.

The course record is 21, held by Den­nis and Done, a reg­u­lar vis­i­tor. This is se­ri­ously good golf, given the na­ture of the ter­rain, and prob­a­bly puts both play­ers in breach of rule five, above. The fair­ways are a com­bi­na­tion of sand, rocky out­crops and shal­low pools, mak­ing the fate of even the most per­fectly struck shot com­pletely un­pre­dictable.

Golf­ing skills are tested to the ut­most be­cause both fi­nesse and dis­tance on the longer holes are re­quired from the one club car­ried.

‘‘ The trick,’’ says pro­fes­sional Lala, ‘‘ is to pick the ball cleanly from the sand and get the tee shot close to the green so you have an easy sec­ond.’’ Lala came to the is­land 16 years ago and has not played else­where. He thinks he might like to play a course with grass one day but is not in a rush.

Pace of life on the is­land is gov­erned by the ris­ing and set­ting of the sun, the open­ing and clos­ing of the golf course by the tide and the beat­ing of the big log drum to sig­nify meals and morn­ing and af­ter­noon tea. When the course is closed, guests can fish, kayak or snorkel on it. An­other thing that sets the round at Toberua apart is that play­ers are likely to be in­ter­rupted by a cheer­ful waiter — there are two staff mem­bers for each guest — bear­ing the din­ner menu and ex­plain­ing the chef’s specials, the catch of the day and who caught it.

There are only 15 bures, each styled af­ter a tra­di­tional chief’s home, with high, vaulted ceil­ings and ve­ran­das front and rear. The spa­cious in­te­ri­ors are fur­nished in Fi­jian colo­nial style, with a ceil­ing fan, planters’ chairs and mod­ern ap­pli­ances. The whole back of the bure, made of lou­vred wooden doors, can be opened up to view a private beach, palms and the wide blue yon­der.

The is­land has no television, ra­dio, news­pa­pers, ve­hi­cles or crowds, and there is one tele­phone. Guests over the years have found them­selves min­gling be­side the pool, in the bar or over din­ner with Ringo Starr, Burt Reynolds and Loni An­der­son, Caro­line Kennedy and Robin Wil­liams, while Billy Con­nolly and Pamela Stephen­son took over the en­tire is­land for their wed­ding.

Meals can be had in the bures and guests who like to min­gle can dine un­der the stars on the pa­tio lit by flam­ing torches at night or in the restau­rant if it rains. The qual­ity of the fare ranges from good Fi­jian takes on in­ter­na­tional dishes to ex­cel­lent, freshly caught seafood.

Toberua is hard to leave. Throw­ing a flower on the wa­ter to sig­nify you will re­turn as the boat pulls away from the staff singing a farewell on the pier is likely to bring a lump to the throat. Bren­dan Moloney was a guest of the Fiji Vis­i­tors’ Bureau.

Check­list

Toberua Is­land, PO Box 3332, Nau­sori, Fiji. Phone + 679 3472 777; www.toberua.com. Tar­iff: Varies ac­cord­ing to the sea­son; in­cludes all meals and re­turn ferry fares. Get­ting there: Daily flights from Aus­tralia to Nadi and a 20-minute flight to Suva; 30-minute taxi ride from Suva to ferry; 30-minute ferry trip to is­land. Sea­plane trans­fer avail­able at ad­di­tional cost. Check­ing in: Oc­ca­sional celebri­ties, in­trepid golfers, wed­ding par­ties and hon­ey­moon­ers. Bed­time read­ing: Tale­soft­heSouth Pa­cific by James A. Mich­ener. Step­ping out: On to 10ha of is­land at low tide, 2ha at high tide. Fish­ing equip­ment on the is­land is free; deep-sea and reef fish­ing and div­ing (res­i­dent qual­i­fied in­struc­tor) at ad­di­tional cost. Brick­bats: The need to be po­lite and drink kava on ar­rival. Bou­quets: Cheer­ful staff who know guests by name. Catch­ing fish for din­ner from the pier. Ham­mock for siesta on private beach.

Ca­sual lie: Golf has a unique look at Toberua, where a round is sub­ject to tides

Beach bure: With a view to re­lax­ation

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