Golf paradise Done to a tee
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.
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