GOLF­ING IN THE SOUTH PACIFIC

Go Travel The Pacific - - Contents - BySteveKhatib

Iboarded my early morn­ing Jet­star flight from a chilly Mel­bourne Air­port full of an­tic­i­pa­tion, as my travel itin­er­ary has me land­ing in the trop­i­cal Nadi, Fiji in six hours time. The des­ti­na­tion is Nata­dola Bay and the In­ter­con­ti­nen­tal Resort on the Fiji’s Coral Coast, home to the coun­tries num­ber one ranked and new­est cham­pi­onship golf course lo­cated on the south west coast of Fiji’s main is­land Viti Levu.

Af­ter a smooth flight, I was col­lected by my com­pli­men­tary shut­tle and af­ter a com­fort­able forty-five minute costal drive south, I checked in at the mag­nif­i­cent five-star In­ter­Con­ti­nen­tal Fiji Golf Resort & Spa. The resort is lo­cated on Nata­dola Beach and fea­tures restau­rants and bars, a luxury spa, swim­ming pools and con­fer­ence fa­cil­i­ties. My room had all the mod­ern con­ve­niences one would ex­pect from such top class resort in­clud­ing wire­less in­ter­net and ca­ble tele­vi­sion, so I could keep in touch with golf hap­pen­ings back home. How­ever, I had no time for tak­ing in what the resort had to of­fer; as I headed straight to the driv­ing range and short game fa­cil­ity for some much needed prac­tice prior to my round the next day.

The prac­tice fa­cil­i­ties where first class and af­ter a cou­ple of buck­ets of balls and plenty of bunker prac­tice I felt com­fort­able to take on a course, that has a rep­u­ta­tion of be­ing very un­for­giv­ing to er­rant shots.

That even­ing I headed to the Vatu Lo bar to meet up with some other golfers that I had met on the prac­tice range. The Vatu Lo bar has spec­tac­u­lar views across the golf course and was a great place to watch the sun go down while sam­pling some of Fiji’s best beers. For the record my fa­vorite was the Vonu Pure Larger; a very nice drop in­deed. To com­pli­ment the am­ber ale, I dined on some suc­cu­lent lo­cal seafood, choos­ing the Si­ga­toka River prawns bat­tered in co­rian­der ac­com­pa­nied by a tra­di­tional dish of freshly caught reef fish called “Kokada”. Feel­ing very sat­is­fied af­ter sharing golf­ing sto­ries and ex­pe­ri­ences with my new friends in fine sur­round­ings en­joy­ing great lo­cal Fi­jian food, I ad­journed back to my room for an early night be­fore to­mor­row’s round.

I awoke to an­other day in par­adise with a clas­sic South Pacific vista from my ho­tel room. Af­ter break­fast I headed to the course and in the pro shop I met the res­i­dent pro­fes­sion­als Amitesh and Apenisa. Two ab­so­lute gen­tle­men, and in my opin­ion you could not meet a friend­lier, more wel­com­ing team at any pro shop any­where in the world. I sub­se­quently pro­ceeded to pick their brains about the cham­pi­onship lay­out de­signed by Fi­jian for­mer world num­ber one and three time ma­jor win­ner Vi­jay Singh, and about tech­niques and strate­gies I could use to tame the tough Nata­dola Bay lay­out. In sum­mary, they ad­vised me to “to be ac­cu­rate off the tee and if the wind does pick up through­out

your round take one ex­tra club than you may think” Oh and also “due to the thick veg­e­ta­tion, make sure you have plenty of spare balls in your golf bag, just in case”!

Bear­ing all their com­bined lo­cal knowl­edge and wis­dom in mind, I con­fi­dently placed my tee in the ground on the first hole and threw cau­tion to wind with my best driver swing. The first hole is a par four and I stood perched on top of an el­e­vated tee with one of the best views you could pos­si­bly imag­ine for an open­ing hole. It re­ally does set the scene for the course and the round ahead. My tee shot seemed to stay in the air for­ever as it found its way safely onto the fair­way be­low. I safely found the green for a two putt par and just prior to reach­ing the sig­na­ture hole, the par three forth hole even with the card I passed a lit­tle white build­ing. It was the So­mo­somo church that had been re­tained by the course ar­chi­tects as maybe an op­por­tu­nity for golfers to seek some po­ten­tial divine in­ter­ven­tion for any way­ward shots that may oc­cur in the re­main­ing fif­teen holes.

The staff in the pro shop had told me all about this hole and its Pacific Ocean back­drop. It cer­tainly did not fail to dis­ap­point, with three bunkers guard­ing a green that slopes from front to back and ocean to the left it would be a brave golfer to fire at a back left flag lo­ca­tion. How­ever, I had the golf­ing gods on my side, so why not. A lit­tle too much draw and my four iron just landed on the left side of the green rolling off onto the fringe. Phew! I es­caped with a par and gazed up to the heav­ens upon leav­ing the green.

The next two holes were solid back to back par fives, which re­quire wa­ter car­ries from el­e­vated tees, are a good test and re­ward strate­gic po­si­tion­ing rather than brute force.

I reached the back nine and the par four tenth hole at one over the card sat­is­fied with the strate­gic, tough, but fair na­ture of the front nine holes I had just played. The tenth is a test­ing gen­tle dog­leg right hole, with trees strate­gi­cally po­si­tioned down the right side of the fair­way. I drove safely down the left hand side right near the na­tive bala-bala tree dis­tance marker; th­ese trees can be seen through­out the course are said to be home to an­cient spir­its. Un­for­tu­nately how­ever, I mis­judged my ap­proach shot to the green just short and found the deep green­side sand trap.

Re­group­ing from my pre­vi­ous rookie er­ror, I stood on the eleventh tee, a strong par five aim­ing to make amends. By this stage of the round the breeze had picked up con­sid­er­ably and I was in store for a gen­uine three shot par five; so I punched my drive low into the wind with an ab­bre­vi­ated swing. The eleventh is a real clas­sic hole with fair­way bunkers and an un­du­lat­ing de­cep­tively nar­row fair­way.

The back nine con­tin­ues with some fab­u­lous short holes that pro­vide golfers with some re­al­is­tic birdie op­por­tu­ni­ties. The most mem­o­rable be­ing the short par four twelfth where a creek guards the right hand side the fair­way and ex­tends all the way up to the front of the green, prevent­ing play­ers sim­ply blaz­ing away with their driver. Rather, a lay-up and well judged ap­proach shot is required. My other fa­vorite was the short par three fif­teenth, a hole that re­quires an ac­cu­rate wedge or short iron into a small green sur­rounded by sand; ev­ery course needs one th­ese holes.

Af­ter some medium to short length holes, the course closes with two solid fin­ish­ing holes. A reach­able par five dog leg to the left and the strong par four eigh­teenth, where there are a se­ries of fair­way bunkers lurk­ing to trap your tee shot, in­clud­ing my pulled drive. A long iron ap­proach shot is then required to a gen­er­ous un­du­lat­ing green with bunkers again ever present.

As I sat back and con­tem­plated my round in the tra­di­tion­ally de­signed styled Fi­jian club­house, I couldn’t help but think of how im­por­tant this course could be in the devel­op­ment of the game of golf in the re­gion, with the stag­ing of the mil­lion dol­lar PGA Fiji In­ter­na­tional tour­na­ment and the ap­pear­ance of lo­cal golf­ing leg­end Vi­jay Singh. Nata­dola is a sim­ply unique course with fif­teen ocean side holes, spec­tac­u­lar panoramic views and quaint tra­di­tional Fi­jian charms; such as the tee mark­ers shaped as co­conut open­ers called “neck­break­ers”. This ex­cel­lently man­i­cured course will cer­tainly at­tract a lot of at­ten­tion and in­ter­est in the sport, with hope­fully many lo­cal young­sters be­ing in­spired to swing a golf club.

I will def­i­nitely be back again and look for­ward with an­tic­i­pa­tion to the watch­ing how the big names tackle this course in future tour­na­ments.

Steve Khatib founder of Golf Dy­nam­ics is an in­ter­na­tion­ally re­spected au­thor­ity on all mat­ters golf, ow­ing to his af­fil­i­a­tions through many years spent with the worlds lead­ing golf minds in the USA. Steve presents sev­eral pop­u­lar ra­dio and tele­vi­sion pro­grams through­out Aus­tralia and has been awarded PGA Teacher of the Year, PGA AAA Spe­cialiast Coach and Mas­ter Club­fit­ter ac­cred­i­ta­tions.

In­ter­con­ti­nen­tal Resort

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