March 23 - April 5, 2008
Golf: Golf in Fiji is not as well developed as it is in other destinations such as Australia and New Zealand but it is one of the better South Pacific Island destinations.
However, golf is starting to happen with the construction of a mega resort and golf course on the Coral Coast. At the present time there are about four 18 hole courses and maybe six 9 hole courses. Of the four 18 hole courses two are worth playing. (See the reviews for Denarau and the Pearl South Pacific Championship Golf Course & Country Club below.)
I did not see the other two courses, one at Nadi Airport and the other in Suva. I was told they were not much.
The two courses that I played, Denarau and the Pearl, are about 3 hours from each other. This does not make for a location where you could play two different courses in two days. If you are staying for say 3 days then stay and play the Denarau course. If you can stay longer, say two weeks, then break your stay and play both locations.
The two courses are entirely different. Denarau is a Troon operated resort course and the Pearl is a Robert Trent Jones Jr. designed country club.
The Pearl has been purchased by an Australian firm and they are spending money to make the hotel and course a golf destination. By February of 2009 all greens will have been rebuilt with quality sod and they stress that the course is one of the most adventurous and challenging courses in the world.
The Denarau course was awarded Australasia's Leading Golf Resort at the World Tourism Awards.
Destination: Fiji is an English speaking country made up of around 333 islands and it is located in the South Pacific about 3.5 hours from Auckland, 3.5 hours from Brisbane and 10.5 hours from Los Angeles. Air Pacific, the national airline, flies from LA, Vancouver, Brisbane, Christchurch, Sydney, and Melbourne. Qantas and Air New Zealand also fly into Nadi.
The people of Fiji are perhaps the most friendly people I have encounter during my travels. Every one will of them will greet you with a big smile and warm Bula (hello). They are interested in where you come from and what you think about Fiji.
The islands are topical, with plenty of beaches, most protected by islands and reefs. During the summer, temperatures can be in the low thirties with a tropical breeze blowing. The summer is also their wet season but since it is hot, the showers tend not to hinder most activities.
There are a number of different regions. The third largest city is Nadi and this is where the international flights land. Suva is the largest city and it is also the capital. It is located about 4 hours from Nadi. Denarau Island is near Nadi and this is the major area for the large resort hotels. It is also the port for Captain Cook Cruises to the outer islands. The other major location for resorts is the Coral Coast. Here the resorts are spread out along the coast. The beaches on the Coral Coast tend to be better then in the other regions.
Activities: This may be one of the great places in the world for diving and snorkeling. There are many different dive centers along the coast. The reef teems with tropical fish and coral. Make sure you take a two night three day island cruise with Captain Cook or the Blue Lagoon Cruises. You will enjoy the swimming, beaches, food and learning about the Fijian culture.
If you're not a diver then explore the rain forests and check out the many waterfalls around the island. Maybe you just want to explore the local markets and see the different tropical fruits and vegetables that are available. The shopping is not all that great but you can find bargains on tourist items almost anywhere.
Try the world famous river rafting or fish for the big one. You must go to one of the fire walker ceremonies that takes place on the Coral Coast. Maybe you will be brave enough to try walking on the hot coals. Take a tour of Suva or just hang out around the pool at your resort.
Hotels: The island of Denarau has maybe 10 major hotel resorts. Some of these are the Sheraton, Westin, Golf Terraces Apartments (GTA), Worldmark and Radisson. We stayed at the Golf Terraces and found it to be a great location, great room with a wonderful staff.
The GTA are located on the third hole of the Denarau Golf Course but on the far side of the water hole so golf balls are not an issue. You can sit on your balcony and watch the golfers play the par 3 third hole. The GTA has a small 25 metres pool with lanes for swimming laps. It is very nice and they serve breakfast beside the pool. The apartments are fully self contained. They have one, two and three bedroom apartments for rent by the night, week or month. The GTA is just across the street from the marina. In the marina there is maybe six restaurants, shops, and a small grocery store which also sells beer, wine and spirits. The marina is where you can board the Captain Cook Cruises if you choose to go on a one or two day cruise.
On Denarau Island they have a hop on hop off bus that circles past the resorts, marina and golf course. The buses come every 5 or 10 minutes and stop right at the door of the GTA.
The staff at the GTA informed me that the golf club will store you clubs while you are golfing on the island.
From the airport to the GTA is maybe a $30 Fijian cab ride and may take 20 minutes. It is a lot closer to Nadi, maybe 10 minutes, if you wanted to take a cab in for dinner or shopping.
You could stay at the airport for less money but you would have a lower quality hotel and the location is not as nice.
The other nice thing about the Denarau resorts is they do not mind you shopping and exploring the various properties. We had a nice lunch at the Westin which is right across the street from the golf course. If you play tennis then check out the golf course as they have 10 courts.
This island resembles Sanctuary Cove on the Gold Coast of Queensland Australia. In other words is clean, well run, friendly resort area with plenty to do.
The other hotel I want to recommend to you is the Australian owned, the Pearl on the Coral Coast. It is maybe a three hour ride from the airport on a poor road. Along the way you will pass a number of large resorts on the coast. The Pearl is not a large resort but it has outstanding beauty in a perfect location and the golf course is just across the road. The resort has 78 hotel rooms and is on a long stretch of sandy beach. It is also located on the mouth of the river and offers diving, fishing, and tours as well as golf. We found the staff to be excellent. The food was good and the pool, spa and lounges were all you could ask for.
Out of the 78 rooms they have 6 penthouses, 36 ocean view and 36 garden view rooms. I think I would pay the extra for the ocean view rooms. All rooms have been renovated or are in the stage of renovation.
Across the street and down aways are maybe three restaurants that you can try. At the same location is a Fijian Market. The Pearl is only 45 minutes from Suva which makes a tour to Suva a must do on your list of activities. For golfers this is the best location on the Coral Coast as they run a free shuttle to their course.
Direct transfers from Nadi can be arranged.
Dinning: With Fiji being a vital stop on the shipping cross roads of the Pacific you can expect and do find outstanding dining from around the world. You can dine at your resort or search out small restaurants in Nadi or Suva. However, you must try the world famous Lovo. The Lovo is a complete meal cooked in a pit covered with sand. They wrap the various items in banana leafs and let them steam over the hot stones for a long period of time. The meal will consist of beef, chicken, a full pig, and various vegetables. Desert will be fresh tropical fruit.
You also must try their nation drink, Kava. Kava is a drink made from the Kava root. It can give you a buzz and tends to make your lips go numb. It looks like coffee with cream and tastes like mud and water. All the locals drink it. In fact, we were told we could go to the grocery store and purchase 5 lbs of root and take it to the police office. They would then let us drink from their bowl of Kava. We never did this but we did manage to have it on two occasions on the Blue Lagoon Cruise when we went ashore to visit a local village.
The Fiji beer is good and does not cost too much. Try the Fijian Bitter. I suggest you purchase wine at the duty free when you land as good wine can be expensive.
Denarau Golf & Racquet Club, Viti Levu, Fiji
The greens were in good shape. They had cored the greens a few day prior to our arrival and there was still some sand on them but they played OK. The fringe and green side bunkers were good. Some of the greens were large and slope from back to front, so make sure you have the right club for the yardage. A few of the greens had tricky tiers such as 16 and 18.
The fairways had good grass, maybe of couch, but certainly not the broad leaf type that you find on a lot of tropical type of courses. It just seems easier to hit of this type of grass. They marked the sprinkler heads and the 150 and 100 as well. The second cut was smooth and even and the rough was trimmed and thinned out. I counted a total of 86 bunkers with about half of them on the fairways. The bunkers give a nice look to many of the holes. The fairways were wide and generous in most cases but you still have to place you shots to avoid the water and bunkers.
Four tee boxes, green, silver, gold and black. There were limited signs but we had course books which give you all the information you need on each hole. Every one takes carts so there were no need for benches. There was plenty of drinking water on the course at a number of the tee areas. The tees were flat and some had some nice gardens around them.
The layout was good. All the holes were different with no out and backs. Tidal water changes the course some what during the day as tidal bunkers will change in size. The bunkers and water make the course interesting to play.
Number 15 is their signature hole. As you walk up the fairway it seems to go on forever as the ocean is just beyond the green. While your partner is putting you will find yourself staring out over the ocean to the distant islands. This might be a good location to bring a bottle of wine, your partner, and sit and watch the sunset.
Eighteen is very good finishing hole. It is a par five with the water crossing the fairway in two places. I think you will have to play this as a three shot hole. I liked the four par threes. All have water that come into play. There were a number of different shaped bunkers. At least 6 had grass islands inside the bunkers and many had little fingers jutting into the sand. Over all a very nice design.
If you stay at one of the resorts the fee is $110 Fijian. This is about $75 CDN. It includes the power cart.
Courses in Fiji do not have slopes so it makes it a little more difficult to judge the difficulty from the card. The index for the four tees are: 73,72,70 and 74. The lengths from each tee are: 6513, 6109, 5780 and 5169 metres. I played from the silver tees which converts to about 6300 yards and had a decent score. With the generous landing areas you can avoid a lot of the bunkers and water but be careful as danger does lurk out there.
The course is flat, with two holes looking out on the ocean. There are nice tropical plants, flowers and water on 15 of 18 holes. On a few of the first holes you travel parallel to some very attractive homes.
All staff welcomes you "Bula" and want to help you enjoy your time at the course. Everyone we met from the pro shop employees, starters, ground crews, beverage cart driver and restaurant staff were kind and efficient.
They have an open Fijian Bure style clubhouse with gardens and a large lilly pond. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. At night the dinner is a "cook your own barbecue". The pro shop is large and fully stocked. They have 10 tennis courts and locker rooms. I did not check the wine list as wine is on the expensive side in Fiji and the selection was not always good.
Cart paths were paved but not continuous. The beverage cart came by a number of times to help us stay cool. They have tennis, range, chipping and putting areas. Washrooms were fine and at least the one on the front served more than one tee box. Rental clubs were Calaway Big Bertha's.
We were treated very well by the staff and the Director of Golf. This course is worth stopping over and playing. On one hole a local cut the top of a coconut and we had a cool drink for the next two holes. I understand the club will store your golf clubs so you do not have to take them back to your hotel room each night. This is an excellent service. The hop on hop off bus stops at the door so you do not need a car to get to the course. After the round you could eat at the club or wander across the road to one of the many resorts and eat by the ocean.
Pearl South Pacific, Nadi, Fiji
The greens are being redone and about ½ of them are good and would score about about an 8. The others are not good and might be a five. They will finish the rest of the greens this year and then all should score well. The ones that have been completed are good and the green side bunkers are good. The fringe is not that good especially around the older greens.
A number of fairways needed cutting and there was not much difference between the rough and the fairway. The others were cut and in decent shape. The fairways were bumpy rather then smooth which makes for a rough cart ride. The fairways were marked at the 200, 150 and 100 metres. The staff mentioned that the fairway mower was in for service and that cutting would catch up.
The Pearl has three tee boxes and most are quite large. The distance was marked in yards and metres. Some needed to be leveled and a couple of signs needed to be replaced.
This is a Robert Trent Jones Jr. designed course and therefore very good. The course winds through the tropical rain forest with dense bush not far from the fairways.
There is plenty of water on the course and it comes into play on a number of holes. Each hole is different and there is no out and back design.
Bunkers come into play on most holes and creeks also cross a number of the fairways such as on #6 where you have to cross two creeks. The back nine opens up a little more.
Hole #16 is outstanding as you play from an elevated tee and the river runs along the left. The green is also protected as the river widens and comes in front of the green.
This is a well designed course and for the green fees it is great value. The fees were $27 CDN when we were there.
With the creeks, ponds, river, bunkers, and trees you can find a lot of trouble. The second time you play The Pearl you will know the layout and not have as much of a problem with the creeks that cut across the fairways. The course plays from 6900 yards, 6300 and 5900. The par is 72 and the index is 72.
The course is surround by mountains, tropical rain forests, palm trees, a river, creeks and lots of good views. Because the surrounding are so different to what we see in Canada you spend time looking at the flowers, birds, and palm trees as well as staring off into the distance at the rugged mountains. There are some very nice homes that front on to a couple of the fairways. They seem to be owned by Kiwis and Aussies.
I am repeating myself but the Fijians are wonderful to be around. All the staff were great from the driver of the shuttle, pro shop, restaurant, grounds crew, and the beverage person.
The clubhouse if very attractive. It has Colonial, Fijian style with a large balcony overlooking the 18th green and a nice swimming pool. They have a locker room with showers, a pro shop that is not well stocked and a decent menu. There is also a pool table.
They have rental clubs but the ones I saw were older. They might have some newer sets in the back.
Cart paths need to be upgraded as they have been let go over the years.
I did not see a beverage cart but one of the staff would came out on a golf cart and took our order, disappeared, then come back with our ice cold drinks.
I only saw one toilet on the course and it is was of good quality. There may have been more but I did not notice them. They do have a number of power carts and you may wish to use one instead of walking unless you have come from Australia and are used to the tropical climate.
Since the hotel and course were purchased two years ago by an Australian firm the course has been under constant renovation. A number of the locals said they could not believe how good the course is now when you compare it to the way the old owners left it.
They are holding the Fijian Open at The Pearl this summer and once that is over they will start once again on the greens.
They have a new pro and Gavin is working hard to improve all aspects of the course. The golf season is all year long so it does not matter when you decide to play. This course was one of the best in the South Pacific and it is on it's way back. They have hosted a number of international tournaments here since it opened.
The hotel has free transfers and when you want to return just get the staff to phone the hotel and they are there to pick you up in five minutes.