Fiji • Polynesian Paradise
Ask golfers what they know about Fiji and most will identify it as the birthplace of Vijay Singh. Beyond that, they have little if any idea. In fact, this South Pacific republic comprises a chain of 333 islands, roughly a third of them inhabited. The landscape is quintessentially Polynesian: Palm trees sway in cooling zephyrs and crushed-coral beaches are lapped by gentle, reef-retarded swells. Although the course on which Singh learned the game remains a crude eighteen, Fiji has some distinctive tropical layouts dotted among its dozens of luxury resorts. English is the primary language spoken in this former British colony, but there are two Fijian words any visitor needs: bula (hello) and vinaka (thank you). And you can’t leave without trying kava, the ceremonial drink made from the ground roots of a plant related to the pepper tree. A relaxant, it tastes fairly muddy but pleasantly numbs the mouth and lips.
Where to Play
Denaru Golf & Racquet Club * * * *
This lush design—the best in Fiji—is shared by a group of opulent resorts on Denarau Island (essentially an offshoot of the main island of Viti Levu). Rugged mountains tower over the course, and some of the bunkers are tidal, causing them to be intermittently swallowed by ocean surges. If you’re a guest of the nearby Sheraton Fiji, don’t miss the twice-daily hole-in-one contest: a sixty-five-yard flick from just off the clubhouse veranda to the practice green. You get three cracks to win three free nights plus two rounds of golf on a future visit to the resort.
Denarau Island; 011-679/675-9711, denaraugolf.com.fj. YARDAGE: 7,123. PAR: 72. GREENS FEES: $65-$74. ARCHITECT: Eiichi Motohashi, 1993.
Pearl Championship Golf Course * * *
A riverside course at the Pearl South Pacific resort (formerly the Pacific Harbour International Hotel), this was the site of Greg Norman’s first international victory, in 1978. The layout is rather flat—its defenses are the wind and several Scottish-style burns—but the setting is lovely. Located on the south side of Viti Levu a half hour from Suva, the Fijian capital, the holes wind through a rainforest.
Pacific Harbour, Deuba; 011-679/345-0905, thepearlsouthpacific.com. YARDAGE: 6,908. PAR: 72. GREENS FEE: $25. ARCHITECT: Robert Trent Jones Jr., 1975.
Where to Stay
Most travelers visit both a mainland resort and one on an outlying island. On the mainland, the Sheraton Fiji (rooms from $410; sheraton.com) offers luxury rooms with magnificent ocean views; book a deck table at the Blue Vonu restaurant and watch the setting sun dissolve into the inky water while ceremonial torches flicker against the dusk. For an offshore splurge, visit the Wakaya Club (suites from $1,900; wakaya.com), a private-island hideaway east of Viti Levu. This is where Keith Richards suffered a mild concussion after reportedly falling out of a coconut tree last year during a break from the Rolling Stones’ world tour. You can play the resort’s nine-hole course or take a thirty-five minute charter flight to Denarau.
Where to Eat
Fijian cuisine is a melting pot of Indian, Chinese, Japanese and indigenous Polynesian influences, with a heavy emphasis on seafood. The traditional dish kokoda consists of raw fish marinated in lime juice with coconut cream. Daikoku Restaurant (011-679/670-3622) in Nadi serves a variety of Japanese dishes, such as melt-in-your-mouth tuna sashimi and the local delicacy, giant clam. Ports of Call at the Sheraton Fiji offers sublime fine dining with excellent fresh fish and sinful crepes.
Air Pacific (airpacific.com) flies from Los Angeles to Nadi International Airport four times a week. The trip takes eleven hours. Once in Nadi (pronounced NAHN-dee), located on the main island of Viti Levu, you have several options: fly by seaplane to an outer-island resort; drive two hours east to the beachfront resorts on Fiji’s Coral Coast; or take a twenty-minute taxi ride to the mainland retreat of Denarau Island.
For an adventure, board the eighty-three-foot schooner Seaspray (ssc.com.fj) and visit some of the country’s outer islands, including deserted Monuriki, where Castaway was filmed. En route, the crew will trawl for reef fish such as walu (Spanish mackerel) and mahimahi and barbecue them on board while you snorkel.