NATADOLA, Fiji – Want to escape to an exotic island? Fiji has you covered.
Fiji has about 330 of them, including one – Monuriki – where Tom Hanks was marooned in “Cast Away.” There are few places on earth that can match the undisturbed majesty of this archipelago nation. More than 200 of the Fijian islands are uninhabited, and about 70 percent of the country’s 945,000 residents live on Viti Levu, home to the capital city of Suva.
There is no congestion, overcrowding or hectic pace in this part of the world. Things are slow, and the Fijian people remain unspoiled and genuinely friendly.
Fiji’s Nadi International Airport is about a 10-hour flight from Los Angeles. Drive another 45 minutes (there are plenty of limos and shuttles) and you’re at the InterContinental Fiji Golf Resort & Spa, sometimes called Natadola Bay Resort, located on Natadola Beach.
Next door you’ll find the reason for my visit: Natadola Bay Golf Club, designed by local hero Vijay Singh. The setting is memorable. Miss a fairway and you could be in the South Pacific Ocean, which flanks many of the holes.
Natadola Bay, owned by the Fijian government, opened in 2009, making Singh’s creation Fiji’s most modern golf course. Denarau Golf & Racquet Club, about 30 minutes away, opened in 1993 and is challenging and fun to play, albeit without the sweeping ocean vistas and dramatic elevation changes of the Natadola layout.
From the back tees, Natadola Bay might be one of the dozen most difficult courses in the world. That being said, it also is one of the most scenic, panoramic and startlingly beautiful courses in the world.
The 215-yard fourth hole is a particularly picturesque and demanding par 3. The blue-green ocean runs flush along the left side of the hole, while trees and vegetation stand guard on the right. The only bailout is to play short.
Two holes later, at the par-5, 541-yard sixth, golfers are required to hit their drives from a tee that seems to be on top of the world. From this vantage point, rural Fiji is truly magnificent.
Golfers will face stiff winds, tricky greens and thick rough that seems to swallow golf balls on this 7,169-yard layout. Participants in last year’s Vodafone Fiji Open certainly found one stout challenge. Australian Matthew Griffin won with a 2-over 290 total. Nobody else broke 300. In the entire 72-hole tournament, no one shot in the 60s.
Ordinary golfers, though, should not be scared away by those high scores. Terry Beardsley, the highly regarded director of golf at Eldorado Country Club in Indian Wells, Calif., played several rounds at Natadola Bay and pronounced it “really quite playable from the shorter tees.”
Beardsley is thorough. He continually hit irons off the tees (there are five sets), trying to approximate the driving distances of his members.
“It’s really a very good golf course,” Beardsley said, “and these ocean views are amazing.”
If you want a break from golf, the luxurious InterContinental sprawls over 35 tropical acres, spotlighted by a white-sand beach. The 271 rooms, suites and villas are known for their private outdoor terraces, which feature a deep Cleopatra-style bathtub for two, along with daybeds.
There are five restaurants and bars, four swimming pools, conference facilities, a wedding chapel and a kids club. At the InterContinental’s spa, where Eastern and Western treatment methods are offered, you can splurge for a massage on the beach. But you should avoid the rainy season; March through November are the best months.
Just make sure to leave your cell phone at home, along with your anxieties. The ocean and golf are never a bad combination, and there aren’t many places on earth like Natadola Bay.
Who needs civilization, anyway?