Fiji International

Fiji International

As the waves gently tumbles onto each other and the sun’s glimmer fades off into the horizon, the crystal clear waters maintain its clarity and shine even through the darkness. Bora Bora? Not really. It is oddly questionable why Fiji has not gotten recognition as one of the most visibly serene destinations in the world.

Image by Chris McLennan

An archipelago by trade and having over 330 enclaves, Fiji is population dominant on two major islands, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, with the capital Suva located at the former. Both islands accounts for 87 percent of the nation’s total citizens. With tourism as the major contributor to its GDP, Fiji has since expanded and upgraded infrastructurally, especially at high tourist traffic locations. The beauty of it all, is how the developers have been able to maintain its cultural aspects but still modernised enough not to trip over debris and rubble. The high usage of rock-cut designs and wooden beams in its architecture transports you to an age where

Fiji has been inhabited since the second millennium BC, and was settled first by Austronesians and later by Melanesians, with some Polynesian influences from its East. Fiji was a royal colony under the British Empire until 1970, when it then gained independence, as the Dominion of Fiji. A republic was declared only in 1987, following a series of attempts to overthrow the governing body.

Image by Fiji Rugby Union

Fiji is also the host of the Fiji International Open, a co-sanctioned national event by the PGA Tour of Australasia, the Asian Tour and the European Tour. Despite rugby being the national sport which has seen Fiji winning the Rugby World Cup Sevens three times and clinching the gold medal at the Olympics at Rio De Janeiro, the Fiji International is its first internationally broadcasted Fijian sporting event to a global audience, with more than 30 countries within its satellite reach. The prestigious South Pacific tournament currently in its fifth year, crowned five different winners, with 2012 FedEx Cup champion and the recent inductee of the elusive ’59’ club Brandt Snedeker and Ryder Cup stalwart Matt Kuchar.

Held at the magnificent Natandola Bay Championship Golf Course, this year’s edition of the Fiji International saw a new champion crowned in Gaganjeet Bhullar. The Indian entered the final day at with a one-shot lead but found himself trailing late in the day. His winning score of 14-under-par came after a ridiculous chip in on the par-five 17th for an eagle. The eagle three gave Bhullar a slender one-shot lead over Australian Anthony Quayle, who had earlier broken the course record with his nine-under-par 63.

After two textbook shots, an easy tap-in for par was sufficient for Bhullar to claim his ninth Asian Tour title, the most of any Indian player in golfing history. Quayle’s record breaking 63 features a blistering 29 on the back nine, which included two eagles and three birdies. The previous owner of the course record was Thailand’s Jazz Janewattananon, at the 2017 edition final round with a 64.

FIJI, PACIFIC ISLANDS – AUGUST 5: 2018 Fiji International Golf, PGA Australia on Tuesday, August 5th 2018 at The Intercontinental Gold Club, Fiji. (Photo by Daniel Carson/ PGA)

Four-time major winner Ernie Els of South Africa also staged a late comeback by closing with a 65 to share third place with New Zealand’s Ben Campbell.

Originally built in 2009, the championship course was remodeled in October of 2016, with owners of the Natadola Bay Resort Limited reinvesting in the course by bringing original designer Vijay Singh, back to rework on the elements of the course. Together with world renowned golf architect Greg Letsche, the team went on to redesigned 10 of the 18 holes, with their sole purpose to position the course as a fairer playing ground for professionals.

As for his tournament performance, Singh finally beat his own course by carding a final day 68 to finish one-under-par.

Greg Letsche is also known for being part of The Els Club’s design team, notably as one of the senior designers of the Els Club Desaru and Teluk Datai just across the causeway.

Initially recommended by the PGA from a playability standpoint, the strategic changes revolves around new tees and bunkers on several holes, with a handful even having a brand new green platform due to overly similar characteristics. On the course’s early holes, the extent of the changes include a new tee for the first hole, the creation of a flatter green surface on the second hole, and a new relocated green surface on the third. This drastic change is due to certain greens only had a couple of positions which were deemed competitive or fair for a professional golf tournament.

Hole 11, for example, has a brand new green complex built, giving more pin positions across the whole green. The front green-side bunker has been reduced in size and the rear green-side bunker has been brought closer to the green and its expansion provides players an opportunity to aggressively attack the green in two; evidently kick-starting Anthony Quayle’s late charge up the leaderboard. The risk reward ratio of this hole has been significantly altered on a positive note.

Speaking of risk reward, the 12th has to be one of the scoring holes for all golfers. At 267 metres off the blue tees, the fairway is designed downhill diagonally left-to-right to parry even the best of drives to the water hazard. On the left however it is filled with massive bunkers and thick rough. A mid iron to lay up or a driver to go for it? Decisions decisions.

A daunting par-3, the 4th is a golfing example of ‘if looks could kill’. A long iron for most players, this hole is protected by the beach which forms a bunker down the left side and the ocean beside the green. To the right side there is a deep bunker, rocks and a pond waiting to catch errant shots. The green is large with subtle undulations but the breathtaking view and the sneaky gales of the Pacific Ocean on your left might just be enough to distract you from executing the shot demanded.

Tthe Natadola Bay Championship course blends dramatic elevation and landscapes with the beachfront atmosphere of the ocean as a backdrop. The South Pacific architecture the clubhouse is the ultimate vantage point for breathtaking views across the golf course, coral reefs and rolling surf breaks.

Port Denarau, just west of Nadi, is a high traffic location where tourists can opt to take a tour out to the hundreds of islands surrounding Fiji.

Monuriki, one of the islands of the archipelago, was made famous as the anonymous island that featured in the 2000 Robert Zemeckis film; Cast Away in which starred Tom Hanks.

A premier destination for travelers appears to be Mamanuca Island, where dozens of resorts are situated that offer semi-private beaches with crystal clear water. Some of the attractions include the Musket Cove Resort, and the Plantation Island Resort that share its borders. The marine ecosystem and recreation value of the archipelago contribute to its national significance as outlined in Fiji’s Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan.

For a one of a kind experience, the Fiji Marriot Resort Momi Bay is the place to stay. The pristine coastal resort caters perfectly to tourists from all walks of life; families to romance seekers, a night there is a definite for everyone.

Just opened in April of 2017, the resort is spearheaded by Silvano Dressino. The charismatic Italian German has a long list of accolades in his two decade career in the hospitality industry, including being the interim general manager for JW Marriot’s flagship hotel in Singapore, the South Beach hotel.

“Here in Fiji, everything is on a slower pace as compared to huge cities such as Tokyo, Hong Kong, and even Singapore. In our fast paced world, coming to a country like Fiji will help calm things down and allow us to spend some time to appreciate the little things around.” Dressino commented on Fiji as a destination.

At the Marriot Resort Momi Bay, there are three different accommodations, the interconnecting deluxe apartment rooms, the beautiful beachfront duplex Bures (cabin), and twenty two exclusive over-water villas in the middle of the resort. The staff at the resort are recruited from the various villages in the surroundings. In fact, six different villages own the land together with the owner of the Marriot.

“It gives opportunity to the locals to develop and generate more income. It helps with the growth of the country as well as its natives. Also, the Fijians speak perfect and fluent english, which is a key criteria for hospitality in this side of the world. Fijians are naturally genuine and enthusiastic.” said Dressino, on their hiring policy.

“We had one patron who was celebrating her birthday, a handful of our local staff gathered to create a unique celebration by hand weaving clothes from leaves and using local ornaments to create a theme for the party. The end result was a shipwrecked warrior themed celebration where everyone had their own set of straw/leaves accessories.”

The beachfront duplexes, known as Bure, is actually a Fijian term for a wood-and-straw hut. Its unique design is actually derived from a diffusion of a Drua, fisher boats from the Polynesian culture. Anthropologists assumed its origin in Micronesia, and the architect for the resort has developed the idea of using a Drua as a lodging design. The final masterpiece is a combination of the Fijian culture as well as modern-day architecture.

“A special part of coming to our resort would be visiting and experiencing the surrounding villages. Apart from the beautiful marine life reefs and soft corals which praise the beauty of Fiji in its natural habitat, the villages are a unique part of our destination. For surfers, we have the annual cloud break, where big waves surfers come to ride extreme swells. Bora Bora and Maldives might be our closest competitor as an aquatic destination, and to be fair I haven’t been to both places before. But the diversity of Fiji is what separates us.” said Dressino.

Walking down the end stretch at the resort brings you to the Sunset Bar, which features an infinity pool isolating itself from the ocean only with the granite walls. Ending the journey staring out into the vibrant sky while appreciating a cold local brew, Vinaka Fiji.

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