4 months / 4 continents / 4 golf stories

Fiji – following Vijay Singh’s traces

Fiji is not primary known for it’s golfing culture, yet there is one outstanding man in the game that grew up right here: Vijay Singh. 2004 remains as one oft he greatest achievements in the history of the game. He won nine tournaments in the same year on the US PGA Tour and claimed the World No 1 title of Tiger.

Vijays story is one of the more remarkable one’s. Carrying the reputation of a cheater still follows him to these days as well as struggling against prejudice towards the Indo-Fijian Hindus. Concerning his cheating it is still not clear if it was a trick played against him. Where better than in Fiji to find out more about the life of this remarkable golfer.

There was very little that had come to my ear about Vijay’s background. It wasn’t until I stepped into a taxi from Nadi town with three drunken Kiwis. Surf was bad so we decided to play a round of golf instead. The taxi driver seemed a little curious about our golfing equipment and even more as I told him I was a pretty decent golfer and had been to all sorts of nice places. He was a solid handicap 4 senior, though back in the days, he explained, when he was battling against Vijay, those were the good days! Just like Vijay he had claimed the club title in the Nadi Airport Golf Club, a barren course wedged between the ocean and the airfield, proudly showing his name right next to Vijay’s on the champions board. They had grown up together next door. Vijay, his siblings and parents in one little room and the taxi driver – I forgot his name – and his family in one room. Together they would climb the fence to the golf course on the other side of the airport to hit balls. «Vijay had a talent from a different planet and no one worked as hard as him! He’d spend afternoons on his own on the course. When he started winning he was so confident that he sold his prizes before the tournament.» Vijay’s father, a poor aircraft mechanic, taught them the basics. Having trouble to afford balls they made their own do with coconuts. At the age of 19 Vijay rebelled the will of his parents and went off to Australia to qualify for the Asian tour and only two years later he claimed the first victory in the Malaysian Open. The rest is a story about a path to the hall of fame of golf.

Standing in front of the clubhouse it seems that time has stood still here for the last 50 years. The few visitors are mainly Kiwi and Aussie surfers that swing the clubs with bourbon and coke in one hand and rather aim at the landing planes on the nearby runway. The same did we and when some heavy rain hit us on the 7th hole, there were only two of us remaining in the game. The other two had lost all their balls. We decided to rather go for a game of pool in the clubhouse, where the floor was completely under water. The reception girl just laughed at us and brought us a few more bourbon and coke: «Water comes, water goes!»

Yet that aura of purity and love for the game hangs over Nadi Airport Golf Club – a story that has the calibre of «Tin Cup»!

Vijay came back many years later to give back a little to his citizen people. The result is a masterpiece in course design in the Natadola bay, easily the best course in the pacific. The ride takes you along the coral lagoon up to beautifully embedded holes in the hills. The nearby village has increased its gross national product by factors: Kids walking along the course and yelling: «Pro V’s, Pro V’s!!»