A number of alterations have been made to Natadola Bay Golf Course ahead of its hosting the 2017 Fiji International golf tournament later this year.
Located on Fiji’s south-west coastline, the course at Natadola Bay has been worked on under the watchful eye of the island’s most famous golfing son – Vijay Singh.
Singh has collaborated with Greg Letsche of Ernie Els’ firm to rework elements of the course ahead of the tournament, which Singh is set to participate in.
GCA spoke with Steve Lalor, golf course superintendent at Natadola Bay, to find out the extent of the work and what players can expect.
“There were originally only to be changes to around three or four greens, but this was initially extended to 13 greens, before being reduced to 10 due to timelines,” Lalor says. “There were also some other strategic changes with new tees and bunkers on several holes. The changes were made initially as a recommendation from the PGA from a playability standpoint. Some of the greens only had one or two pin positions for the Fiji International, so we looked at all the greens and decided to make changes to those that showed similar characteristics as the worse greens already earmarked for change.”
On the course’s early holes, the extent of the changes include a new championship tee on the first hole, the creation of a flatter green surface on the second hole, and a new relocated green surface on the third hole.
The fourth hole has been completely reconstructed. “Tees have been enlarged for more teeing ground and maintenance,” Lalor explains. “The beach bunker comes in to play more with the sand reaching halfway across the hole, leading up from the tee to the green which has been pushed back and to the left by 30 metres, and lengthening the hole from 166 metres to 190 metres from the blue markers.”
New tees have been introduced on the fifth and sixth hole, while changes have been made to the green on the eighth hole.
On the ninth hole, a new championship tee has been constructed and a pot bunker on the right-hand side of the fairway has been removed, giving players a better chance of a playable second shot. The green has also been pushed back by around 40 metres.
“On the eleventh hole, a new green complex has been built, giving more pin positions across the whole green,” Lalor says. “The front greenside bunker has been reduced in size and the rear greenside bunker has been brought closer to the green and made larger. A new green complex has been built on the thirteenth hole, and the location of the green on the fourteenth hole has been altered. The green has also been lowered so the surface can be seen from the fairway. The second shot is now hitting over water into the green.”
The fifteenth hole also has a new championship tee, so players will now be hitting shots across the prevailing wind, rather than with it.
“Obviously having Vijay Singh and Greg Letsche on board allowed holes to be created to ensure the course is more strategic not only for the pros but also for the amateurs to play,” Lalor adds. “Natadola Bay is a difficult course to play when the wind is blowing and I feel some of the changes will assist the average punter to enjoy the round more so. Fairways have been widened, greens have become larger with less undulation which will give most golfers a fairer chance to make par.”
The Fiji International tournament takes place at Natadola Bay from 17-20 August 2017.