Three-time major champ Vijay Singh went from course architect to tour guide on Wednesday when he got the chance to chaperone close friend and fellow Fiji International presented by Fiji Airways drawcard Ernie Els around Natadola Bay Championship Golf Course.
After touching down in Fiji following a long-haul trip from the Senior Open Championship, local hero Singh joined the South African for the closing stages of his pro-am round.
That provided Fiji’s greatest golfer the perfect opportunity to catch up with Els and show off the stunning coastal layout he designed.
“He said, ‘You really designed this thing?’ I said, ‘Yeah, took a long time!’” laughed Singh.
“But he loved it.”
Minor alterations to the course in recent years have left many believing Natadola Bay is in its best condition ever, just in time for the fifth staging of Fiji’s biggest global sporting event.
Combine that with the unbelievable views of the Pacific Ocean – and the Fijian landscape on the layout’s front-9 – and it’s a pretty easy sell for Singh.
“Being around, seeing the changes that I made and it coming in really well, everything I hear right now is all raves, so I’m all excited,” said Singh.
“Ernie was raving about it. He’s enjoying it and obviously the view is just incredible. You cannot ask for any better view.
“I don’t think there’s anywhere else in the world you can play golf and see a view like this. It’s just unbelievable.”
More locals are teeing it up this year in the Fiji International presented by Fiji Airways than ever before, with Singh and seven other Fijians earning a start in the 2018 field.
“I hope they can get more and more playing, gets a lot more interest to the locals here,” said Singh.
“You can’t ask for anything more. It’s going to over 40 countries and they can see how beautiful this place is. Hopefully, they can attract a lot more visitors and people who want to come and invest here.”
Rewind 20 years to the 1998 Presidents Cup and Els and Singh were teammates, eventually celebrating the only time the Internationals have upstaged Team USA in the historic event.
Two decades on and Els will return to the scene of that famous victory in 2019 as the Internationals’ captain, a role Singh says the pair have discussed.
“I think he’s got a different perspective about it,” said Singh.
“He’s talked to me about it a little bit and I think he’ll be okay. He’s got a good side, a good team, good young guys that get to play, so all the best to him.”
While Singh and Els won’t get the chance to recreate their heroics on the course next year at Royal Melbourne, they’re hoping to find time to squeeze in a round together this week in the Fijian’s home country.
“Anytime we get a chance we have a game,” said Singh
”But we have a couple drinks together as well, so maybe this week.”
Singh kick starts his week at 12:10pm on Thursday alongside big-hitting Australian duo Scott Hend and Dimi Papadatos.