18 holes of golf at the Fiji Golf Club, gone to waste [The Fiji Times, 20 August 1999]
The Fiji Golf Club (FGC), situated five minutes from the Suva City Centre, is a model of stagnation.
It occupies more than 100 acres of prime real estate land worth well in excess of twenty million dollars, but it barely makes a financial profit, economically a loss.
The FGC is the largest golf club in the homeland of Vijay Singh (4th in the world), but its membership, use and practice facilities are dismal.
How can we have such failures, when the FGC membership includes many of the smart, corporate elite of Suva (and Fiji)?
Understanding that, also helps us to understand why Fiji continues to remain underdeveloped, despite our knowing what the problems are, and what should be done.
No Help to Golfers
Golf, like any sport, can only improve and attract more people, if there are proper practice facilities. The FGC facilities provide little help, in the most critical areas.
Critical a practice driving range, especially to help correct slices and hooks. But the FGC driving range is situated such that any slice or hook (with a 3 wood or 1 wood), will lose the ball in the parra grass and drain on the right, or in a drain or rough on the left. In the wet, a high ball even into the middle disappears as well.
The FGC driving range cannot be used at night and hardly in the rain, and that’s 60% or more of available leisure time (and revenue-earning time) wasted.
By being situated well away from the club house, a solitary golfer is vulnerable to attack and robbery, which occurs with scandalous frequency, on a course used by (ex) Prime Ministers, (ex) Ministers (no recent sightings of Pratap) and Permanent Secretaries.
Golf experts know: putting is half the score. Old-timers preach “drive for show, and putt for dough”. Many of the course greens are sloping, with speeds and borrows (swerves) changing with the weather. But the FGC practice putting green is cleverly flat.
Nicklaus, Palmer, Player, all lecture us practice the “short game” around the green: that “separates the men from the boys”. Tiger Woods might drive 300 yards erratically, but will get down in 2, while we will take 3 or more strokes.
But the FGC has no practice area for the short game, which requires chipping or pitching on to a green from twenty to eighty yards, or blasting out of a sand bunker, and running the ball five to twenty yards to the pin. There is a pathetic practice chipping and pitching area (with a constipated bunker) where the target is a tiny “mound” of grass more suitable for a groin, not a green.
The one bright spot is the small group of dedicated parents and a golf professional who have energized the coaching of Juniors.
Why the Financial Loss?
The membership of the FGC is small and the actual numbers playing are smaller. For days and weeks, it rains in Suva, players disappear, as does the revenue, while the staff costs continue.
Without a restaurant and sitting arrangements, golfers are not encouraged to bring their families, and most leave early every night and on week-ends. It is understandable that the FGC does not make heaps of money.
But with assets of $20 millions or more, the FGC should be realising sporting benefits worth at least some $400 thousands per year, even at a miserable 2 percent.
If not in cash, then surely, the FGC should be thriving and serving (and earning money) from hundreds of people every night and weekends. Why is this not so?
A 1996 Proposal
More than two years ago, I wrote (for free) a detailed proposal for consideration by the Management Board of the FGC.
The proposal suggested that the FGC investigate the building of a simple and economical 20 cubicle driving range just in front of the Club House, hitting out over the current No 1 Fairway and practice area (surrounded by a fence). The cubicles would be under-cover (so could be used in rain) and flood-lit ( for night use, possibly up to 11 or 12 at night).
[For our golfers: The new No 1 Fairway would then be a dog-leg over the current No 9 fairway, to the same No 1 Green, while the new No 9 Fairway, would be a dog-leg going over the current practice driving range, to the same No. 9 Green.]
One or two of the cubicles could be specially designed for the professional coaches to use with video-cameras, to tape the players’ swings (to be played back in slow motion to see the faults).
The sale of buckets of practice balls would generate large revenues and employment for ball collectors. There could be new practice facilities for putting, pitching and sand bunkers (as described above).
The FGC could develop a library of golf magazines, golf books, or golf instruction tapes which members (especially those not well-off), could borrow or use at the Club. This would help to broaden the golf base, wider than the current elite.
A simple restaurant at the top (with a couple of good local cooks) could serve popular foods (chips, pies, burgers, curries, stews) and drinks. Eventually, the Club House restaurant could even go up one more floor to get a great view of the sea and the golf course.
Suva is starved for social activities in the evenings and week-ends and not everyone wants their children to go to Village 6 and the Fun Centre. A good driving range (as proposed) would attract whole families, buying buckets of practice balls, food and drinks.
With all the facilities next to the club-house, parents could watch over their children. The cash-flow would continue into the night, and even if it was raining (day or night).
A reasonable proposal, you might think, worth looking at?
But several club managements and boards have come and gone without the 1996 proposal being seriously investigated. It has not been even presented to the FGC members (as it should be, given that it would require moderate borrowing by the Club and major changes to the course).
Twenty million dollars of real estate continue to be grossly under-utilised, producing pitiful monetary and sports benefits to our people.
Why is this so, when the membership of the FGC includes elite corporate persons (including property managers of multinational companies, and five star hotel developers), professionals, politicians, and senior civil servants?
Certainly, had the FGC been personally owned or leased by any of them (or their families), it would be earning huge amounts of money.
But, like the managers of our loss-making public enterprises, neither the golfers nor the board members face any personal financial loss or any reduction in their enjoyment of golf (or the socialising at the nineteenth hole), if the FGC stagnates.
While managements do try minor improvements every year, the basic failures continue.
Time For a Change?
It is understandable that in the old colonial era, throughout Fiji, the privileged few could enjoy thousands of acres of urban land for their golfing pleasure, even if there were thousands of squatters in nearby mangrove swamps.
But surely times are a changing?
Could a new proletarian Minister of Housing (Dr Ganesh Chand), passing through Jerusalem Road in his high Pajero, bleakly notice his “bourgeois” ex-Guru, his Permanent Secretary, his Deputy PS, and friend Captain Blight, merrily swinging away on the 11th Fairway?
Might he then suddenly also notice the acres and acres of empty land at the FGC? Heaven forbid, might he then think that the FGC would be more useful (socially and vote wise) for homes for a thousand families (or an industrial estate) instead of as a playground for a few hundred pot-bellied golfers?
As an economist, could he even offer $5 millions for the FGC to buzz off and build a new golf course out in the country? (He would still make at least $15 million profit).
To quell our protests, he might even convince us that a new course (at Colo-i-Suva or Lami) would be more exciting golf-wise, by bringing into play, creeks, waterfalls and hills (in contrast to the boring flatness at Vatuwaqa)?
He could. But it would be a pity for Suva and golf.
FGC great asset for Capital Suva
The current Fiji Golf Club can be improved into a most valuable and useful public asset for sport and family entertainment for thousands of our citizens.
To attract the young (and tourists), the golf course might even be named (with his permission) the Vijay Singh Golf Course, annual attracting him and his cobbers for an international golf tournament. Of course, we might have to give him a suitable decoration.
Fiji’s tourism and golfing industries have yet to make use of Fiji’s greatest advertising asset, whose face is instantly recognised by hundreds of millions of people throughout the world (especially where our tourists come from).
But there is no excuse for us not to properly develop the Fiji Golf Club. With the South Pacific Games around the corner, capital assistance may be requested from the Minister of Sport.
Before some other Minister casts his speculative eyes on twenty million dollars of under-utilised land.