You wouldn't expect Robert Louis Stevenson's final resting place to be blessed with an abundance of quality golf courses – and to perfectly honest, it's not. But there is golf to be had, and the three tracks on Upolu, the country's most inhabited island, are all worth a look, for the very good reason that Samoa has some of the most beautiful and enticing islandscapes in the southern hemisphere. Samoans, as they do with most things, take a truly relaxed attitude to the royal and ancient game: six- eight-, even ten-ball flights are not uncommon; traditional golfing attire – such as tailored shorts and softspikes – is. So while this island nation might not yet rival the likes of South Pacific neighbour Fiji as a fully-fledged golf-only destination, it's well worth bringing along your sticks, even if the majority of your time will be spent indulging in Samoa's better known tourism treats.
WHERE TO PLAY
PENINA GOLF CLUB ****
The class of Samoan golf, this relatively new par-72 layout has been built on a former US military base used in the Second World War and features several historical landmarks, not least a large concrete bunker adjacent to the first tee. With a number of holes running alongside the azure waters off Upolu's northwest coast, offering views of nearby Savaii island, and a stretch playing through a lush, tropical interior, the course is an undeniably attractive and well presented test – and a test it most certainly is, because although there is room for the wayward, at close on 7,000 yards from the 'Blue Pearl' – or regular men's – tees, your long game had better be firing on all cylinders if a worthy score is to be recorded. This is especially the case during the middle months of the year, when strong afternoon trade winds can wreak havoc. Muscular bunkering is another memorable feature, while the fourth, a mighty par-five that is flanked from tee to green by the ocean, is the standout hole. Situated next door to Aggie Grey's Lagoon Resort, arguably the most popular hotel in Samoa, and close to the international airport, Penina hosts the Samoa Masters, a three-round Australian PGA event.
PAR: 72. YARDAGE: 7,440.
GREEN FEE: Approx HK$270
FALEATA GOLF COURSE ** 1/2
Government-owned Faleata might be a bit rough and around the edges but makes for an enjoyable four (or more likely, five) hour diversion in attractive surroundings. Small greens and narrow fairways bordered by mature flora make it a lot trickier than it might at first appear, while the at times hilly nature of the terrain makes the use of a golf cart advisable. Built on a large expanse of dried lava flow, one appealingly rustic feature of the course is the use of large pieces of volcanic rock as tee markers. Best hole on the layout honours go to the sixteenth, a striking and lengthy par-three where the green is ringed by a deep gully.
PAR: 72. YARDAGE: 6,841
NOTE: Course is closed on Sundays.
GREEN FEE: Approx HK$100
ROYAL SAMOA COUNTRY CLUB ** 1/2
Despite its regal title, RSCC is in much need of TLC, a fact that is hammered home when you reach the greens: there are no flags here; stuck into each cup is, quite simply, a stick. This is a shame because Fagalii, as RSCC is locally known as, could be rather good. The routing takes advantage of some dramatic hilly terrain, which results in a few spectacular holes. This is certainly the case at the sixth, a short, downhill par-three with a green tucked into a hillside. The magnificent native vegetation that surrounds the putting surface here is so dense that the green is very nearly hidden from the tee. Boring, it isn't. There's fun to be had at the last, too. At just 275 yards, this par-four provides a welcome opportunity for a closing birdie.
PAR: 72. YARDAGE: 5,956
GREEN FEE: Approx HK$100
WHERE TO STAY
Nestled amongst 50 acres of tropical gardens, amidst tall swaying palms, close to the international airport, the150-room beachfront resort of Aggie Grey's Lagoon (www.aggiegreys.com) is Samoa's best-known hotel. Although the rooms don't quite compare with those of most international chains, the exceptionally friendly and attentive staff, large pool and decent array of restaurants makes this the first choice of accommodations for most visitors to the islands.
WHEN TO GO
The best time for golfing is from May to October, the dry season, when temperatures tend to hover in the mid-20s and the humidity is relatively low. Typhoons are a risk in the latter and early months of the year; January is typically the wettest month.
Samoa is best visited as a tag-on from Fiji. Fiji Airways flies direct from Hong Kong (10 hours; www.fijiairways.com) to Nadi International Airport, the main gateway to the Fijian islands. From there, the carrier flies three-times weekly to Samoa's Faleolo International Airport (three hours).
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