Golfer James Henderson finds that Fiji challenges with intelligent and provoking course designs.

Had he ever gone to Fiji, Mark Twain may have observed that golf is a good tropical holiday enhanced.

Driving towards the sparkling South Pacific, even the most passionate golfer must relegate thoughts of the game in favour of the sheer beauty of the backdrop.

Nestled at the heart of paradise are 18 holes of sheer golfing beauty and Tourism Fiji makes no empty boast: "If you play better when you're relaxed, imagine how well you'll play here."

But golf on the Fijian coast goes well beyond the aesthetic, it pleases and teases in equal measure, as perfectly manicured layouts present thought-provoking sophisticated designs.

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Not to mention that, standing on the first tee at Natadola Bay, which was home to the inaugural Fiji International last month, the need to successfully negotiate the par-72 championship track is severely tested by the course's exposure to the elements.

Already challenging, it's made further difficult by undulating fairways and elevated greens, the coconut palms offering little shelter from the circulating ocean winds.

Providing a range of tee markers to suit both the novice and professional, the Natadola Bay layout is purposely designed to accommodate all levels of skill and talent - at the specific request of Fijian hero Vijay Singh, who helped design the course in 2006.

With 15 of 18 holes boasting ocean views, the course, an hour's drive from Nadi International Airport, blends leading golf architecture with dramatic landscapes - from rolling pastures through to absolute beachfront, offering a snippet of utopia through 18 challenging holes.

Smiling locals point towards the par-3 fourth hole as the course's signature hole, one which nestles snugly on the white sands of the water.

In providing the perfect left-hand hazard from tee to green, the 197-yard hole encapsulates the enchanting essence of Natadola Bay.

A public course located adjacent to the Intercontinental Golf Resort and Spa, Natadola Bay is matched in the private arena chiefly by the Sheraton Fiji Resort Denarau Golf & Racquet Club, an equal showcase for Fiji's attributes as a tropical golfing oasis.

An internationally renowned five-star resort set in lush greenery, Denarau incorporates a Pacific theme with bunkers in the shape of marine creatures, a welcome local touch to the resort-style course.

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An inland approach away from the ocean edge, Denarau is very much a thinking course, one which asks tricky questions from the first tee to the last, featuring water hazards on 15 of the 18 holes.

Playing the course through the dry season of April to October means firmer fairways and further ball carries, but with an improved watering system in the works, expect to experience softer landing spots in the future and greener terrain when the heavens fail to open.

With a head professional and private lessons available daily, Denarau provides both serious and holidaying players with an arena to either work on their game or enjoy a few hours respite from the neighbouring beaches, bars and restaurants.

Surrounded coconut palms and tropical bunkering, the 444-yard 15th hole dispels the theory that resort courses lack character, providing a oceanic backdrop tough to rival - even at the aforementioned, unforgettable Natadola Bay.

A track which relies less on climate but more on analysis, Denarau picks up where Natadola Bay finishes off in providing the golfing obstacles of home with the stunning surroundings of holiday.

Famed for its 333 islands and pristine clear water, Fiji's golf industry faces a battle to compete against the wealth of activities available, but visitors can pick up clubs safe in the knowledge they'll be treated to a round in paradise, catering to all of their golfing needs without the mundane worries of home.

Because even if you end up in the rough, it's always smooth sailing in Fiji.

CHECKLIST
Getting there: Air New Zealand and Fiji Airways depart daily ex Auckland to Nadi.

Further information: See Natadola Bay and Denarau Golf & Racquet Club.