PAPARA, Tahiti -- Skip Anderson, a transplanted Floridian, has the best golf course in this part of the South Pacific. Just ask Arnold Palmer.
Actually, Olivier Breaud International Golf Course d'Antimaono is the only one.
"I like to say we have the best course for 2,500 miles in every direction," said Anderson, owner and general manager of the course about 20 miles from the Tahitian capital of Papeete."There aren't any others out here."
The closest courses to this tropical paradise south of the Equator are in Hawaii to the North, Fiji to the West, New Zealand to the Southwest and South America to the East.
But noted California designer Bob Baldock found his way to Tahiti in 1968 and carved a spectacular championship course out of the jungle across the road from the beach on the South Coast of Tahiti, not far from the Paul Gaugin Museum and Botanical Gardens.
Spanish explorers are said to have discovered Tahiti in the 1700s, Capt. James Cook came this way on his voyages to Hawaii and Australia, and Fletcher Christian and other mutineers took control of the HMS Bounty from Capt. William Bligh in these waters in 1788 before settling on Pitcairn Island to the south.
Palmer passed through in the 1970s on a business trip with golf powerbroker Mark McCormack, founder of International Management Group, and played Olivier Breaud.
"The locals still talk about it," Anderson said.
But nobody comes to Tahiti for only for the golf.
Anderson said less than 20 percent of the golfers who play the course are tourists, who come mostly from the United States, Japan, France and Australia.
"I didn't even know there was a golf course here," said Paula Williamson of Walnut Creek, who was in Tahiti recently for a cruise through French Polynesia on the Tahitian Princess.
"Had I known, I would have brought my clubs, because there is nowhere I would rather be than on a golf course."
Said Anderson:"It's Tahiti's best-kept secret."
Olivier Breaud is built on the site of what was a cotton plantation that supplied Europe during the Civil War in the United States, when the North's blockade of Southern ports made the South's most abundant product scarce on the continent. Later, a rum factory was operated on the site.
It's not exactly Magnolia Lane at Augusta, but the picturesque, narrow drive into Olivier Breaud International Golf Course is lined by mombat trees, whose fruit resembles a cumquat.
Baldock, architect of more than 350 courses in California, Nevada and Hawaii, including the Shore Course at Monterey Peninsula Country Club in Pebble Beach, designed a challenging course that stretches 6,950 from the professional tees, 6,550 from the men's tees and 6,370 for women.
"The greens are relatively small, but I guess most of the greens built in the 1960s are small compared to the way they make some of them these days," Anderson said of the Bermuda putting surfaces.
The greens, which are relatively slow because they can't be cut too low for fear of heat and sun damage in the tropics, are particularly difficult to hit on the par-3s.
That's because Olivier Breaud boasts as challenging a set of par-3 holes as any golfer might want to play, with the shortest measuring 196 yards from the back tees.
How difficult are they?
"I can only remember one hole-in-one since I've been here," said Anderson, who came to Tahiti in 1982.
The second hole is 209 yards through the trees, No. 8 is a tight 196 yards, the 14th hole is a challenging 216 yards from an elevated tee to a narrow green guarded by three bunkers and a large gully, and No. 17 is surrounded by bunkers 214 yards from the tee.
"People who play here for the first time usually mention that the par-3s aren't very easy," Anderson said.
Neither is the dogleg left, seventh hole, which measures 462 yards from the men's tee and is rated the most difficult hole on the course. Trees down the left side prevent big hitters from cutting off too much of the dogleg, but the biggest problem is yet to come.
A wide creek guards the green area.
"That's a hole most people come in talking about," Anderson said."It takes two very good shots to get to the green."
Balancing out three par-4s longer than 430 yards on the front nine are two relatively short par-5s and No. 4, a very reachable 255-yard par-4 from an elevated tee, where the tee shot must be threaded between two large bunkers.
No. 3 is a gorgeous double dogleg 475-yard par-5 winds past a grove of trees on the right, and No. 9 is a dogleg right par-5 of 493 yards to a green guarded by three bunkers.
Highlights of the back side include the tee shot on the palm tree-lined 539-yard, par-5 12th hole and a large tree that must be negotiated in the middle of the fairway on the 329-yard 16th hole, a short but deceptive par-4.
The course finishes with a difficult par-5, 559 yards, with a large lake and creek coming into play down the left side some 200 yards off the tee. The approach shot must be precise with several large bunkers surrounding the green.
"The lake helps make it a very interesting hole," Anderson said.
Especially in the Tahiti Open, an event on the Australasian PGA Tour, which is held every year in May at Oilvier Breaud.
Brett Ogle of Australia, winner of the 1994 Hawaiian Open and 1993 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am on the PGA Tour, won the Tahiti Open in 1986, and Simon Owen of New Zealand, who tied for second behind Jack Nicklaus in the 1978 British Open at St. Andrews, won in 1991.
Danny Kaleikini of Hawaii set the course record of 7-under par while winning the inaugural tournament in 1982, and Steve Alker of New Zealand, who occasionally plays on the PGA Tour, tied it when he won in 1996.
"It's about the biggest thing that happens around here, with some of the top players in this part of the world coming to our course," Anderson said.
Olivier Breaud might be getting some competition because the South Pacific Golf Resort Development Co. has gotten the go-ahead to build a golf course on the island of Moorea some 12 miles away across the Sea of Moons.
But this is nothing new.
"They were going to build a course there about 10 years ago but there was some opposition and it was blocked," said a native of Moorea named Terry, who works for an outfit that runs boating excursions to a small motu, or island, where tourists can swim with the stingrays in the sparkling turquoise water.
"Lately, they've been talking about it again, but things don't happen quickly around here."
Anderson isn't excited about the possibility.
"They've been talking about building a course over there for quite a while, but so far it hasn't happened," Anderson said."Personally, I hope it doesn't happen because it doesn't sound as good to say we have the best course for 12 miles.
"And the locals might decide to go play over there on weekends rather than stay here. I don't expect this to become a destination golf area."
Apparently, that's not what original owner Jean Breaud had in mind when he had the course built 35 years ago.
According to Anderson, Breaud just loved the game.
"He was a very wealthy Frenchman who wanted a place to play golf with his friends," Anderson said."He certainly had no commercial objective.
"(Breaud) renamed the course in honor of his son, Olivier Breaud, who was kidnapped and murdered in the early 1980s, one of the few crimes we've had on Tahiti. The locals still call the course Golf d'Antimaono.
"Actually, I'd like to rename it Tahiti International Golf Course, something everybody can pronounce."
When Anderson moved to Tahiti, he worked in the pro shop, which was a little grass shack, and bought a nightclub down the road.
Then he bought the corporation that has a contract with the Tahitian government to run the golf course, which now has a legitimate pro shop and an open-air restaurant that serves three meals a day prepared by a French chef.
"The course is owned and maintained by the government, but I do everything else," Anderson said.
Including arrange for a shuttle to bring tourist golfers from their hotels or ships to the course, where full sets of rental clubs are available.
Most Americans vacationing in Tahiti stay at the Beachcomber Intercontinental Resort, the Sheraton Tahiti, Le Meridien Tahiti and the Sofitel Maeva Beach.
On neighboring Bora Bora are the Pearl Beach Resort, the Hotel Bora Bora and the Bora Bora Lagoon Resort.
On Moorea are the Beachcomber Intercontinental Moorea, the Sheraton Moorea, Moorea Pearl Resort, the Sofitel Ia Ora and the Moorea Village Hotel.
All of the larger neighboring islands can be reached from Papeete by ferry several times a day.
Princess Cruises and Radisson Seven Seas cruise French Polynesia on a regular basis, and ships from other cruise lines also call at Papeete on longer voyages.
And now you know that when you call, don't forget to pack your clubs.
May 22, 2004
Tom LaMarre has been a sportswriter and copy editor in California for parts of five decades, including 15 years with the Oakland Tribune and 22 with the Los Angeles Times.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
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