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Vijay Singh returns to Fiji after almost a decade

Vijay Singh said he wants to build "one hell of a golf course" and help bring an end to ethnic tensions in his native Fiji on Wednesday when he made his first visit to the Pacific nation in nine years.

Singh, the No. 2-ranked golfer in the world, said he'd accepted a Fiji government request to become a national goodwill ambassador and would meet Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase during the trip.

"It's good to be back," said Singh, who now lives in Florida.

Natadola Bay, the future site of a new golf course that Singh will help develop, features a white sandy crescent beach and a backdrop of sugarcane farms that many consider one of Fiji's most picturesque locations.

Singh was greeted with the Fijian kava drinking ceremony at Natadola Bay and showed that he hadn't forgotten the formal etiquette that accompanies it, saying "Bula" - which means thanks or hello - after drinking a coconut bowl of the slightly narcotic drink in one gulp as custom requires.

Singh said his fond memories of a childhood in Fiji motivated his decision to accept the government's invitation to become a goodwill ambassador.

Communal distrust between indigenous Fijians and the descendants of emigrants from India has sparked three coups in Fiji since 1987.

Singh said for such a small country of 860,000 on 340 islands, there was "no real reason you can't all live harmoniously."

"I was very happy when I was growing up here, I had a lot of Fijian friends," he said. "I don't see why you can't live together in this beautiful country."

Singh is acting as a consultant for a French golf course developer who says the project at Natadola Bay, about 45 kilometers (28 miles) from Fiji's main international airport at Nadi, will be the finest resort course in the South Pacific.

Singh spent several hours striding over the terrain of the planned course on Wednesday.

"It is going to be a hell of a course, a very challenging one, because of the terrain, the prevailing trade winds and heat," he said. "There will be spectacular views of the South Pacific Ocean."

Work on the course, which Singh said will be of PGA Tour standard, will start later this year and will be completed by 2007.


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