Golf Kauai - The Garden Island of Greens
The numbers don't lie.
Nine, five, 13, three and one equals ... amazing.
There are nine outstanding golf courses, seven of which are public, on the
island of Kauai, the oldest of the islands in Hawaii. Over the years, these
courses have hosted some stellar, world class events, including five LPGA
tournaments, 13 PGA of America events, one World Cup and three USGA
The Garden Island, as it is aptly nicknamed, is home to some of the most
spectacular and lush golf in the world. Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf
(private course) each have a design on the island, but it was Robert Trent
Jones Jr. who put Kauai golf on the map with four designs (one private),
including his first-ever solo layout after several years honing his craft with
his legendary father, Robert Trent Jones Sr.
The Prince Course at Princeville Golf Club, is without a doubt, the creme de la
creme on the island of Kauai.
Named in honor of a young 19th century prince of Hawaii, Prince Albert, the
only son of King Kamehameha IV and Queen Emma, the Prince Course is an exotic
ride through 350 acres of rolling terrain, featuring enormous elevation
changes and breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. You'll be awestruck with
the many signature holes on the Prince,
Following a $5 million, 13-month renovation, which was completed in 2012, the
Prince Course has regained its lofty status as one of the top courses, if not
"the" top course in all of Hawaii. "Our firm implemented a wide-ranging
refreshment of The Prince," Jones said, "that will return the golf course to
its original pristine condition and its stature as the best course in Hawaii
-- essentially, we've given The Prince the royal treatment that it deserves."
Although the slope rating from the back tees is quite high at 76.2, each hole
has a minimum of five sets of tees, as the course ranges from 5,400 yards to
almost 7,400. So, yes, all levels can play this phenomenal layout. "This
revitalization makes the course more flexible for a wider range of players
while still providing championship-caliber challenges for more seasoned
golfers," Jones added.
No doubt about it, just bring plenty of balls!
Robert Trent Jones Jr.'s first solo foray into the golf design business was
the Princeville Makai Golf Club, the amenity course for The St. Regis
Princeville Resort, the most luxurious spot on the North Shore.
Opened in 1971, the Makai hosted the LPGA Tour for five consecutive seasons
back in the day and it took a special type of player to win at the Makai,
including two-time champion Betsy King, Juli Inkster and Beth Daniel, all LPGA
Hall of Famers. In addition, Makai Golf Club also hosted the World Cup of
Golf, as the United States, led by John Mahaffey and Andy North, cruised to a
10-shot win over Australia.
Stretching over 7,200 yards from the black markers, the Makai also underwent a
significant renovation, led by Trent Jones Jr. in 2009. Besides the usual
suspects of changing and or adding tees and bunkers, the most significant
change was adding Seashore Paspalum to the greens, fairways and teeing areas.
This type of grass is ideal for the warm weather of Hawaii and does extremely
well near the ocean, where it is subject to saltwater.
"After almost 40 years, they closed the golf course for 14 months, not only to
bring the course back up to championship standards, but to make it more user-
friendly," said head golf professional Eric Belmonte. "It's very challenging,
offering four sets of tees and it's a very good resort course. The Makai is a
little more playable than the Prince Course. A lot of locals will make this
their home base and all juniors, 15 and under, are allowed to play the course
Just like with the Prince Course, signature holes are abundant at Makai,
starting with the downhill par-3 third, that drops 100 feet to a putting
surface fronted by a pond. Not to be outdone, the seventh runs along the
cliffs with views of the ocean and plays to a distance of 213 yards from the
tips over a ravine. Yikes. If that doesn't pique your interest, then the
driveable 14th or the 476-yard 17th will as it features a forced carry over
water to the green.
It comes as no surprise the Makai Golf Club is rated as one of the top courses
in Hawaii by all golf publications.
RTJ II continued his fine work on the southern part of Kauai with the well-
received Poipu Bay Golf Course. Home to the PGA Grand Slam of Golf from
1994-2006, Poipu Bay's winners list is certainly a who's who in golf, from
Greg Norman, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson to seven-time winner Tiger Woods. In
fact, Woods captured the event five consecutive years from 1998-2002. It might
have been Mickelson's win in 2004 that brought Poipu Bay to the forefront, as
the five-time major champion, carded a sizzling 13-under-par 59 on the final
day to win by five shots. His course record round included 11 birdies and an
Not only is Poipu Bay one of the most beautiful courses on the island, but it
also has plenty of historical significance, as it features four archaeological
sites. Number 9 is the first of these holes, as it includes a lava rock
section on the right side of the fairway, which is an ancient site of worship.
Crafted on 210 acres, Poipu Bay is a links-style layout that boasts several
dramatic holes, three of which run right alongside the Pacific as you head for
The course is very much a resort layout with several sets of tees for all
skill levels, but it will certainly test the best of players, as it did when
it hosted the Grand Slam, one of the most prestigious events in golf.
"Depending on your skill level, we have tee boxes for all players to enjoy the
golf course," said head golf professional Chad Dusenberry. "The main thing
about the golf course is that there is a lot of acreage, so you can miss it
left and right and still get away with salvaging your round."
To have any chance at conquering Poipu Bay, you must first be able to tackle
the elements, especially the wind. "One of the main things that you need to
deal with on a daily basis out here are the typical trade winds, which under
normal conditions are 10-15 miles per hour," Dusenberry added.
Poipu Bay is more than golf, as you will certainly find out by spending time at
the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa. The retreat is home to 602, well-apointed
rooms and a spa that features open-air treatment areas. Now that's living.
The greatest player in the history of the game, Jack Nicklaus, made his mark
on the island with his design of Kauai Lagoons Golf Club in the late 1980s. It
originally was a 36-hole facility and now features 27 holes.
Voted as one of the best new resort courses when it first opened, Kauai
Lagoons underwent renovations over the years, and Nicklaus returned again to
redesign and improve the existing layout. In fact, the Golden Bear's work on
the closing nine holes is superb.
"Moana nine is our newest nine, which was renovated in 2011," said director of
golf operations Paul Ito. "It's primarily on the ocean and the Moana nine
features the longest continuous stretch of ocean holes in Hawaii."
Talk about your signature holes, Nos. 5 through 9 are as good as advertised. A
mix of short and long, the stretch begins with a 210-yard, downhill par-3 with
the ocean on the left and all carry from tee to green. The dogleg left sixth,
at 473 yards, is the longest par-4 on the course, while the downhill, par-4
seventh is only 331 yards, but must be played with strategy in mind, as the
landing area tightens dramatically as it rolls down toward Kukii Point and the
tiniest of greens. Next up is the par-3 eighth, which features an approach
completely over an inland lagoon, and the finale is a robust par-4 with the
continuing lagoon down the entire right side and jutting out in front of the
island green. Now that's a finish.
Combined with the Mauka nine, the course stretches to almost 7,200 yards with
a rating of 76.2! The Mauka layout has several forced carries, including the
signature par-3 fifth to a green surrounding by lush vegetation and the par-5
sixth. Number 8 is a downhill par-3 of just 169 yards, but the green is long
and narrow with a pond covering the right side of the putting surface.
The final piece to the puzzle, the Walkahe layout will undergo a renovation of
its own and with fresh bunker work scheduled on Mauka, this should bring Kauai
Lagoons back to its original glory. With the redo of the Moana and strong
Mauka holes, I'd say it's already there.
The Kauai Marriott Resort on Kalapaki Beach, just a few hundred yards from the
course is the place to unwind and relax after your round on the course,
overlooking Nawiliwili Harbor.
Not to be overlooked when staying on Kauai is the underrated Puakea Golf
Course, a daily fee venue that features four sets of tees and plenty of
Designed by the late Robin Nelson, who passed away in 2012, Puakea was one of
many layouts he crafted on the Hawaiian Islands. In all, Nelson transformed
golf in Hawaii with 11 original designs and as many renovations.
Originally opened with only 10 holes in 1997, the course was completed in 2003
and is spread out over 200 acres, just five minutes from the Lihue Airport.
The opening hole dictates what's in store on this nearly 7,000-yard course, a
straightaway par-4, with a generous fairway, featuring a babbling brook down
the entire right side and cutting in front of the green.
Water comes into play on nine holes, but it's the signature, par-3 sixth that
gets most of the attention. Just 176 yards from the tips, the holes plays
downhill to an 80-foot drop, to a green that's just 25 paces in depth. Did I
forget to mention it's all carry over an old sugar cane irrigation lake.
Overall, Puakea Golf Course possess some beautiful views of the nearby Pali
Cliffs and Kalepa Ridge and although it's not on the ocean, you can still gain
glimpses of the mighty Pacific, and if you close your eyes, you can hear the
The final two layouts on the island of Kauai, both public, require mention.
Wailua Golf Course, a three-time host to the USGA's Amateur Public Links
Championship over three decades, dates back to 1920, when it was just a nine-
The redesign in 1962 into 18 holes belongs to Toyo Shirai, a member of the
Hawaii Golf Hall of Fame, who passed in 2003.
A two-time participant in the U.S. Open, Shirai refined the front nine at
Wailua and designed the back nine into one of the top-10 courses in the state.
At just under 7,000 yards on the east side of the island or Coconut Coast, the
course is quite demanding, with its 73.6 rating, sensational holes along the
ocean and a closing stretch that will test your will and heighten your senses.
Shirai also is credited with creating the Kukuiolono Golf Course, nicknamed
the 9-9-9 course by the locals. The nine-hole course, which was originally
crafted for the exclusivity of sugar czar Walter McBride, costs $9 during the
week and $9 on weekends, all day long!
No tee times, 3,173 yards long, views of the Pacific, a great price, what more
could you ask for.
The bottom line with Kauai golf, is that it's outstanding. Whether you pay top
dollar or go the way of a more reasonable fare, you won't be disappointed.
I know Kauai and the islands of Hawaii are on everyone's bucket list and I'm
glad to say that I got to check it off mine, but to tell you the truth, I just
put it back on.
My 25th anniversary is coming up soon and I can't wait to go back!