POIPU BAY GOLF COURSE
Course Architect: Robert Trent Jones Jr. (1991, 2011)
Year Opened: 1991
Location: Koloa, Kauai, Hawaii
Slope: 128. Rating: 74.5
Hole-by-Hole: 1 - Par 4 428 Yds 10 - Par 4 429 Yds
2 - Par 5 524 Yds 11 - Par 3 193 Yds
3 - Par 3 209 Yds 12 - Par 4 435 Yds
4 - Par 4 380 Yds 13 - Par 4 384 Yds
5 - Par 4 355 Yds 14 - Par 5 537 Yds
6 - Par 5 573 Yds 15 - Par 4 427 Yds
7 - Par 3 179 Yds 16 - Par 4 501 Yds
8 - Par 4 374 Yds 17 - Par 3 225 Yds
9 - Par 4 420 Yds 18 - Par 5 550 Yds
Par 36 3,442 Yds Par 36 3,681 Yds
Awards Won: Premier Resort by Golf Magazine (1994, 1997-2000, 2004, 2014-15),
Rated one of Best Golf Courses in Hawaii - Hawaii Magazine (2013),
Top 100 Greatest Courses in North America - Golf Digest (2013),
Ranked #13 by Golf Digest - Best in State, Hawaii (2013-14),
Top 125 Golf Resorts by Conde Nast Traveler (2012),
Golf Week's America's Best Golf Resorts (2006-07, 09, 2011-12),
Rated #7 Best Courses You Can Play in Hawaii (2011-12),
Rated 4 1/2 stars by Golf Digest's Best Places to Play.
Key Events Held: PGA Grand Slam of Golf (1994-2006),
U.S. Women's Amateur sectional qualifier (2014-15),
USGA Senior Amateur qualifier (2014),
U.S. Amateur Public Links qualifier (2011).
Course Record: 59 (Phil Mickelson, 2004).
HISTORY: Built near the site of the ancient Hawaiian village of Kaneiolouma,
with remains of Hawaiian heiaus (place of worship), Poipu Bay Golf Course is a
wonderfully crafted design by Robert Trent Jones II.
Often considered Kauai's father of golf, Jones II designed four of the nine
venues on the island, with Poipu Bay being his last on the Garden Island.
With more than 270 courses in over 40 countries on six continents to his
credit, RTJ II boasts more than 100 courses to have hosted tournaments on
every major golf tour in the world. It will include the 2015 U.S. Open at
Chambers Bay (Washington).
Poipu Bay features four archaeological sites on the course dating back over
500 years. The first of these special areas is on the ninth hole, which
includes a lava rock heiau located to the right side of the fairway.
The final three areas where the remnants have been incorporated into the
course are on holes 16-18. The 16th features a heiau, just short of the green
on the left side, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, while the 17th hole sports
another ancient structure next to the elevated tee and a stone wall down the
right side of the cart path and through to the 18th tee.
"When we came upon a heiau, we obviously respected it and went around it,
specifically on 16 and 17," Jones said. "In some cases, we worked with the
historical society and rebuilt part of the heiau wall in the old-fashioned
way. It wasn't difficult, it was interesting and it added a cultural story to
The layout is built on the south shore on the island of Kauai, on 210 acres of
breathtaking land, featuring rocky cliffs 150 feet above the mighty Pacific.
Not only does the course possess ancient archaeological significance, it
sports beautiful tropical foliage and flora, not to mention its mix of design
strategy, making Poipu Bay Golf Course a unique, golfing experience.
What started out as a 6,959-yard venue has been stretched to over 7,100 yards
with room to grow! The challenge and adventure of Poipu Bay is all about the
design. RTJ II used the lay of the land to create a precise layout, not only
to challenge the best players in the world, but to make for a most enjoyable
visit by the resort golfer.
"Poipu Bay is on the dry and arid part of the island, and it's more exposed to
the wind," Jones said. "So our challenge at Poipu Bay was to lay it out as a
continuous 18 that reaches way out and way back. This is similar to St.
Andrews and Pebble Beach, so once you start playing golf, you have to play
golf, you're committed.
"The pillar of our design philosophy is that every project is site specific,"
Jones added. "We listen to the land and work with it to create the best golf
design possible on every unique site."
As with most courses in Hawaii, the elements can play havoc on your game and
Poipu Bay is not without its share of weather, especially when discussing the
trade winds, which whip throughout the layout.
"The course finishes along the coast and we laid it out in that direction,
rather than in reverse of that, to take advantage of the prevailing winds
finishing, so the winds are at your back," Jones continued. "The winds are a
form of a hazard, so you can either learn to use it as a player or be abused
by it. As a designer, we like you to finish happy, so we wanted you to play
But Jones II did not create just up and back holes. His layout features holes
that play with the wind, into the breeze and across, just enough to keep you
guessing on each and every shot.
The word Poipu literally means "crashing waves" in Hawaiian and the final four
holes run alongside and well above the Pacific Ocean's mighty bounty.
Just under one mile in length, the closing four holes are without a doubt the
signature grouping at Poipu Bay, with the world's largest water hazard on the
left. The 16th is what many consider RTJ II's autograph. In fact, he
considered this gem as "the Pebble Beach of the Pacific."
It comes as no surprise that Poipu Bay Golf Course has received the accolades
and awards that it has, such as one of Golf Digest's "America's 100 Greatest
Public Golf Courses," and since 2000, Conde Nast Traveler considers the course
and the Grand Hyatt Resort as one of the top resorts in the United States.
"We wanted to distinguish Poipu Bay from the other courses, so the greens are
generally smaller and somewhat rounded on the edges," Jones said. "They're a
little like a Donald Ross concept, like an inverted concept and that's pretty
tricky in the wind. It's a shorter course and compact and a real golf
experience. It's produced a lot of excitement and a lot of history and fun
when the Grand Slam was here."
After just three years of opening its tee boxes, the powers that be at the
Professional Golfers Association of America decided to bring its premier
after-season event to Poipu Bay.
The PGA of America was certainly pleased, as from 1994 through 2006 Poipu Bay
hosted the Grand Slam of Golf, which features the winners of the four majors
in that calendar year.
The champions during this time frame read like a who's who of World Golf Hall-
of-Famers, led by seven-time winner Tiger Woods. In addition, other HOFs who
captured the Grand Slam at Poipu Bay were Greg Norman, Ben Crenshaw, Ernie Els
and course record-holder Phil Mickelson. Two other winners, Tom Lehman and Jim
Furyk, can possibly reach this pinnacle in the near future.
When Norman captured the 1994 event, he became the first alternate in the
history of the event to win the title. Norman capped off his final round 66
with a 5-foot eagle on the last hole to win by three shots over Nick Price,
who had recorded wins that year in the PGA Championship and the British Open.
A more dramatic finish came the next season, when Crenshaw holed his 50-yard
approach on the last for an eagle to clip Steve Elkington and Corey Pavin by a
shot. It should be noted that John Daly also eagled the closing hole by
reaching the green in two and making the putt. According to Daly lore, the
long-hitting lad from Arkansas leaped over part of the sacred ground (stone
wall), but still made eagle. Call it irony or karma, but Daly has not won
again on the PGA Tour since.
Els set a tournament record in 1997, as he finished the two-day event at 11-
under-par 133, besting Woods, then a first-time participant, by three shots.
Woods started his streak of five consecutive wins at the Grand Slam of Golf by
defeating Vijay Singh 2-up in match play as the PGA of America changed the
Following another match-play win the following year over Davis Love III, the
PGA of America returned the format to stroke play, and Woods edged Singh
again, this time in a playoff. Woods made eagle in regulation to force the
playoff and then eagled the 18th hole again in the extra session.
In 2002, Woods obliterated the field by carding a 36-hole total of 127, which
included a final-round 61 for a whopping 14-stroke win over Davis Love III and
Making his first appearance at the Grand Slam, Furyk cruised to an eight-shot
win over Masters champion Mike Weir. Furyk, who captured his only major at the
U.S. Open in 2003, had 11 birdies in the two-day event and needed just 55
Playing in the event for the first time, Mickelson made history when he carded
a course-record 59 to win by five shots over three-time runner-up Singh in
2004. Mickelson played flawless golf during his record run, as he tied Woods
for the lowest 36-hole total in event history. In his round, he made 11 birdies
and an eagle and needed only 24 putts. The round could have been better if he
had only made a 9-foot eagle putt on the last!
Woods returned to Poipu Bay for the final two seasons of this event in Hawaii
and did not disappoint, as he captured the 2005 and '06 events. In all, Woods
recorded seven wins and one runner-up finish in his eight appearances at Poipu
Bay. Over the years, Woods recorded 87 birdies and eight eagles for a scoring
average of 66.75 and earnings of $3.15 million. It's hard to argue with
success and Woods certainly has had his share. "This facility here, the Hyatt,
is absolutely fantastic, all of the amenities that they have. It's a pretty
great place," said Woods.
In 2010, Poipu Bay underwent a facelift of sorts, as the greens were
transformed from traditional Bermuda to the eco-friendly Seashore Paspalum. In
addition, several of the bunkers and tee boxes were upgraded.
"The main thing we changed were the greens," said Chad Dusenberry, head golf
professional at Poipu Bay. "Initially we had Tid Dwarf Bermuda, which wasn't
a consistent putting surface for the weather that we have. After researching
to find the best product to fit our conditions that we have, such as ocean
breeze, we settled on Seashore Paspalum. We were looking for more consistency,
quality and something we could speed up more, so that in the future we might
be able to host another event here."
HOLE-BY-HOLE REVIEW: The opener is a pretty straightforward hole, playing
uphill from tee to green. Bunkers guard both sides of the landing area off the
tee, but with the trade winds at your back, a solid tee ball will certainly
avoid the trouble. A medium to short iron should remain to a fairly large
putting surface that slopes toward the front and to the right. Stay below the
hole, avoid the bunker on the left and you'll get off to a good start.
The second is a boomerang par-5 that stretches 524 yards from the back
markers. Playing uphill from the tee to the fairway, the key here is to avoid
the bunker down the right side of the landing area. Cut the corner if you
dare, but missing the short grass might eliminate your shot at getting home in
two. If you're forced to lay up, this shouldn't be a problem, as long as you
stay left of the grouping of bunkers down the right. With a wedge in hand, the
player should be able to stick one close to the flag and set up a great chance
Although the yardage does not suggest that the third hole will be the longest
of the par-3s, trust me, it is, as it plays directly into the wind. The
trouble here is pin placement and club selection. The green wraps around a
deep bunker on the right side of the putting surface, so when the flag is
tucked, stay away and play toward the center. A gentle, left-to-right shot,
riding the breeze is the play here. This is not the time to be heroic. Make
your par and move on.
The fourth hole is an average par-4 of just 380 yards in length. Simple,
right? Not so fast. At first blush, it might appear to be a real birdie
chance, but with the elements in your face and a cross-bunker staring at you,
you'd better be careful. With a successful tee shot, you'll have a medium iron
remaining and don't forget to take enough club, as sand short of the green is
not the place to be. The green is fairly simple, but if you miss right, you'll
finish in a tightly mown chipping area.
The shortest par-4 on the course, the fifth is just 355 yards in length, but
it requires pinpoint accuracy off the tee as fairway bunkers tighten the
landing area. Missing the fairway will most likely end in bogey, but a quality
tee ball can produce a birdie.
From the shortest to the longest, as the Z-shaped sixth is a monster par-5 of
573 yards from the gold markers. One large fairway bunker guards the right
corner of the first dogleg. Usually downwind, this hole can be had despite its
length. A successful tee ball can set up a shot at the green in two, but a
more sensible effort would be to lay up just past the bunkers on either side
of the landing area, thus setting up a simple run to the pin. Your hardest
choice will be what club to play to the putting surface, as this is one of the
longest on the course with a huge slope splitting the green. Place your
approach in the proper spot and you'll have a great shot at birdie.
One of the prettiest holes on the course, No. 7, is also the shortest of the
par-3s at 179 yards. Club selection is critical in more ways than one, as a
large pond protects the entire right side of the hole and with a back-right
pin placement, you'll need to be spot on, otherwise a double-bogey or worse
might mess up your scorecard. I know first hand of this!
A critical juncture of the golf course, the eighth, although short, is
generally played back into the breeze, making this one of the more difficult
par-4s. Two fairway bunkers squeeze the landing area off the tee and with the
wind in your face, it would be best to avoid them at all costs. Your slightly
uphill approach gets even more difficult with the fact that the putting
surface is guarded by a dozen bunkers and is the smallest green at Poipu Bay.
Let's not forget the undulating and tiered surface and you have one diabolical
The closing hole on the outward nine is rated as the most difficult on the
course. A par-4 reaching 420 yards from the tips, this bad boy is also the
first hole on the course to feature historical sites dating back over 500
years. Playing back into the trade winds, the ninth requires an accurate tee
shot, as the bunkers lining the undulating landing area, crimp the fairway to
just 24 yards. From here it's a guessing game, as your approach plays uphill
to an elevated green, so take an extra stick. To top it off, the first rock
heiau (ancient worship site) is located on the right side of the hole and is a
culturally sensitive area, where players are not allowed to enter or play
The back nine opens with the fourth-most difficult hole on the course. A long,
429-yard par-4, the 10th features fairway bunkering that narrows the landing
area, so much so that many players will use 3-metal off the tee for accuracy.
Now you're faced with a 200-yard approach to a very tight putting surface,
guarded by deep bunkers. Miss right of the green and you'll be faced with a
difficult up-and-down from a tight chipping area.
Number 11 is a slightly downhill par-3, just under 200 yards in length. A pond
guards most of the green, from the center to right, while a pair of bunkers
protect the left. The winds generally blow left to right, so play out to the
left for your best chance at par, especially when the pin is tucked to the
right behind the pond. Any shot long will end up in a deep, chipping area, so
your best play is middle of the green.
Playing away from the ocean and toward the mountains, the 12th is a
straightaway par-4 that reaches 435 yards in length. The large fairway bunker
on the left side of the landing area off the tee pinches the short grass and
must be avoided. Your approach to the green will be uphill and into the breeze,
so choose the right club to bypass the bunker that fronts the putting surface.
The green itself runs from front to back and is quite narrow, which will test
your skill level. Missing the putting surface might result in bogey, as
several bunkers lay in wait. This hole concludes a stretch of five holes that
rank in the top 10 of most difficult on the course.
If there ever was a chance to get a stroke back, the 13th is certainly that
chance. The final of four par-4s under 400 yards, No. 13 can be had,
especially with a good tee shot. Playing back toward the water, the trade
winds will once again blow from left to right, so avoiding the bunker left and
the trees right will be important to your success. The difficulty will be with
your approach. Although you'll have a short iron, the tiered putting surface
is protected on the left by sand and the right by another pond. Another back-
right pin can spell doom, especially since the water wraps around the green,
so be careful not to go long. Half of the green is encased beautifully by a
surrounding rock wall, from the front-center to behind the green. Adjusting
your ball flight will serve you well.
The final stretch of holes, starting with the 14th at Poipu Bay, are as rock-
solid and as exciting as many of the courses in Hawaii. This par-5 is only 537
yards long, but plays longer than all of the three-shotters due to the uphill
climb from tee to green and the fact that the wind blows against you. The
landing area is one of the largest on the course, so let it fly off the tee.
Your second shot, most definitely a layup, must avoid the long fairway bunker
that stands right-center of the landing area. With a short iron in hand, your
approach, again uphill, must be struck with precision, as the green is long
with plenty of undulations.
The 15th is a dynamic par-4 of just 427 yards. Dynamic because of the huge
water hazard to your left, the Pacific Ocean. From an elevated tee, this hole
plays down breeze and does not play as long as the yardage indicates. It does,
however, require an accurate tee shot, as three fairway bunkers down the
right, tighten the landing zone. A successful tee ball with leave a short iron
to a green that features a bunker on either side and a severe slope on the
left. Don't be cute, play toward the center of the putting surface and trust
your putter. The final four holes play atop a 150-foot cliff overlooking the
Many believe the 16th is the signature hole at Poipu Bay, and with good
reason. Stretching 501 yards from the back markers, this par-4 is as difficult
as it is breathtaking. Again with the Pacific down the left, your tee ball
must favor the right side, avoiding the fairway bunker. Although this hole
also plays down wind and slightly downhill, it will plays almost as long as
its yardage. Called "the Pebble Beach of the Pacific," by Jones II,
since it hugs the coast and bends to the left, similar to its counterpart in
California. Number 16 stifles the best of players, especially with your
approach, which is played uphill from the fairway. With the ocean crashing
down below and an ancient rock wall squeezing the fairway by the green, your
target looks as small as a thimble. Toss in a back-left pin placement and
you'll be begging for bogey.
At 225 yards, the final par-3 on the course - the 17th - is outstanding and
difficult, to say the least. Although downhill and down breeze, you'll need a
long iron or fairway metal to reach the putting surface. Be careful to avoid
the heiau to the right of the green and, of course, the bunkers guarding the
left and right portions of the putting surface. Take time to take a look back
from behind the green at the wonder of the Pacific Ocean. Trust me, it's worth
From the back tee, the closing hole plays like a dogleg right, as it bends
around a stand of trees. Although it has been reached in two, No. 18 is really
a three-shot, par-5 of 550 yards in length. Although the tee shot is
important, it is the second shot that's crucial, as it must play short of the
pond fronting the green and the bunker to the right. Roughly 100 yards will
remain to a putting surface that runs from middle to back, so land soft to set
up a birdie chance. If you played your cards right, you will be rewarded.
FINAL WORD: Poipu Bay Golf Course is another Robert Trent Jones II classic on
the island of Kauai, complete with rolling terrain, awesome elevation changes,
dramatic views of the Pacific (as much of the golf course sits almost 90 feet
above the ocean and 150 feet in some places), several water holes, over 85
bunkers and, yes ... the elements.
The trade winds blow on an average of 15-20 miles per hour each and every day,
making Poipu Bay quite a challenge. Jones laid the golf course out so that the
wind direction is diverse throughout the layout. In doing so, Jones made club
selection and strategy crucial in playing the course. As if you didn't have
enough problems to worry about!
The average player should not be overly concerned, however, as Poipu Bay is
for all levels of golf.
"The playability, depending upon what skill level you are, and the different
tees, makes it enjoyable for all different player types," Dusenberry said.
"From the high handicapper to the low handicapper, depending upon what tee
boxes you play, it will provide a challenge. There are not a lot of forced
carries, and you can miss it left and right and still keep your golf ball in
Poipu Bay is a great mix of holes, such as three par-3s over water, with the
quartet of one-shotters ranging from 179 to 225 yards. There are four par-4s
under 400 yards in length, five over 420 yards and one over 500. Finally, the
spectacular par-5s are all laid out in different directions, presenting their
own set of problems.
"Our philosophy also calls for the creation of courses that combine
playability for the average golfer with sufficient difficulty from
championship tees to challenge the world's best players," Jones said.
"Providing alternative lines of play adds another crucial strategic component
to our courses."
Although not as flamboyant as The Prince Course on the north shore, Poipu Bay
is itself quite unique, with its several archaeological sites that boast
Heiaus and ancient stone walls.
The one aspect of the course that really stands out is the natural beauty of
the layout. The conditioning of the layout is top notch and the flora and
fauna throughout the course are stunning. From tropical flowers, such as the
beautiful pink blossoms by the 18th green or the thick vegetation and timeless
palms scattered throughout, make Poipu Bay a visual delight.
As mentioned before, the fact this course is playable for all levels makes it
a favorite amongst the locals and, of course, the resort guests. The forward
tees are 5,372 yards in length and are followed up by the white markers (6,127
yards), the blue (6,612 yards) and finally, the gold tees at 7,123 yards.
The inexperienced player, not to mention the medium handicap player, will
enjoy the course, while the best of players will be extremely tested on a
course that at times plays as difficult as any. You'll be forced to play shots
that you normally don't on the mainland, such as knock-down shots with a 6-
iron from 150 yards away or putting from 10 yards off the green.
So pick a spot or mix and match and you'll have the time of your life. The
fairways are generous, the greens are undulating and slick and the course as a
whole is a top-caliber venue that will bring you back, time and time again.
Hey, if the golf doesn't bring you back, then the dramatic views of the
Pacific Ocean, the waves crashing down below, the seals sunbathing and the
surfers hanging loose will.
Did I forget to mention the 21,000 square foot clubhouse, with a fully stocked
pro shop, complete locker room facilities, a restaurant and a lounge.
To top it off, the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa is just a short walk from
the first tee, so take advantage of this beautiful resort and its 602
As with all the courses on Kauai, Poipu Bay is a must play and should be on
everyone's proverbial bucket list.