PRINCEVILLE MAKAI GOLF CLUB
Course Architect: Robert Trent Jones Jr. (1971, renovation - 2009-10)
Year Opened: 1971
Location: Princeville, Kauai, Hawaii
Slope: 134. Rating: 75.4
Hole-by-Hole: 1 - Par 4 464 Yds 10 - Par 4 399 Yds
2 - Par 5 611 Yds 11 - Par 5 520 Yds
3 - Par 3 181 Yds 12 - Par 4 450 Yds
4 - Par 4 385 Yds 13 - Par 3 255 Yds
5 - Par 5 540 Yds 14 - Par 4 338 Yds
6 - Par 4 446 Yds 15 - Par 4 414 Yds
7 - Par 3 213 Yds 16 - Par 3 202 Yds
8 - Par 4 359 Yds 17 - Par 4 476 Yds
9 - Par 4 403 Yds 18 - Par 5 567 Yds
Par 36 3,602 Yds Par 36 3,621 Yds
Awards Won: Rated #65 by Golf Digest - Greatest Public Golf Course (2015-16),
Ranked #4 by Golfweek - Best Courses you can play (Hawaii) (2015),
Rated #80 by Golf Digest - Greatest Public Golf Course (2013-14),
Top 5 Public Golf Course in Hawaii - Golf Magazine,
Top Renovation of the Year - Golf Inc. (2011),
Top 25 Gold Medal Resorts - Golf Magazine,
Top 100 Golf Resorts - Travel & Leisure.
Key Events Held: PGA Tour - World Cup of Golf (1978),
LPGA Tour - Women's Kemper Open (1986-89).
Web site: www.makaigolf.com.
HISTORY: It was his baby, his first solo design. So it comes to reason that the
Makai Golf Club on the island of Kauai receives Robert Trent Jones Jr.'s
undivided attention on a continual basis.
Although Jones Jr. designed several courses (Silverado and others) on his own
while with his father, the incomparable Robert Trent Jones Sr., the Makai Golf
Club was his first creation with his own firm, so the course holds special
"My father was doing courses all over Europe and the Caribbean, not to mention
several U.S. Open venues, so he wasn't that interested in coming to Kauai,"
Jones Jr. said. "Because I had honeymooned in Kauai with my wife in 1961, I
came back in the late '60s to look with the Princeville Development Company at
the property and my wife and I fell in love with an island as well as each
other all over again."
Two hundred and seventy courses and counting, throughout 40-plus years in the
business, Jones Jr. has traversed the globe several times and then some during
his career. His work on Kauai and the islands of Hawaii has been nothing short
of spectacular with nine sensational designs, but his Makai venue will always
"The original Makai course was 27 holes and was over a large property (200
acres), which was very remote," he said. "You had to fly into Honolulu and then
take a small plane into Lihue and hire a jeep and travel a very bumpy road
before you even got to Hanalei Bay, which, of course, once you got there
was worth the trip. If that's not paradise, I don't want to go there. The
views, the mystic feelings and the powerful nature, waterfalls and ocean."
"We put the clubhouse in the center of the property and had three nines, like
spokes of a wheel, reaching out to the periphery of the property. All nines
were attempted to be balanced and we built them in a day when the Vietnam War
was still going on, so we had some ex-soldiers helping us."
"My hero golf writer was Dan Jenkins," Jones added. "He was as curmudgeon even
then, so we had to persuade him to come over and take a look ... and he did.
Once he saw what we had, he talked to his wife June and pretty soon they wanted
to be here. We were able to negotiate with the ownership since they owed us
some money and they hit the recession and they couldn't pay our bill, so we got
the beach house, which was the old plantation house on the property. It was the
best bad deal I ever had!"
"Dan Jenkins and I owned it for a while and he wrote articles about the
property and as his children grew up, he sold his half interest to me in the
1980s and we haven't looked back and come here to our special place. So we're
not only the designer, but a resident here, and this is where all our family
comes when we can."
Seven years after it opened, the course hosted the World Cup of Golf.
"It had come to my attention in the late '70s, that they were looking for a
host site, as they were having a problem with a venue somewhere and they were
suddenly looking for a home and I persuaded the powers that be to host the
World Cup on the Makai and that sort of put Kauai on the map with the golf
world," Jones said. When all was said and done, the U.S. team of John Mahaffey
and Andy North bested Greg Norman and Wayne Grady of Australia for the title.
"Once it had a World Cup, that was a big deal," Jones said. "In those days
there was no Internet or communications, so people discovered this and they
went back to their various countries to talk about it, particularly Asia-
Pacific and Japan. We had a lot of Japanese visitors coming here and the
Princeville Development Company built out over time a community and then the
hotel in the early 1980s."
It wasn't long after that the LPGA Tour came calling, as the Makai Golf Club
played host to the Women's Kemper Open for several years. Hall of Famer Betsy
King captured the event twice, defeating Beth Daniel by one shot and then Jane
Geddes by two after opening the event with a round of 63. Future HOF Juli
Inkster won in its first year at the course in 1986, as she edged Amy Alcott by
one stroke. Her four-day total included a sizzling round of 64 for a 12-under-
par 276. Two-time major championship winner Geddes also captured the Kemper
Open, as she defeated Cathy Gerring in a playoff.
"It had a quality of hosting championships in a remote location and because of
the photogenic atmosphere, it was popular on television, particularly in the
winter, Jones continued.
Thirty eight years after it opened, RTJ Jr. returned for a renovation of the
course. What took place was a usual happening of golf courses when they receive
a face-lift of sorts, reshaping and the addition of the bunkers and adding
additional tee boxes for the high skilled player and for the beginning, thus
increasing rounds to the course.
"Over the years, the ownership changed, the Makai Course got tired, the
Japanese withdrew from both the Makai and the Prince Course and we had a chance
to do it again," Jones said.
"The game has changed, a lot, technically and also by a playing point of view
and who plays," Jones continued. "So what we did at Makai was to revise just
the championship course, which was the Lakes and Ocean nines, not the Woods
nine, as they were equally balanced."
However, the most significant changes to the Makai Golf Club were the
adjustment of strategy to the green complexes and the turf adjustment to
Seashore Paspalum for the greens, fairways and tees.
"The issue was to get new grass types throughout the entire course, widen the
fairways and rebunker it with white sands, so it's striking (Augusta kind of
white). When you do all that, with all I've learned by being an architect all
those years, I saw some ways to update the strategy and refine the design,
together with my partner, Bruce Charlton, and that's what we did. We re-shaped
it," Jones said.
Following its recent renovation, the course has moved up 15 spots in the latest
rankings of Greatest Public Golf Courses you can play by Golf Digest.
"It's a whole new generation who are rating it, who were not even born when we
first opened it," said Jones, which might mean its a test of generations,
rather than a test of time."
HOLE-BY-HOLE REVIEW: The opening hole on the Makai Course is a relatively
routine par-4, unless, of course, you're playing the black markers, as the
hole measures 464 yards. Sand, left off the tee, must be avoided to reach the
green in regulation. In addition, the bunker complex on the right by the
putting surface will make for a difficult up and down. A real tester right off
With the mountains in the background, the second is picturesque to say the
least, not to mention the longest hole on the course at 611 yards. The fairway
is quite generous, but missing on either side are several bunkers. As you get
closer to the green, a series of traps will persuade you to stay right, thus
setting up your approach to a well-guarded putting surface. A word of caution:
Do not miss long, as it falls off sharply behind the green.
If you thought the second was nice to look at, wait until you reach the third
tee. This beautiful, downhill par-3 features a huge drop down to a wide putting
surface, fronted by a pond with Hanalei Bay in the background. Distance control
is of the utmost, not to mention judging the wind. Miss long and you'll find
sand ... or worse, as the jungle is close by. The green is wide and shallow,
sloping from back to front.
One of four par-4 under 400 yards on the Makai Course, the fourth is rated as
the most difficult, and with good reason. Playing entirely uphill, the tight
fairway is guarded on both sides by dense trees and underbrush. Although devoid
of sand, the narrowness of the landing area will make you think twice. Your
approach to the green will require at least one additional club, if not two, as
you won't be able to see the putting surface, just the top of the flag. You
might want to take a ride to the top of the hill before striking your approach.
The green, which runs from back to front, features a long bunker on the left
and a pair at the front. Your only bailout area is long!
Although the fifth is a fairly long par-5, it certainly gives you a chance to
get a shot back. Your tee shot is not overly demanding, as sand on the right
is your lone obstacle. Where the hole might become difficult is with the layup,
as the fairway tightens around the 100-yard mark. The slightly elevated green
is set off, left of the fairway, with three bunkers right and one left. The
putting surface runs hard from back to front with plenty of slope. A back-right
flag might spell three-putt, especially if you come up short with your
You know the saying, "A picture is worth a thousand words"? Well, I won't go
overboard, but the sixth hole is as good as it gets. A par-4 of over 440 yards,
this gem plays out toward the mighty Pacific Ocean, a view that will never get
old. Two fairway bunkers tighten the landing area, so favor the right side, not
only to avoid the S-shaped trap on the left, but also to leave the best angle
to the green. A long iron or fairway metal might be needed to reach the putting
surface, which is quite long and narrow with sand on either side. By the way,
don't forget the wind!
Number 7, the signature hole at the Makai, is also a jaw dropper. A par-3 of
213 yards, this hole is all carry over a ravine with the ocean to your right
and the mountains in full view. No question, this is a double-bogey waiting to
happen, so make sure you take enough club and don't be suckered into going for
a back-right pin, as this will bring trouble with a capital T. Four bunkers are
strategically placed around the green, which might not seem so bad if you come
Finally, a breather of a hole, the short, par-4 eighth. Just 359 yards in
length, this hole bends slightly to the right and is simple enough. Fairway
metal or long iron off the tee should suffice, thus leaving a short iron for
your approach. The putting surface is more wide than deep, so make sure your
club selection is correct. A bunker left and short will keep you honest, so if
you're going to miss, miss long.
The closing hole on the front nine is a sharp, dogleg-right par-4 of 403 yards.
The key for success here is the tee shot, which must avoid the trio of traps on
the corner of the bend and the one to the left, as the fairway is just 20 paces
wide at that point. Laying back to the fat part of the landing area should be
the play, despite leaving a longer approach. The tear-drop shaped putting
surface is open in the front, but three large bunkers guard the other
sides of the green. That deserves a "Wow!" although we have nine more holes to
Number 10 is another par-4 that's under 400 yards, but plays quite difficult.
Bending slightly to the left, the two key elements on this hole are the tee
shot and your approach. Your opening shot will be effected by the lake to the
left and a bunker on the right, so don't stray too far from the landing area.
Your approach to the green must travel across the corner of the water, so
feel free, if you must, to bail out to the right. Not only does a front-left
pin placement bring the water into play, but also a bunker that protects the
entire left side. A beautiful hole that has disaster written all over it.
Number 11 is the shortest of the four par-5 holes on the Makai Course at
just 520 yards. This straightaway shorty can be had with two good shots, as
long as you avoid two sections of sand. The first is the sandy two-step that
guards the landing area off the tee on either side. Then it's the trio fronting
the putting surface. There is a runway to the green, but the circumference of
the green is the smallest on the course. Reaching the bunkers in two might not
be so bad, especially if you have a good short game. Take advantage of the
length of this hole and go for it.
This beauty is a beast. The 12th is a whopping 450 yard par-4 which sweeps
to the left as you head back toward the ocean. Featuring one of the widest
fairways on the course, the landing area slopes to the left toward a quartet
of bunkers. Avoid them and you'll have a reasonable shot at par. Miss left, and
as they say in New Jersey, "Fugget about it." The green is fairly large, but
bunkers right and left can play havoc with your approach. Miss long and you
might have a shot at saving par.
Par-3s are generally rated as the easiest holes on the course. That is
definitely not the case at No. 13. At 255 yards from the back tees, it's the
fourth-most difficult hole on the Makai Course. Despite playing slightly
downhill, you'll need to bust a three-metal or driver just to reach the massive
putting surface. A front flag can alleviate some of the anguish here, but when
the pins back, watch out. To make matters worse, three large bunkers protect
the rolling green and out-of-bounds right is ever-so close.
One of the most dynamic holes on the course comes by way of the 14th, a
reachable par-4 complete with all the drama. Playing slightly uphill from
the tee box, with the waves crashing down below, this is risk-reward at its
finest. Your tee ball must first travel over a ravine and then a maze of
bunkers on its way to the green. To keep things interesting, the entire right
side of the hole is guarded by the cliffs with thick vegetation swallowing any
errant shot. The putting surface, which runs from back to front, is quite small
and is quite close to edge of trouble. A real solid birdie chance, but making
par is not the end of the world.
Although the final four holes are certainly not the most difficult, they all
possess their own degree of difficulty. Case in point, the 15th, a dogleg right
par-4 of 414 yards. Two very long bunkers pinch the fairway, tightening the
driving zone off the tee. Staying focused with the mountain range in the
distance is a difficult chore, not to mention threading the needle into the
green with your approach. Three deep bunkers guard the two-tiered putting
surface, so stay on point, otherwise you'll drop another shot ... or two.
The 16th is a straightforward par-3 of 202 yards in length. Two bunkers
front the right and left portions of the shallow green. The putting surface is
just 15 paces in depth, so you'll need your range-finder to predict the correct
yardage, otherwise you'll either end up in sand or long, which is no bargain.
One of my favorite holes on the course, the 17th ranks in my top five at the
Makai and certainly not because I made a good score on the hole (double-bogey
six). At 476 yards, you'll find the fairway quite accommodating, despite the
pair of traps down the right. With a mid to long iron, you'll need to be spot
on with your approach, as a fronting lake covers the entire green, as it runs
ever so close to the Promised Land. The sliver of short grass is a difficult
target and becomes even harder when the pin is stuffed in the right corner. Be
careful not to put too much spin on your approach, otherwise you'll zip your
shot back into the water.
The boomerang, par-5 18th is a classic finishing hole. Running 567 yards,
you'll need to shape your tee shot from right to left around the first of two
lakes on the hole. In addition, the fairway bunker in the center of the landing
area needs to be avoided. Depending upon your tee shot, a decision will need to
be made, whether to go for the green in two or lay up to the right. The smart
decision will be to lay up and strike a crisp wedge over the second lake to the
green. The putting surface, similar to the 17th, is quite wide and narrow with
water fronting and sand in the rear. The big boys will have little trouble with
this one, but for me, it was all I could handle ... and then some.
FINAL WORD: With the Prince Course gaining most of the national attention on
the north shore of Kauai, Makai Golf Club is by far the most popular venue of
the locals and it's easy to see why.
First off, the course is in wonderful condition, following its 2010 face-lift
by architect Robert Trent Jones Jr.
"The course is in very good condition. The bunkering is clear and the strategy
is clear, but the bones and the routing of the course is the same. We made it
wider, firmer, faster, better turf and more fun," Jones said.
Second, the practice facility was upgraded, as two new large practice tees and
a practice fairway bunker were added, not to mention seven new target greens
and an expanded putting green.
However, the key to the local allure might be the Junior Program. You see, all
juniors, ages 6-15 play for free, all day and night when accompanied by an
adult. Not only does that hold water for the Makai Course, but for the nine-
hole Woods layout as well.
In fact, the Woods course is just $55 and ages 16-17 play for just half price!
"The future of the game is to let the children run. Have a skateboard on the
course (sarcastically said) and let them hit the ball and go find it and hit it
again," Jones said. "That's the way I grew up playing golf. I think we've
gotten a little over institutionalized and little over technical trying to help
think the game is hard to master with all these teaching facilities. That's how
the game will be passed on to the next generation. This is a game of a
This is certainly not an easy golf course, especially from the black tees,
where the course rating is 75.4, but with five sets of tee markers, ranging
from just over 5,000 yards to 7,223, all levels of players can maneuver around
The name Makai, which in Hawaiian translation means "toward or by the sea,"
is aptly named as several holes run alongside or nearby the Pacific Ocean. Not
to mention the four lakes that definitely come into play.
"We really try to show off these holes that are along the Pacific Ocean," said
Doug Sutter, sales manager at Makai Golf Club. "The 14th is a short driveable
par-4, but there's quite a bit of trouble on the way, it's definitely a good
risk-reward hole and because of the distance, it does keep everyone in it."
In addition, the course features plenty of sand, 68 bunkers in all and everyone
strategically placed ... I can assure you!
Although my first trip to Kauai came recently, from all accounts the
renovation work that Jones and his team performed at the Makai was outstanding
and really transformed the course, not only back to its original roots, but
refined the layout to another level. That's the only way to explain how the
course moved up the charts to No. 4 in the state of Hawaii and how it climbed
15 spots to the 65th greatest public course in the United States.
The Makai Golf Club is that good. No doubt about it. You'll be tested, but the
course won't beat you up. I'm looking forward to my return trip to the island
of Kauai with the family.