Kauai Golf: Out of the jungle

By Travel ArticlesMarch 13, 2012, 4:00 am

PRINCEVILLE, Hawaii -- Hawaii visitors usually choose Kauai for its peaceful and friendly vibe. But over the last decade, the island's golf scene has resembled an arms race. One after another, the best courses all closed to upgrade their layouts.

In certain cases, such as Poipu Bay and nearby Kiahuna Golf Club, the project was as simple as reseeding greens to paspalum. In the case of Makai Golf Club, Kauai Lagoons Golf Club and, most recently, the Prince Golf Course, the changes were drastic.

The island even revealed a brand new golf course, the Tom Weiskopf-designed Kukui'ula, a private golf course and community located on the south shore.

But when the Prince Course reopened on March 1 after a yearlong renovation, at long last, it marked the closing of the island's renovation era, and Kauai is finally ready to show off its A-game once again.

A new era for Kauai golf

There are just 10 golf courses on Kauai, fourth most among the Hawaiian Islands, but as many as six of them are fixtures in Hawaii's Top 20.

The golf scene can make a case as the best pound-for-pound golf island in Hawaii, but in recent years, golfers planning a Hawaii golf trip never quite knew what was exactly the current status of Kauai's courses. Uncertainty here meant some golfers probably steered towards Maui, Big Island or Oahu, where the product was more predictable.

Courses particularly felt the impact in 2011, when arguably the most high-profile of Kauai's courses, the Prince Course, closed for most of the year to undergo major renovations. The reopen date was pushed back several times as ownership decided to shift the project from what was initially conceived as a simple bunker rebuilding project into a major transformation.

During a visit in the fall just before the holiday peak season, it was evident that the rest of the golf courses on Kauai were eager for the Prince to reopen its doors.

'A healthy Prince is great for all of us on the island,' said Scott Ashworth, director of golf at Kauai Lagoons Golf Club. 'It helps bring more golfers back to the island.'

Economic downturn brings an opportunity to renovate

Makai Golf Club at St. Regis

Makai Golf Club at St. Regis Princeville

While traffic to the island was light in 2008-2010 as a result of the economic downturn, accompanying hotels upgraded their product along with the golf courses.

The Marriott Kauai Lagoons upgraded all their guest rooms with new bedding and electronics, as did the Grand Hyatt beside Poipu Bay. Of all the hotels on Kauai, the Princeville Resort underwent the most dramatic upgrade. The exiting resort was transformed into a St. Regis brand, the highest-end brand of the Starwood Hotels group.

Today, it's unmistakably the island's most luxurious stay-and-play. The property recently had the chance to show off its fresh, new guest rooms, pool area and marvelous beach in the Oscar award-winning film 'The Descendants,' starring George Clooney.

While these properties all closed during the economic downturn to reinvest, the Prince Course, which debuted in 1990 as one of the most ambitious golf developments in Hawaii's modern era, was beginning to show its age. Next door, Makai Golf Club -- now sporting firm, fast playing conditions, sparkling white sand bunkers and the addition of luxury management company Troon Golf -- revealed just how much the Prince was overdue for a facelift.

Finally opened on March 1, 2012, the Prince now sports a brand-new clubhouse, wider playing corridors, larger, rebuilt and reseeded greens, and, in all likelihood, happier golfers on the North Shore.

Kauai's final piece 

Kauai Lagoons

Kauai Lagoons Golf Club's Kiele Mauka (toward the mountain) nine. 

Makai Golf Club and Poipu Bay have their oceanfront holes (so does Wailua, the island's municipal course in Lihue). But the longest continuous stretch of ocean holes in all of Hawaii belongs to Kauai Lagoons Golf Club.

The golf club and resort's status has been anything but clear recently. For several years, the course was a victim of the tumultuous real estate market in Kauai and led to the closure and reopening of particular nines that had the once 36-hole club in a perpetual state of flux.

The picture is clearer now. In 2010, Kauai Lagoons finally reopened the oceanfront back nine holes in its entirety, which included some brand new holes designed by the original designer, Jack Nicklaus, plus new TifEagle bermuda greens.

Though the return of the now-named 'Kiele Moana' nine is welcomed, there is one little spot missing its new lipstick. The front nine will eventually close in order to upgrade to the new turf and sand consistent with the Kiele Moana nine. At that point, the third nine will substitute for the front side.

But now, for the first time in about seven years, Kauai's finest golf experiences are all back and better than ever. Most importantly, they're here to stay.

'Now, with all of the refurbishments that have been completed at our courses and resorts over the last couple years,' said TJ Baggett, the new general manager at the Prince Course, 'visitors have the opportunity to come back and see the 'new' Kauai.

'We're confident they will be blown away by the enhancements that have been made.'

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Lexi looks to shine as LPGA season begins next week

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 6:06 pm

Lexi Thompson may be No. 4 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, but in so many ways she became the new face of the women’s game last year.

That makes her the headliner in a fairly star-studded season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic next week.

Three of the top four players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are scheduled to tee it up on Paradise Island, including world No. 1 Shanshan Feng and co-Rolex Player of the Year So Yeon Ryu.

From the heartache at year’s start with the controversial loss at the ANA Inspiration, through the angst in the middle of the year with her mother’s cancer diagnosis, to the stunning disappointment at year’s end, Thompson emerged as the story of the year because of all she achieved in spite of those ordeals.

Next week’s event will mark the first time Thompson tees it up in an LPGA tournament since her season ended in stunning fashion last November with a missed 2-foot putt that cost her a chance to win the CME Group Tour Championship and the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and become the world No. 1.

She still walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for the season’s low scoring average.

She also walked away sounding determined to show she will bounce back from that last disappointment the same way she bounced back from her gut-wrenching loss at the year’s first major, the ANA, where a four-shot Sunday penalty cost her a chance to win her second major.

“Just going through what I have this whole year, and seeing how strong I am, and how I got through it all and still won two tournaments, got six seconds ... it didn’t stop me,” Thompson said leaving the CME Group Tour Championship. “This won’t either.”

Thompson was named the Golf Writers Association of America’s Player of the Year in a vote of GWAA membership. Ryu and Sung Hyun Park won the tour’s points-based Rolex Player of the Year Award.

With those two victories and six second-place finishes, three of those coming after playoff losses, Thompson was close to fashioning a spectacular year in 2017, to dominating the tour.

The new season opens with Thompson the center of attention again. Consistently one of the tour’s best ball strikers and longest hitters, she enjoyed her best year on tour last season by making dramatic improvements in her wedge play, short game and, most notably, her putting.

She doesn’t have a swing coach. She fashioned a better all-around game on her own, or under the watchful eye of her father, Scott. All the work she put in showed up in her winning the Vare Trophy.

The Pure Silk Bahamas Classic will also feature defending champion Brittany Lincicome, as well as Ariya Jutanugarn, Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie, Brooke Henderson, I.K. Kim, Danielle Kang and Charley Hull.

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One & Done: 2018 CareerBuilder Challenge

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 5:55 pm

Beginning in 2018, Golf Channel is offering a "One & Done" fantasy game alternative. Choose a golfer and add the salary they earn at the event to your season-long total - but know that once chosen, a player cannot be used again for the rest of the year.

Log on to www.playfantasygolf.com to start your own league and make picks for this week's event.

Here are some players to consider for One & Done picks this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, where Hudson Swafford returns as the defending champion:

Zach Johnson. The two-time major champ has missed the cut here three years in a row. So why include him in One & Done consideration? Because the three years before that (2012-14) included three top-25s highlighted by a third-place finish, and his T-14 at the Sony Open last week was his fifth straight top-25 dating back to September.

Bud Cauley. Cauley has yet to win on Tour, but that could very well change this year - even this week. Cauley ended up only two shots behind Swafford last year and tied for 14th the year prior, as four of his five career appearances have netted at least a top-40 finish. He opened the new season with a T-7 in Napa and closed out the fall with a T-8 at Sea Island.

Adam Hadwin. Swafford left last year with the trophy, but it looked for much of the weekend like it would be Hadwin's tournament as he finished second despite shooting a 59 in the third round. Hadwin was also T-6 at this event in 2016 and now with a win under his belt last March he returns with some unfinished business.

Charles Howell III. If you didn't use him last week at the Sony Open, this could be another good spot for the veteran who has four top-15 finishes over the last seven years at this event, highlighted by a playoff loss in 2013. His T-32 finish last week in Honolulu, while not spectacular, did include four sub-70 scores.

David Lingmerth. Lingmerth was in that 2013 playoff with Howell (eventually won by Brian Gay), and he also lost here in overtimei to Jason Dufner in 2016. The Swede also cracked the top 25 here in 2015 and is making his first start since his wife, Megan, gave birth to the couple's first child in December. Beware the sleep-deprived golfer.

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DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.

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Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.

Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:

As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.

Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.