No. 7 at Makai Golf Club is as visually stunning as it is challenging. (Makai Golf Club)
When it comes to golf in Hawaii you can’t go wrong with any of the four main islands – Maui, Oahu, Kauai and the Big Island. In fact, each island has such great golf that you could argue any one of them is best of the bunch. Former host of the PGA Grand Slam of Golf, Kauai has Hawaii's highest concentration of amazing golf. Here's why it's arguably No. 1.
Of the four main islands of Hawaii, Kauai is the smallest and has the fewest golf courses.
So why should it be considered your best choice for a Hawaii golf vacation?
For what Kauai offers, it delivers in aces: a secluded island escape full of natural wonders like Waimea Canyon and the Napali Coast. Its treasures and backdrops are the darling of Hollywood site scouts, and the golf courses on Kaui make the most of their most unique environments.
In the eyes of professional golf, Kauai is the forgotten island, at least for the time being. Maui hosts the PGA Tour's Hyundai Tournament of Champions, Oahu hosts the Sony Open and the Big Island has the Champions Tour's Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai.
Kauai hosted the PGA Grand Slam of Golf before it moved to Bermuda in 2006. It's difficult to believe Kauai would ever have the amount of beds and infrastructure needed to host an event as big as the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, and that's exactly the appeal to both residents and those who pick Kauai over Hawaii's busier islands.
The island doesn't boast much nightlife like Waikiki or even Maui's much smaller Kihei, and there are exactly zero high-rise buildings lining the beaches, as strict codes allow virtually no buildings to be built above the palm trees.
And while you can count all the island's golf courses on your hand, nearly all of them are eligible of becoming your personal favorite. Most, along with the many luxury hotel properties, have also gone through extensive upgrades in recent years. So there's never been a better time to tee it up on Kauai.
Travel Caddie blog has progress reports on several golf course renovations on Kauai.
It's difficult to pinpoint Kauai's 'best' course, because each fit a niche.
Along Kauai's south shore is Poipu Bay Golf Course, which is perhaps the most recognizable golf course on the island because it hosted the PGA Grand Slam of Golf for 13 years. It's impossible to forget the cliff views on holes 15-17, while the remainder of the course boasts historic lava rock walls and virtually no homes or development in sight.
Poipu's best days may be ahead of us, too, now that the greens have been reseeded with a faster paspalum turf, and the adjacent Grand Hyatt Hotel has renovated each of its guest rooms.
Poipu Bay was host to Phil Mickelson's 59 in the Grand Slam in 2004, but it's safe to say no pro could ever score that low on Kauai's toughest course, the Prince Course at Princeville Hanelei Bay. Set on the dramatic north shore, the Prince is as bold of a golf course as there is on earth. It's tough, gorgeous, and set on severe, mountainous jungle terrain.
The shiniest new course of Kauai's bunch is next door at the Makai Golf Club at St. Regis Princeville. The course originally opened in 1971, but when Starwood chose to upgrade the Princeville resort to a St. Regis in 2007, they decided the property needed a golf course suitable to the luxury brand. The result was an entirely rebuilt and enhanced course at the hands of the original architect (and Princeville resident), Robert Trent Jones Jr. The rehab made every hole better, especially the holes on the ocean. Like Poipu Bay, Makai now features Paspalum greens.
With Poipu Bay and the Makai Golf Club freshly built, Kauai Lagoons Golf Club will be the last of Kauai's resort courses to emerge with a brand new look. Originally a 36-hole Jack Nicklaus facility, some economic issues resulted in the closure of 18 holes and later just nine holes, plus renovations of others. They've opened up the infamous closing stretch, including a short par-4 16th hole that plays entirely along the cliffs. And when the remainder of the course reopens, it will have the longest oceanfront stretch in Hawaii.
But Kauai isn't all resort golf. The island's daily fees are remarkable in their own right.
Bargain hunters will call Wailua Golf Course their pick. Many Kauai natives call this Hawaii's best municipal course. Just a few minutes from the heart of Lihue, many holes play right along the ocean. Wailua is a stern enough test to have once hosted the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship. These days it serves as the workhorse for the island's locals, as well as the occasional curious visitor passing by on the coastal road from Lihue to Princeville.
Lastly, there is the course that has wedged itself between municipal Wailua and the resort course of Kauai Lagoons, both geographically and stylistically: Puakea Golf Course. This bargain daily-fee's pro shop and restaurant is set in a double-wide trailer, and the first few holes play alongside the town. But by the back nine, playing in open land beside the mountains, you'll think you're long gone from civilization. It's pretty easy to break away from any trace of development on the Garden Isle.