Kauai is ripe with highly-ranked golf courses


princeville prince course 6th hole
No. 6 at the Prince Course at St. Regis Princeville Resort (Photo courtesy HawaiiGolf.com)

KAUAI, Hawaii – When it comes to golf in Hawaii it doesn’t matter which island you decide visit, the ocean views and sunny skies are abundant just about everywhere. But if you also appreciate great golf, then Kauai is the place to go, because it’s here where you’ll find Hawaii's highest concentration of top-ranked golf courses.

Here’s a look at some of the must-play golf courses on Kauai:

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St. Regis Princeville Resort
At the newly-renamed and newly-renovated St. Regis Princeville Resort you’ll find two courses: Makai Golf Club and the Prince Course.

Built in 1971 by Robert Trent Jones Jr., Makai Golf Club is the older of the two courses at Princeville, but recently underwent a wall-to-wall renovation that divided the 27-hole course into the Makai 18 and Woods 9. It reopened Jan. 16.

The Makai 18 underwent the most significant change including the introduction of more bunkers, a fourth set of tees, and a full re-sodding of seashore paspalum, a grass that requires 50 percent less fertilizer than most seaside golf courses. Visual appeal also was enhanced with a change to white sand from the indigenous red.

The signature hole at Makai Golf Club is undoubtedly No. 7 at the Makai 18. This treacherous par 3 requires a shot over the ocean and 'Queen's Bath.' The views here are simply stunning, and it’s no surprise that No. 7 is one of the most photographed – and intimidating – holes on Kauai.

At the neighboring Prince Course you’ll experience the resort’s crown jewel, another Robert Trent Jones Jr. layout that he says is 'one of the top five courses I've ever designed.' Since opening in 1990 it has been widely regarded as the best golf course in Hawaii.

The first hole at the Prince Course is one of the toughest openers you’ll find. It’s a manageable 408 yards from the white tees, but a tight fairway will make you think twice about pulling driver for your first shot of the day. Even if you’re skilled enough to keep it in the fairway, you’re faced with an approach shot over a cross-cutting hazard that protects the front of the green.

The next four holes make a beeline for the Pacific Ocean, and introduce you to hazards you may not be accustomed to golfing your ball around: deep ravines, sneaky streams and vast jungle.

But the real fun begins at No. 6, a medium-length par 4 aimed directly at the ocean. Approach shots landing over the green run the risk of dropping off a cliff into the largest reef in Hawaii.

The par-3 seventh is the first photo-op hole at the Prince Course, but don’t become too distracted – it’s easily the most intimidating tee shot you’ll hit all day.

The back nine at the Prince Course is where elevation change really takes hold, and no hole has more of it than No. 12, a dastardly downhill par 4 that drops 100 feet from tee to fairway. Emphasis on accuracy will help you find the fairway, but shots wayward will disappear into the dense jungle foliage.

The mix of breathtaking scenery and well-designed holes at the Prince Course makes it a must-play on Kauai.

Poipu Bay Golf Course
If playing courses with pro golf pedigree is your MO, then be sure to visit Poipu Bay Golf Course, host of the PGA Grand Slam of Golf from 1994 to 2006. During this span, Tiger Woods won the event a reality-defying seven times, and in 2004 Phil Mickelson shot an electrifying 59.

But while the pros made minced meat out of the course’s 7,081-yard par-72 layout, it’s a formidable test for the average golfer.

Trade winds are a key factor in the difficulty of the course, and rarely is there ever a windless day. The par-3 third, for example, is an early indicator of what effect the wind will have on your round. This downhill par 3 boasts a crossing trade wind, and at 209 yards from the tips committing to your shot is paramount – the only reprieve is that the green is large and there’s no water in play.

The back nine continues Poipu Bay’s trend of awe-inspiring mountains but throws ocean holes into the mix, beginning with the par-4 15th, a cliffside beauty that begins the downhill-downwind journey back toward the clubhouse.

No. 16 was dubbed “the Pebble Beach of the Pacific” by Robert Trent Jones because it teeters on the edge of the ocean, much like Pebble’s 18th hole.

Nos. 15-17 make up one of the most picturesque trios of holes in all of Hawaii. To further enhance the visual appeal, golfers in the winter months might even see humpback whales spouting in the distance.

Poipu Bay partners with the magnificent Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa, which is within walking distance of the course. Like Makai, Poipu Bay is going to seashore paspalum turf and will close April 1, 2010 for the remainder of the year to accomplish this transition.

Even with Poipu Bay's temporary closing the Grand Hyatt remains open, and its superb accomodations provide a great hub for golf elsewhere on Kauai. If you stay here, be sure and try the Lomilomi massage at Anara Spa.

Kauai Lagoons Golf Club
While most of the golf on Kauai is convenient, no golf resort is simpler to get to from Lihue Airport than Kauai Lagoons; a two-minute shuttle ride is all it takes.

But as convenient as its location is, the golf is also memorable.

Currently, 18 of the 36 Jack Nicklaus-designed holes are open for play, consisting of six holes from the Mokihana Course and 12 holes from the Kiele Course. Included are the original Kiele 16th, 17th and 18th holes.

The signature 16th hole – a short par 4 lined along the left by an ocean bluff – requires a blind tee shot and a blind approach. If you don’t know what you’re doing, bogey or worse is more likely than par.

No. 18 is a demanding par 4 that’s the perfect culmination to a friendly match. It’s not the longest par 4 at Kauai Lagoons, but a cross-cutting water hazard and an island green provide plenty of drama.

Kauai Marriott Resort & Beach Club – adjacent to Kauai Lagoons – completed a $50 million renovation in December, 2009.

Puakea Golf Course
After its first 10 holes were constructed in the early 1990s, Puakea’s path to becoming one of Kauai’s best golf courses hit a road block when Hurricane Iniki ravaged Kauai in 1992.

With economic development stalled while the island’s infrastructure was rebuilt, the full 18 at Puakea wasn't completed until more than a decade later.

The original 10 holes are located beneath the same mountains that were the setting for 'Jurassic Park.' The subsequent eight holes sprawl inland and marry seamlessly with the original holes. The end result is an excellent stand-alone golf course that’s a nice getaway from the hustle and bustle of resort golf.

Wailua Golf Course
If you’re a blue-collar golfer visiting Kauai, don’t leave without playing Wailua, the island’s preeminent municipal golf course. At $70 for non-residents it’s the best value on the island.

What it lacks in razzle and dazzle Wailua makes up for in quality of golf – it’s one of only three courses to host three U.S. Amateur Public Links Championships (1975, 1988, 1996). Several holes bump up against the ocean, and with the Pacific as its backdrop, No. 17 is one of the prettiest par 3s on Kauai.

A short commute to and from Lihue Airport, you have no excuse for skipping the great golf and crazy Spam sandwiches at Wailua Municipal Golf Course. One thing to keep in mind, however, green fees are cash-only.