Best Golf in Hawaii Kauai
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.
Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers
CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.
Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.
While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.
“It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”
Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.
“I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”
Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close
CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.
McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.
“I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”
The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.
“There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”
He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.
“I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”
Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence
CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.
Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.
Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.
It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.
“If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”
Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.
“It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”
Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection
CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.
Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.
Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.
“It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”
Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.
“I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”
Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.
“If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”