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.'

Getty Images

Winning on Kerr's mind this week and beyond

By Randall MellMarch 24, 2018, 2:11 am

Cristie Kerr moved into position Friday to do more than win the 21st LPGA title of her career.

She moved into position to claim an LPGA Hall of Fame point this week.

Yes, winning is foremost on her mind at the Kia Classic, where she took the lead with an 8-under-par 64 in the second round, she’s on a larger quest, too.

After turning 40 last fall, Kerr was asked what her goals are.

“The Hall of Fame is attainable, if I stick with it,” she said.

Kerr is five shots ahead of Lizette Salas (67), In-Kyung Kim (69), Hee Young Park (70) and Caroline Hedwall (70).

It’s a good time for Kerr to get on a hot streak, with the year’s first major championship, the ANA Inspiration, next week. She has long been one of the best putters in the women’s game, but her ball-striking is impressive this week. She hit 17 greens in regulation Thursday, and she hit 16 on Friday.

“I like winning,” Kerr said. “I like challenging myself. Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older, with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, `Man, why does my hamstring hurt?’ From working around this hilly golf course.”

Kerr acknowledged Friday that her body is more vulnerable to time’s realities, but her mind isn’t.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

“The golf ball doesn't know an age,” Kerr said. “I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.”

Kerr won two weeks after her 40th birthday last fall, boosting her LPGA Hall of Fame point total to 22. She is five points short of eligibility for induction. A player earns one point for an LPGA victory and two points for a major championship title. So there’s a lot of Hall of Fame ground to gain this week and next.

It’s a long-term goal that motivates Kerr to take care of her body.

“I don't think the golf changes,” Kerr said. “I think, physically, it gets harder as you get older. Like I said, I've got tape on my hamstring. I strained it, just a little bit yesterday, walking around this golf course. It's tough as you get older, just being fresh and rested. I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.”

Getty Images

Big names chasing Kerr into the weekend at Kia Classic

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 1:55 am

CARLSBAD, Calif. - Cristie Kerr shot an 8-under 64 on Friday in the Kia Classic to take a five-stroke lead into the weekend.

The 40-year-old Kerr had eight birdies in her second straight bogey-free round to reach 13-under 131 at rain-softened Aviara.

''I like winning. I like challenging myself,'' Kerr said. ''Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, 'Man, why does my hamstring hurt?' From working around this hilly golf course. The golf ball doesn't know an age. I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.''

She has 20 LPGA victories, winning at Aviara in 2015. She won twice last year and helped the U.S. beat Europe in her ninth Solheim Cup appearance.

''It's tough as you get older just being fresh and rested,'' Kerr said. ''I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.''

Lizette Salas, In-Kyung Kim, Hee Young Park and Caroline Hedwall were tied for second. Salas shot 67, Kim 69, and Park and Hedwall 70.

''I really like this golf course. I really like the environment,'' said Salas, the former University of Southern California player from Azusa. ''My family gets to come out. So much confidence at the beginning of the week, and definitely showed the first two days.

Jeong Eun Lee was 7 under after a 69, and defending ANA champion So Yeon Ryu had a 70 to get to 6 under.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

Ariya Jutanugarn (72), Brooke Henderson (70) and 2016 winner Lydia Ko (71) were 5 under. Shanshan Feng (68) was another stroke back, and Singapore winner Michelle Wie (72) was 1 under.

Lexi Thompson was 2 over after a 74, making the cut on the number in the final event before the major ANA Inspiration next week at Mission Hills.

Kerr opened with birdies on the par-5 10th and par-3 11th, added birdies on the par-4 16th, 18th and second, and ran off three in a row on the par-3 sixth, par-4 seventh and par-5 eighth.

''I don't think you can fall asleep on one shot,'' Kerr said. ''It's a really good golf course. I think I play better on courses that demand the focus, so I think that's why I've played well here in the past. ... I'm trying not to put limits on myself right now. I've got some good things going on with my swing.''

She has long been one best putters and green-readers in the world.

''I can see the subtleties that a lot of people can't,'' Kerr said. ''It's a gift from God being able to do that. I've always had that, so I'm lucky.''

Laura Davies withdrew after an opening 82. The 54-year-old Davies tied for second last week in the Founders Cup in Phoenix, playing through painful left Achilles and calf problems.

Getty Images

DJ hits 489-yard drive, but it doesn't count for history

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 12:22 am

AUSTIN, Texas – Dustin Johnson is no stranger to big drives, but even for DJ this one was impressive.

Trailing in his Day 3 match at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Johnson launched a drive at the par-5 12th hole that traveled 489 yards, but that number comes with an asterisk.

“He got lucky it hit the road,” smiled Kevin Kisner, who was leading the world No. 1, 3 up, at the time. “I thought he would make an eagle for sure, he only had 80 yards [to the hole]. He didn’t hit a very good putt.”

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

Johnson’s drive, which was 139 yards past Kisner’s tee shot, is the longest recorded on the PGA Tour in the ShotLink era, surpassing Davis Love III’s drive of 476 yards in 2004 at the Tournament of Champions.

The drive will not go into the record books, however, because the Tour doesn’t count statistics from the Match Play.

It should also be noted, Kisner halved the 12th hole with a birdie and won the match, 4 and 3, to advance to the round of 16.

Getty Images

Durant leads Champions event in Mississippi

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 12:21 am

BILOXI, Miss. - Joe Durant had three straight birdies in a back-nine burst and a shot 6-under 66 on Friday to take the first-round lead in the PGA Tour Champions' Rapiscan Systems Classic.

Durant birdied the par-4 11th and 12th and par-5 13th in the bogey-free round at breezy and rain-softened Fallen Oak. Because of the wet conditions, players were allowed to lift, clean and place their golf balls in the fairway.

''It just sets up nice to my eye,'' Durant said. ''It's a beautiful golf course and it's very challenging. The tee shots seem to set up well for me, but the greens are maybe as quick as I've ever seen them here. You really have to put the ball in the right spots. I played very nice today. With the wind swirling like it was, I'm really happy.''

He won the Chubb Classic last month in Naples, Florida, for his third victory on the 50-and-over tour.

Full-field scores from the Rapiscan Systems Classic

''Done this long enough, Friday's just one day,'' Durant said. ''Especially in a three-day tournament, you've got to go out and shoot three good numbers. Fortunate to put one on the board, but I know I have to back it up with a couple of good days because you can get passed very quickly out here.''

Mark Calcavecchia was a stroke back. He won last month in Boca Raton, Florida

''It's probably my best round I've ever had here and it was a tough day to play,'' Calcavecchia said. ''The greens are just lightning fast. They're pretty slopey greens, so very difficult to putt.''

Steve Stricker was third at 68. He took the Tucson, Arizona, event three weeks ago for his first senior victory.

''Just getting it around and managing my game I think like I always do,'' Stricker said. ''You get in the wrong position here with the greens being so fast and you're going to be in trouble. I did that a couple times today.''

Billy Mayfair, Billy Andrade and David McKenzie shot 69. Jerry Kelly, the winner of the season-opening event in Hawaii, was at 70 with Wes Short Jr., Glen Day, Gene Sauers and Jesper Parnevik.

Bernhard Langer opened with a 71, and two-time defending champion Miguel Angel Jimenez had a 72.

Vijay Singh, coming off his first senior victory two weeks ago in Newport Beach, California, had a 73.