Road Holes — 25 January 2013 by Jim Street
Kauai Grand Slam: Kauai Lagoons

LIHUE, Hi. – When it comes to designing a golf course, or renovating one he already designed, Jack Nicklaus is at the top of his game.

That’s the case with Kauai Lagoons’ Kiele Moana, a Pacific Ocean-hugging layout on the southeast shore of Kauai, the site Nicklaus turned into a golfer’s paradise in 1988. More recently, the Golden Bear put his stamp on a renovation project on the Moana Nine, resulting in one of the most picturesque and challenging stretch of holes on this, or any, Hawaiian island.

The Moana Nine reopened in May 2011 with new TifEagle greens, white silica sand bunkers and three new holes – Nos. 1, 2 and 6, creating a take-your-breath-away half-mile jaunt along the coast, making it the longest stretch of continuous ocean holes in Hawaii.

“(Golfers) come to Hawaii for something different,” said Kenneth Kimura, the Golf Operations Manager. “They want to see the water.”

And Jack made sure visiting golfers got their wish.

The original renovation plan called for two new holes, Nos. 6 and 7, being built inland, opening space along the shoreline to construct a 200-room hotel.

But there was a bit of a hitch.

“Mr. Nicklaus came over and he wasn’t real happy that we were changing his golf course,” Kimura said. “He said, ‘you have to put the golf course along the ocean’. Once he figured out a way to do that, he was very much happy when he left.”

The new holes have made a great course even better and the views from No. 5 through 8 are stunning.

Bob Sherwin birdied the par-3 fifth

Jack strongly suggested that the new hotel and other housing facilities should be constructed inland, where the two new holes – a par4 and a par 5 – were going to be built. That way, hotel guests would get a great view of the ocean and the golfers could snuggle up close to the Pacific.

The reaction?

“Everybody loves it,” Kimura said.

Unfortunately, the recession put much of the renovation project on hold. Construction of the proposed hotel  was stopped in its tracks and there is no telling when it might be restarted, leaving the spectacular Kauai Marriott Resort & Beach Club as the only on-property facility.

While the first two rounds of GolfersWest.com’s Kauai Grand Slam were played in windy and raining conditions at Makai and Poipu Bay, the playing conditions at Kauai Lagoons were superb — mostly sunny and just a bit of a breeze.

GW colleague Bob Sherwin and I were joined by Ron Wesbecher, who spends about three months each year on the northernmost Hawaiian island. His condo overlooks the spectacular par 3, 14th hole.

The affable midwesterner usually plays the Kiele Mauka (inland) and Kiele Moana (ocean) courses once a week and having him as our course “guide” was extremely helpful. As he pointed out from the beginning, the courses are totally different.

The 474-yard, par 4 at Kiele Moana

The Mauka Nine is a 3,249-yard, par-36 course that meanders through trees and dotted with bunkers. There are 14 sand traps on the first hole alone, although “sand” is a bit of a misnomer. It was more like red dirt than sand, making it difficult to get under the ball, which I blamed on the recent rain that make the bunkers firm.

There are two par 5s (Nos. 2-6) and two par-3s (Nos. 5-8). Bob birdied the 176-yard fifth hole en route to a 43 while I had two pars and a 45.

The Moana Nine measures 3,003 yards from the white tees with only one par 5 — the 491-yard first hole, which takes you on a direct path to the ocean. I must have got caught up in the beauty as I got a “7” while Sherwin had a “6”.

The next three holes are located close to the Lihue International Aiport and we watched several planes land, including the Alaska Airlines flight that had brought us to the island from Seattle five days earlier.

Whereas Bob won the front side by two shots — 43-45 — I captured the back nine by four shots — 43-47 — to win the match, my only victory during the four-course Kauai Grand Slam.

But I’ll take an 88 anytime.

SUNDAY: The Prince

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Jim Street

Jim’s 40-year sportswriting career started with the San Jose Mercury-News in 1970 and ended on a full-time basis on October 31, 2010 following a 10-year stint with MLB.com. He grew up in Dorris, Calif., several long drives from the nearest golf course. His first tee shot was a week before being inducted into the Army in 1968. Upon his return from Vietnam, where he was a war correspondent for the 9th Infantry Division, Jim took up golf semi-seriously while working for the Mercury-News and covered numerous tournaments, including the U.S. Open in 1982, when Tom Watson made the shot of his life on the 17th hole at Pebble Beach. Jim also covered several Bing Crosby Pro-Am tournaments, the women’s U.S. Open, and other golfing events in the San Francisco area. He has a 17-handicap, never had a hole-in-one, although once he came within two inches of an ace, and witnessed the first round Ken Griffey Jr. ever played – at Arizona State during Spring Training in 1990. Pebble Beach Golf Links, the Kapalua Plantation Course, Pinehurst No. 2, Spyglass Hill, Winged Foot, Torrey Pines, Medinah, Chambers Bay, North Berwick in Scotland, and Princeville are among the courses he has had the pleasure of playing. Hitting the ball down the middle of the fairway is not a strong part of Jim’s game, but he is known (in his own mind) as the best putter not on tour. Most of Jim’s writing career was spent covering Major League baseball, a tenure that started with the Oakland Athletics, who won 101 games in 1971, and ended with the Seattle Mariners, who lost 101 games in 2010. Symmetry is a wonderful thing. He currently lives in Seattle and vacations in Arizona (and other warm climates) as much as possible.

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