KAPAA, Hi. – When it comes to selecting favorite public golf holes on Hawaii’s Garden Isle of Kauai, it’s a little like picking your favorite children. Nevertheless, we’ll attempt to rank these babies.
How we came to our Kauai Top 10 (below) is admittedly a subjective process. Everyone has a different standard. A professional’s perspective is quite a bit different from an amateur (our) viewpoint since we hit from and hit to totally different areas. Bunkers they clear, we can’t reach. Greens that roll like tabletops they might like while we’re still putting.
Generally, we all like difficulty. Easy is not memorable. If it’s hard, we appreciate the challenge and admire the design that went into it. We like the holes that force shot-making decisions and make us weigh our club selection carefully.
Quirky also is good, such as blind shots, undulating greens, perilous hazards, uneven lies, deep bunkers, or elevated tees or greens.
Most of all we love beauty, sweeping views, dramatic natural elements, vibrant colors, trees, water, wind, sand, surf, slopes. Kauai has them all and now we have to choose one over another.
Of the four public courses that golferswest.com senior writer Jim Street and I played a week ago, Makai, Poipu Bay, Kauai Lagoons and The Prince at Princeville, here are the ones that we determined to be the most memorable.
No. 1: Kauai Lagoons No. 14, par-3, 210 yards: It’s a high-elevation tee, flush to a cliff that overlooks the humpback speed-dating mating bay and the deep harbor entrance with the cruise ships beyond. The foamy surf is to your left as you tee off to a difficult green target well below. In the foreground is a whole bunch of thorny, bushy trouble that you’ll need to carry a good distance to clear.
You really can’t stray much left or you’re over the bluff and lost. You can bail out right, or even long and chip onto a two-tier green but the large bunker on the right side needs to be avoided. It’s dangerous because a pitch too hard and you could roll off the green or sail over the edge to oblivion.
Whatever you do, take a deep breath before your tee shot, scan the glorious horizon and think “I’m really playing golf in Kauai while all my friends are back home working.” That should make you feel better.
No. 2 Prince No. 15, par-5, 576 yards: Robert Trent Jones Jr., the respected designer of this venerable course, has said this is his favorite par-5 – in the world. His firm has designed or renovated more than 250 courses. Enough said.
What’s neat about it is a tee-shot unanimity here. Whether it’s the big hitters from the back tees or all of us forward-tee hacks, we all seem to end up in the same spot. It’s a smart lay-up hole, about 230 yards to a bluff and unforgiving vegetation. Some try to clear that cliff but it borders on foolish – or a really good player.
So once we’re all together down there, it’s a matter of a dogleg left approach shot over the bluff to a wide fairway, with encroaching jungle on the right. The big hitters can go for the green but it’s still a risk with in an uncertain wind. The green is up on a hill and protected by a front bunker placed there so perfectly to accept your approach.
No. 3 Makai No. 3, par-3, 181 yards: This (right) is another one of those beauties that you need to take in the views before your hands shake with anxiety. Straight across from you is the coastal mountain range and glimpses of the ocean. There’s also the white St. Regis hotel about a quarter mile away.
Around the surrounding canyon overlook are houses on stilts, with balconies extending into your space. You almost always will has an audience somewhere up there. Laughter can be a mean echo.
Then you look down, an 80-foot elevation drop to a well-protected green with bunkers front and back and a good-sized lake that’s only slightly to the right. If your drive is only slightly to the right, you’ll be swimming. Left and back also means trouble because the impenetrable vegetation is poised to make your ball disappear.
No. 4 Prince No. 12, par-4, 390 yards: You want another elevation drop? Instead of a water hazard like Makai’s No. 3, this one (left) has jungle on each side of an narrow 86-foot fall into an abyss. After your drive, you might find yourself jogging up to the edge so you can where it lands. It’s that deep.
That’s not even the most challenging part. It’s your second shot that’s problematic. Most golfers can reach the green in regulation but the neck to the green is so narrow. There’s brush on the right and a cliff to the left. You can try to use one of the left slopes to bounce your way onto the green but if you go over, you’re done. It’s not long but it takes precision to avoid plus-par here.
No. 5 Poipu Bay No. 16, par-4, 501 yard (pictured at top): This is a thing of beauty, one of the island’s closest holes to the sea. Start with a glance behind you, and have the camera ready. You see the high, jagged, reddish-rock cliffs being battered by the ever-flowing surf. A dramatic view.
Then your turn to face the hole from an elevated tee. There’s a long volcanic wall on the left side that guards the raging surf below. At 501 yards, this would be considered a mighty long par-4 but the prevailing wind is behind you and it flows over the cliff to carry your drive further than you would expect.
You can score on this hole if you stay away from the left edge. It’s a large green that, even at this distance, can be reached in two.
No. 6 Kauai Lagoons No. 16, par-4, 331 yards: When you are handed a scorecard for the Lagoons, look at the picture on the front. It’s this hole, the signature hole (right). However, that’s only view of the green you get. From the tee, you see only half the hole. The pin and the green are down over a slope somewhere, blind to you.
Your tee shot may be blind but the hazards are fully visible. You simply can’t drift too much left or you will be over the edge and into the white water. To the right is a hill full of coconut trees. Hit it straight and you will be rewarded, not necessarily an earth-shattering idea. It’s possible to even drive the green if you can reach the slope with some pace. It could roll down the steep embankment and onto a flat area next to the green.
Most of us end up short, inside of 100 yards, and it’s a delicate second shot – and might even be blind again if your drive isn’t far enough. You have to get some loft on your approach or the ball may roll through the green and over into irretrievable shrubs or a deep bunker. And it’s tough to get enough lift on a downhill lie. The best shot is to use the slope on the right of the green to dribble the ball softly toward the pin.
No. 7 Makai No. 7, par-3, 213 yards: The only thing that separates you from the elevated tee to the elevated green is ocean. You need to drive your tee shot over a canyon with the surf below.
The wind is a factor, somewhat behind your drive, but shifting. You have to have solid contact or you’ll be down in the ditch.
The green is protected by bunkers left, front and back. There is a right-side slope on the green falling toward the sea. If the pin is below that you can get close if you can capitalize on gravity.
No. 8 Poipu Bay No. 17, par-3, 225 yards: You remember details on the breath-taking 16th (No. 5 on our list)? This par-3 follows it and it’s also a stunner.
It also will remind you a bit of the 14th par-3 at Kauai Lagoons (No. 1 on our list). You tee off on a ledge above the pounding waves, your back to the Pacific and hitting slightly inland. There’s plenty of trouble below with vegetation that extends almost to the green. It’s a long carry but most of the time the wind is behind you.
To the left is a no-recovery hazard of brush and a cliff to the volcanic boulders below. Bailout is to the right.
No. 9 Kauai Lagoons No. 5, par-3, 210 yards: Just look at this picture of the hole (below). How hard is it to clear that jungle canopy that stretches all the way to the green – and clear that trap in front – and still manage to settle on the green?
It’s one of the most daunting views from the tee that you can find because you know you have to hit it solid, fairly straight with a little loft to keep it on the green. There is no getting your ball back if you hit short or left. The bail out is right but it’s not a wide area. This one requires precision, a straight, long drive with just enough backspin to prevent a roll off the back.
No. 10 Prince No. 10, par-5, 588 yards: Local knowledge is paramount here. You can see the green from the tee at the far left but you have to know exactly where you are hitting. If you hit toward the green there is vast canyon in your path. You need to lay up about 180 yards to the edge of the canyon. Not much more.
Once you reach your drive, you’ll understand. You can finally see everything. It’s a big arching dogleg left but if you want to take it directly to the green it’s about 200 yards into the prevailing wind. A tough shot, to be tried only by the good ones. The smart shot is cutting off the canyon as much as you can by hitting into the fairway right. Then the approach to the green is protected by brush to the left and a bunker.
Kauai Lagoons No. 15, par-5, 473 yards: The newly added ocean hole that is a long, twisting par-4.
Prince No. 6, par-4, 428 yards: Beautiful emerald pathway to the ocean with a sandy green entry.
Makai No. 18, par-5, 567 yards: Water to clear on your drive and water to clear to reach the green.
Kauai Lagoons No. 11, par-4, 443 yards: This is the hole you see from the left side of the airplane while landing at Kauai International Airport.