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.
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.
“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 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