(6/1/13 – By Jim Allen) … If I was a betting man, I would say it’s a pretty safe bet to envision that golf courses in heaven look very similar to the golf courses in Hawaii. There is something about teeing it up in a tropical paradise that always make the overall experience on a Hawaiian Island something special. It could be the perfect weather, the scenic views, the lush surroundings, the challenging courses, the over the top service, or just the simple fact that most golfers in Hawaii are on a “real” vacation and are perfectly relaxed.
Golfest Founders Jim Dee and I worked in an impromptu Golfest 2013-Kauai vacation during the month of April. Since we were unable to get on St. Andrews to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Golfest, we were going to have to settle for an excursion to Kauaii with our wives. After exploring our options, one round quickly became three, and three rounds became four rounds, because … HEY … the only thing better than 54-holes of Hawaii golf is 72! Either way, with the cherished … “have a good time” endorsements of our better halves, we played three outstanding venues on the Island of Kauai, including the famed Prince Course (ranked 12th on the Top 100 list); Kauai Lagoons Golf Course (ranked 90th on the same list); and Poipu Bay Golf Course (an awarding winning golf destination and former home of the Grand Slam of Golf that should be ranked in the Top 100). Here is how it went …
(4/26/13) – Kauai Lagoons Golf Course … We stayed at the Kauai Marriott which makes golfing at this establishment too easy to be true! You can either walk the 150-yards from the hotel entrance to the Pro Shop, or take the shuttle bus up the hill and pretend you didn’t know it was so close. We took the bus. The course is on a Marriott property that had plans for major expansion before the recession kicked those plans in the groin. There are three-nines to choose from, but it’s the Kiele-Mauka and Kiele Mona nines that earn the prized Top 100 rating. If you happened to be a Hawaiian-language buff, you would know that Mauka means “towards the mountains or inland” and Moana means “ocean,” which clearly defines both experiences. The front nine is the Mauka Course and starts out with a relatively resort-friendly par four and par-five. However, the next stretch represents four of the five hardest holes on the this circuit, including a 171-yard par-three that requires a 150-yard carry over a golf-ball eating ravine. Jim Dee was on fire and took no prisoners, posting a 40 at the turn, despite a triple-bogey on the 427-yard ninth hole. It might have had something to do with him wearing his lucky winning Team USA Golfest Cup shirt? Maybe? Either way, it worked. My score fully represented the fact that my Nike golf ball had already visited nine bunkers.
The Ocean-nine is worth the price of admission. And … unlike many other courses with the word Ocean or Bay or Beach in their name, this nine has the longest stretch of Ocean facing holes in all of Hawaii — a 1/2 mile to be exact. Or better said, it’s worthy of is Moana-name. This course was fully remodeled and reopened in May of 2011 and was a different animal than the one I played in two-hours and twenty-minutes back in 2007. The signature hole is the par-3 fifth which should be rated as one of the best designed 18 golf holes of all-time. The views are stunning and the hole is intimidating in so many different ways. Neither of us fared very well on this hole, but the photographs turned out great, and in our case, that is all that matters. The final two-holes, a par-three and a par-four dish up forced carries over the man-made lagoons that the course is named after. The lagoons wind up, down and around the property. This is the part of the course where the next best thing from Marriott was going to spring up in the form of another resort and time shares. Even with some of these unfinished projects on the horizon, Kauai Lagoons rates high in our books as a Top 100 establishment. The service was very good as well. Dee said it was in his personal top ten. And the only thing better than golfing at a top venue is taking a short 150-yard bus ride back to hotel where Mai Tai’s were served up poolside only 1/2 hour later. We golfed, we drank, we conquered!
(4/28/13) – The Prince Course (Princeville) … Two days later, we pulled into the parking lot of the Prince Course and immediately knew we were at someplace special. A big volcanic rock sign at the entrance proudly advertises their Top 100 rating and their 60,000 square foot clubhouse is an awesome piece of architecture. It features panoramic views sweeping from Mt. Namolokama to the Pacific Ocean and has a Pro Shop that could rival a full-blown Tommy Bahama store! For you history fanactics, the place is named after Prince Albert, the son of Hawaii’s famed King Kamehameha and Queen Emma. A little island royalty.
I played the Prince Course back in 1999, the year I started golfing, so I really didn’t appreciate the venue for the challenge that it was! I played it a few times on PlayStation afterwards, and had a few flashbacks while on the course, but only one thing kept coming back to me was the fact that it’s a tough links-style track. It’s extremely easy to blow through four sleeves of balls when things go bad. The place reminds me a little of The Links at Spanish Bay, located at the Pebble Beach Resort. If you can keep you ball in play — which means on the short stuff — and not in the rough, ravines, jungles, forests, sand and other obstacles, its possible to score well. Otherwise you shoot your age, assuming you are a centenarian. But seriously, it’s recognized as the Number One ranked course in all of Hawaii, but its interesting to note that the PGA doesn’t play any of their events here. It may be TOO TOUGH!
Other awesome features included a touch-screen GPS system in the cart that even has e-mail access so you can send your scorecards back to your (alleged) friends on the mainland who are trying to hump out a living in a tiny cubicle. We didn’t, but thought about it seriously. That would just be MEAN! On a serious note, you could touch the screen and it will give you the exact yardage needed to clear or lay up of any obstacle. Cart service was also a frequent event and ice cold pineapple slices served up at the 18th green was an fantastic finishing touch. About $400 in impulse purchases in the Pro Shop, some strong cocktails and lunch with the Mrs’es, and we were back to the hotel for more of the aforementioned Mai Tai’s!
(4/29/13) – Kauai Lagoons (Ground Hog Day): The plan was to take a day off before golfing again, but the Kauai Fly-By rush kicked into overdrive. Not to mention we had secured a screaming deal on our rental clubs. What started out as a $99 five-day club rental from www.KauaiGolfClubRentals.com rentals, turned out to be a $499 package that included three-rounds of golf. The only way to make that deal any better was to use the clubs during one of the off days and since the shuttle bus was still running the 150-yards ,… well … you can figure out the rest. The only difference this time was 15-mile per hour winds and a group of four 30+ handicap players in front of us that teed off the from blue tees. For those of you at home keeping notes, those measured out at a stout 6675 yards. In many instances, we had to wait for them to hit their fourth shot before we could tee off. DAMN TOURISTS! We still had a good time, and it was a completely different challenge.
(4/30/13) – Poipu Bay Golf Course … Some avid golfers know Poipu Bay as the home of the Grand Slam of Golf, a made for TV event that featured the winners (or runner-ups) of the four majors (Masters, U.S. Open, British Open & PGA Championship) for some easy money. The event ran from 1994 to 2006, and some dude named Tiger Woods dominated, winning seven of the last nine tournaments played – including five in a row. Phil Mickelson shot an incredible 13-under par 59 during the final round in 2004 to win $400,000. The clubhouse showcases an awesome collection of photographs and scorecards from all of those events and is worthy of your time. This same clubhouse, ranked as one of the best in the United States, also featured an interesting twist which I’ll tell you about in a minute.
As far as the golf was concerned, Poipu Bay turned out to be the hidden gem of the three courses we played. The course had a lot of personality, some great golf holes, and the views on the back nine were worth the price of admission. The course has a number of historical-sites on the property that are maintained by the Poipu Bay staff. The layout meanders around several ancient Hawaiian “heiau’s,” which were places of worship that were built 500-years ago. Heiau’s, were specifically built on sites deemed to have the most “mana,” a spiritual power that emanates from sacred places.
Speaking of “mana,” my short irons had some of that working for them on this day, allowing me to par three of the four par-3’s, including barely missing an ace on the seventh hole. The end result was a very satisfying round of bogey golf. After finishing up with an iced towel, and some lunch and cocktails at the bar, it was time for some more poolside Mai Tai’s. Later, when searching for something to eat in the Chinese category, we found a place called Yum Cha. When we returned to the Poipu Bay resort, where Yum Cha was located, we were directed back to the clubhouse where the standard golf bar & grill was converted into a Asian Fusion restaurant. Strange deal, but worth every bite. We highly recommend the stir fried Lobster and Shrimp and the Kung Pao chicken. By the next morning, they would be serving breakfast burritos.
And just like that, we were done with Golfest 2013-Kauai. Seventy-two holes of golf heaven in a tropical paradise with a good friend. It doesn’t get much better than that!
Golfest named Kauai Lagoons Golf Club our 2013 Golf Course of the year. Congratulations!