Peaceful vibes for the mind, body and soul on the Island of Kauai
Picturing a tropical island postcard doesn’t require much thought. A lone palm tree, crashing blue waves, sandy-white beach, deep blue sky, and the umbrella-stricken fruity drink are all ubiquitous components. Sure, it is a cheesy stereotype, but the quiet island of Kauai not only lives up to the postcard, but it does so with a genuinely peaceful, laid-back atmosphere, while keeping elegance and top-notch service close at hand. Upon arrival you are greeted with friendly smiles, no-problem attitudes, while numerous “Aloha’s” and “Mahalo’s” fly from seemingly everyone’s vernacular, so much in fact, I even started getting used to saying it. This enviable pace is one we all wish we could have on a daily basis, but at least you can enjoy it while in Kauai.
Dubbed the “Garden Island”, Kauai is as green as could be. Dense jungles and towering mountains draped in lush foliage fill the backgrounds from every angle. To say it is beautiful is an understatement on this island. Refreshingly, it has no big cities, no busy freeways, and no skyscraper hotels. In fact, local building codes dictate structures to be “no higher than the tallest coconut tree”.
According to locals, Kauai is the best-kept secret in Hawaii, and offers mellow island vibes, the finest of accommodations, stunning scenery, and quite possibly the best collection of golf courses offered throughout the islands. In this article, Stratos investigates why this destination should be a serious consideration for your next golf trip.
Princeville at Hanalei
The opportunity to experience Princeville at Hanalei is truly a one-of-a-kind experience. I am positive a hotel room has never taken my breath before, but the view from the Princeville Hotel is undeniably spectacular and I was speechless at my first look upon the locale. The accommodations are elegant and offer large windows focused on the crashing waves of Hanalei Bay, and towering cliffs of the famed BaliHai, also called Mt. Makana, from the 1957 classic “South Pacific”, across the bay. Interestingly, the bathtub and shower feature similar windows to gaze upon the view, but with the flip of a switch, you can elect to activate the “magic window” which changes the glass from clear to opaque, giving you privacy if so desired.
Two excellent Robert Trent Jones Jr. courses await golfers at Princeville. However, the two courses prove to be remarkably disparate of each other. The Makai course offers 27 holes of relaxing, hit-it-all-over-the-place golf, with only a few forced carries. The routing winds through tall pines and dense jungle before popping out to the ocean for perhaps the highlight of the round. The sixth and seventh are two cliff-top holes where inexperienced island golfers quickly learn about the strength of the notorious trade winds that blow across the islands, and the havoc they can wreak on your golf game.
With respect to the resort, The Prince Course garners most of the attention at Princeville. This famous layout consistently ranks as one of the top-100 golf courses in the US by many golf publications, and carries the No.1 course status in Hawaii from Golfweek Magazine. In addition, it is one of only 10 golf courses nationwide to receive the prestigious 5-star rating from Golf Magazine. This mind-bending course requires a series of gentle strikes and precision placed shots to navigate the layout. The opening hole is possibly one of the toughest starts in all of golf, and a knee-knocking first shot. The hole requires a perfect drive, to a tight, mounded fairway. From there, you must create another clean strike over a large, jungle-covered ravine to be safely on the green. It may not sound like much, but believe me, this is a scary opening hole, and get ready for 17 more just like it.
Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa and Poipu Bay
In 1990, Robert Trent Jones, Jr. continued his stronghold of the majority of the golf designs on Kauai at Poipu Bay. In conjunction with the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa, they created one of the world’s best golf resorts. Numerous accolades, awards and “best of” titles have propelled the resort to international acclaim with numerous travel publications.
Poipu Bay Golf Course is no exception to awards and praise as well, and in my book a “must play” in Kauai. Situated on 210 beach and cliff front acres, the golf is nothing short of spectacular. Poipu Bay has 18 superb holes, and it is refreshing to play with no homes lining the course. I am not going to designate a particular hole to talk about, but the closing holes are truly special and remain in my head as a few of the finest golf holes on Kauai.
Puakea Golf Club
The Robin Nelson designed Puakea Golf Club is located just minutes from the Marriott, and does not look like much pulling into the clubhouse, but a few holes into the round you realize you are on a quality track. Like a good book, Puakea keeps getting better as the round unfolds, and teases with a few lullabies before throwing the real shockers at you. The back nine of Puakea is perhaps the “hidden gem” of Kauai, each hole flows wonderfully with the land, offering breathtaking mountain views. A selection of different risk-reward shots keeps concentration high throughout the last putt on 18.
Kiahuna Golf Club
In September of 1992, Hurricane Iniki virtually devastated most of Kauai, and all but destroyed Kiahuna Golf Club.
What did survive the storm, did not receive the care needed to return the Robert Trent Jones Jr. designed layout back to the quality it was before the disaster. In 2002, a group of business savvy investors decided to put the love back into Kiahuna, and the course was set on its way back to what Mr. Jones intended it to be.
Today, the course arguably boasts the best rolling greens in Kauai, thanks to a 4 million dollar refurbish, and a new grass-type now seeded into the fairways and greens. Seashore Paspalum is a drought resistant, saltwater loving grass, which looks and plays like bent grass from the states. The greens at Kiahuna roll true, and speeds are consistent no matter which way you putt, unlike the varying speeds from the grain of Bermuda grass on the other courses. Golfers will enjoy a chance to score well on the player-friendly layout at Kiahuna, and combined with gorgeous ocean views and excellent putting surfaces, this golf course is a nice change of pace from the other demanding layouts on the island.
Kauai Marriott Resort & Beach Club & Kauai Lagoons
The airport in Lihue is literally right next door to the 36-hole Jack Nicklaus designed Kauai Lagoons Golf Club, the beautiful Kauai Marriott Resort & Beach Club and soon to be Ritz-Carlton Residences. A convenient 5-minute shuttle ride to the Marriott hotel is a nice, no-need-to-drive, amenity to the resort. Acres of lush grounds filled with tropical foliage surround everything on the property, coupled by striking views of towering mountains, coastline scenery, and endless blue waters.
The flagship of the two layouts at Kauai Lagoons is the Kiele Course, but the sister course, Maile offers its own enjoyable set of holes as well, and is well worth a play, even with the absence of oceanfront holes. Nevertheless, for all intensive purposes, when you go to this type of destination, you expect to play ocean side holes…right? The Kiele course offers a stretch of dramatic closing ocean holes that rival anything in the islands. Current renovations scheduled to be complete in early 2009 will make the course even more exciting, including the addition of new greens, a couple new holes, and a gorgeous new clubhouse perched atop a cliff, overlooking the closing holes and Kalapaki Bay.
The Island of Kauai is one of the finest golf destinations in the world. With the combination of top-notch golf, elegant accommodations, unparalleled scenery, inviting hospitality, and endless recreation, Kauai is undeniably a destination for the mind, body and soul to kick back and enjoy!
The Grand Hyatt’s Anara Spa
As an admitted golf-junkie, I am usually not one for exchanging world-class golf for a trip to the spa. However, the Anara Spa, with the treatments and amenities offered, and the Travel & Leisure ranking as the No. 3 spa in the country, piqued my interest. Anara offers a host of Hawaiian treatments, including the signature dish called “Lomi Lomi” meaning “to touch with loving hands”, and is one of their most popular and relaxing treatments. The Lomi Lomi can be experienced in the new outdoor garden spa, consisting of lush tropical foliage and five thatched roof huts all with calming treatment rooms. The secluded huts are equipped with their own private lava-rock showers and baths for additional lavish pampering, combined they make for a very different atmosphere for a massage. Light breezes, an ambient running waterfall, and top-notch service complete one of the finest spa amenities I have ever seen.
*Originally written and published in STRATOS Magazine – 2008