Towering above the island of Kauai is one of the wettest places on earth, Mt. Wai’ale’ale. It’s the island’s second tallest mountain peak, and with 460 inches of annual rainfall, boasts lush rain forests, vibrant flowers and waterfalls that cascade down Kauai’s steep mountain cliffs. It’s a beautiful thing to behold,especially when you’re miles away on a dry golf course.
Kauai is an ecological oddity; while rain pummels its interior, the coast remains relatively dry and temperate, making it a year-round golf paradise.Visitors have long taken advantage of the island’s dramatic, rugged landscape to parasail, hike, take helicopter rides and swim in the Pacific Ocean’s temperate waters. But there are also plenty of adventures on its golf courses, including Princeville’s very challenging Prince Course, routinely ranked as Hawaii’s best course.
Outside of its verdant landscape, what makes Kauai so special is its size—or lack thereof. Kauai isn’t big—its square mileage isn’t much more than New York City—and with a population of just under 60,000, it’s easy to carve out your own slice of heaven. Plus, there’s only one major road on the island—Kuhio Hwy—a semi-beltway that serves the island’s major golf courses.
Kauai Lagoons Golf Club
Although its most scenic nine holes (the Kiele Course back nine) are currently being renovated, 18 holes of this Jack Nicklaus design remain open for play, including the Kiele’s front nine. The challenging 5th hole, a 219-yard par-3 is a standout that asks golfers to hit their tee shots over a mango tree forest. (The cart ride from the tee box down into the jungle and back up to the green is worth the green fee alone.) Kauai Lagoons is a great track to play when you first arrive (or just before you leave), as it’s only a few minutes from Lihue Airport.
Kiahuna Golf Course
Like Poipu Bay and Princeville, noted architect Robert Trent Jones, Jr. designed Kiahuna Golf Course, and despite not having the dramatic elevation changes and ocean views of some of Kauai’s other courses, Kiahuna features a number of water hazards, views of Mt. Wai’ale’ale and ruins of historic buildings throughout the course.
Poipu Bay Golf Course
Former home of the Grand Slam of Golf, Poipu Bay once yielded a 59 to Phil Mickelson. For the first 14 holes, this Robert Trent Jones, Jr. design may appear benign from tee to green, but don’t be fooled, managing the powerful trade winds can be challenging. Don’t be surprised if your drives sometimes only travel two-thirds their normal distance. And if the wind blows your ball into an ancient Hawaiian “heiau,” or place of worship, take a drop. The course is tough enough without disturbing the golf gods.
Finally, on the 15th tee, there’s a sign informing golfers that they’ve turned the corner and are heading downwind. Elevated high above the ocean with waves crashing below and kite surfers launching themselves into the stratosphere, your drives will double in length.
Princeville at Hanalei
Wind or no wind, the Robert Trent Jones, Jr.-designed Prince Course at Princeville is one of the world’s most difficult courses. Carved out of some of the most rugged terrain on Kauai’s north coast, the Prince Course challenges golfers early and often. Players are frequently forced to lay up short of wide ravines on their drives and play long irons or fairway woods into well-guarded greens. It’s a toughie, bring your A-game.
Puakea Golf Course
Ground broke on this course in 1991 but was halted a year later when Hurricane Iniki devastated much of the island. The course (designed by Robin Nelson) finally opened in 1997, but financial troubles limited it to 10 holes. That’s when AOL founder and Hawaii native Steve Case bought the property, asked Nelson to add eight holes and opened it for play in 2003. Although Puakea doesn’t border the ocean, there are great ocean views from the 11th tee. And its signature hole, the par-3 sixth, drops 75 feet from tee to green over a large ravine. Still, Puakea ranks as Kauai’s most player-friendly course.
Movie buffs might recognize the 14th and 15th holes, even if they’ve never been there. Those two fairways were used to film portions of Jurassic Park. Like Kauai Lagoons, Puakea is just minutes from Lihue Airport.
Out Of Bounds
Go shopping in Old Koloa Town, Hawaii’s oldest sugar plantation; snorkel just off shore at Kee Beach and Haena Beach Park or off Nukumoi Point at Poipu Beach Park; explore the sea on any number of SCUBA outings; hover close to one of Kauai’s many waterfalls on a helicopter tour; kayak on the Wailua or Huleia Rivers or the Poipu to Port Allen ocean course; get pampered at any one of Kauai’s spas; mountain bike on cane road between Kealia Beach and Anahola. www.kauaidiscovery.com.