Making Kaua‘i’s Courses Shine

The Prince Course will be closed for five months to renovate its sand bunkers

I was once told by my former high school basketball coach Buzzy Cox that if you want to be the best, you have to practice and hone your skills when your competition isn’t.

But for Kaua’i’s ultra-competitive golf-course scene, it’s growing difficult to get ahead of the game.

That’s because most of the courses have improved recently in one way or another. The Makai Golf Club at St. Regis Princeville underwent renovations to go along with the upgrade of the St. Regis Resort. The 27-hole course closed two of its three nines for more than a year to redesign and reseed the seashore paspalum, which makes for a faster, year-round surface that can be irrigated with brackish water. The Makai now plays more than 7,200 yards, and many of the outer layers of the greens were toughened and enhanced.

Meanwhile, the Kaua’i Lagoons Golf Club in Lihu’e is driving ahead as well, hoping to hit a hole-in-one with golfers. The Lagoons is currently making enhancements to its crown jewel, the Kiele Course. Upon completion in May, the new Kiele Ocean 9, according to officials there, will boast “more ocean holes than any other course in Hawaii.” But players may still take advantage of the Jack Nicklaus-designed layout, made up of the Kiele front 9 and the back 9 of the former Mokihana Golf Course.

Out on the South Shore, Poipu Bay drove home its case as one of the top courses on the island. Closed last spring to join the paspalum craze in Hawaii, the former home of the PGA Grand Slam of Golf underwent a comprehensive greens refurbishment project. Weeks before Christmas, golfers got an early present to try out the new greens, and most with whom I’ve spoken have nothing but good things to say about it.

Who knows? Maybe the PGA may take notice of their efforts and bring back the Grand Slam, which called PBGC home from 1994 to 2006.

Staying on the South Shore, the island’s newest course, the private 18-hole Kukuiula G.C., is currently accommodating limited-member play until its official opening this summer. The Tom Weiskopf-designed course features 216 acres of paspalum turf, sand-plated fairways and a landscape filled with native flora.

“It was designed to complement the island’s rolling terrain, dramatic view planes and thrilling trade winds,” Kukuiula head golf professional Brian Paul says. “As with all the world’s best golf courses, shooting a low score at Kukuiula requires you to think your way around the course.”

Locals also will get a shot to play Kukuiula in June, as the course will offer four kama’aina tee times per day between noon and 12:30 p.m.

Even what is considered by many as the top place to hit the white ball around the grass, The Prince Course in Princeville, is reinventing itself.

The Prince closed Jan. 29 to undergo five months of million-dollar renovations to its bunkers.

“We are very excited about this refurbishment,” Prince Course director of golf Steve Murphy says. “We’re proud of The Prince’s top ranking over the years, and these improvements will help us maintain the overall quality of the course.”

The renovation of the bunkers began last September. The reopening of the Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed course is planned for this summer.

“We’ll have new drainable liners, sand, a new shape,” Murphy says. “It should be easier to play. The bunkers used to turn into ponds during heavy rain and the dirt was like hitting off of red clay. Now there should be no puddling. It’s a huge improvement.”

The Prince is ranked by Golf Digest as the top course in Hawaii, and is the only course in the state to be recognized on the magazine’s prestigious list of America’s “Top 100 Greatest Courses” for 2009-10.

Not to be outdone, Wailua, Kukuiolono, Puakea and Kiahuna can all hold their own against these aforementioned courses.

All nine make Kaua’i one of the best places in the world to tee it up and let ‘er rip! See you out on one of these ever-changing and improving courses.

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