PRINCEVILLE, KAUAI – It’s dusk at the Princeville Makai golf course on the north shore of Kauai and I’m bouncing around the practice area on a golf board. It’s kind of a Segway meets snowboard affair, a mechanized bit that golfers can use to get around the course in a different, youthful kind of way.
It takes some getting used to, but it’s clearly a step above the dowdy golf carts you see puttering around most courses or Florida subdivisions. Also different at Princeville Makai are the short, four-hole lessons you can take and the $10 Saturday clinics and sunset tours, where folks can wander the course and admire the sun dropping into the Pacific Ocean alongside the craggy, jaw-dropping cliffs of the Na Pali coast.
Down at Puakea Golf Club they turn parts of the course over for Frisbee Golf a couple times a week.
Golf (the regular kind) is still a very healthy enterprise on the island of Kauai but course owners also realize folks travel differently than they used to. They’re more pressed for time, and they often want to make golf a family experience.
“The reality of our business is we need to get non-golfers to visit Makai,” Princeville GM Tom Freestone tells me. “If it’s because of our food or a wine mixer or the golf board, it doesn’t matter.”
Lucky for both casual and die-hard golfers, there are fantastic options scattered all around this rugged, romantic island; many with killer coastline views and wonderful challenges that will make you forget all about your double bogeys.
In the island’s southwest region, golfers at Poipu Bay Golf Course enjoy a lovely but playable resort course with fantastic views of craggy Mt. Ha’upu and several holes along the Pacific Ocean on the back nine. You’ll find marvellous ocean vistas and glimpses of ruins of ancient Hawaiian temples just steps from the fairways and greens, which are smooth as a baby’s after-bath skin.
Two great courses are close to the main town of Lihue (home to perhaps a half-dozen traffic lights and a definitely sleepy island vibe). The aforementioned Puakea has several beautiful and challenging holes, including the par-three sixth hole, a steep downhill shot to a small green surrounded by thick jungles and, in season, towering African tulip trees with brilliant orange flowers. Parts of the movie Jurassic Park were filmed in the nearby jungles and forests.
Hokuala might be the Scarlett Johansson of Kauai; a voluptuous property with sensuous curves and dips and doodles along the rugged south coast of the island. Jack Nicklaus has tinkered with the layout to make it even more enjoyable and to force golfers to think about their shots.
In the dozen or so visits I’ve made to Kauai over the years I somehow hadn’t played the municipal course in Wailua. It doesn’t have great curb appeal, but it’s a lovely and surprisingly long and difficult layout with several holes on the water and a beautiful downhill par-3 17th hole.
“I like the course because it’s tough enough for me but playable for my boys,” one local told me.
Princeville is arguably the granddaddy of them all, a marvellous layout hugging the rugged coastline of Kauai’s beautiful north shore. The views are nothing short of majestic.
“I think Hanalei and Princeville are what people dream of when they think about Hawaii,” says Stephanie Reid of the St. Regis Resort in Princeville. “The mountains are all around you and you’re right on the water. You breathe more deeply here.”
STAYING The Grand Hyatt Poipu is perfect for families, with extensive grounds, romantic restaurants and a series of beautiful pools. The Aston Islander in Kapaa has spacious grounds and bbq’s, with plenty of shopping and restaurants nearby. Good value. The St. Regis is a lush, luxury property with fantastic food and remarkable surroundings.
OTHER THINGS TO DO: Golf is only a small part of the attraction of Kauai. You’ll find sleepy, artsty villages such as Hanapepe, gorgeous beaches at Poipu and on the north shore, as well as rugged and beautiful Waimea Canyon. A boat trip along the Na Pali Coast is an experience not to be missed, as you can see in the photo below.FOR MORE INFORMATION www.kauaidiscovery.com; www.gohawaii.com
NOTE: This story appeared originally in a slightly different form on Postmedia and Sun Media websites and papers in Canada.