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It's better by the sea: Great seaside runs in golf

By Andrew Penner, Contributor

With a warm and heavy trade wind whipping off the sea, I step onto the fourth tee at the Kauai Lagoons Golf Club, gaze down the fairway to the infinity green and feel a wave of excitement wash over me.

Makai Golf Club
Makai Golf Club sits several hundred feet above the Pacific.
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To the left of the green a historic lighthouse clutches the black, water-worn rocks on a lonely point. To the right, a hundred sailboats, give or take, bob on the turquoise water of Nawiliwili Harbor.

But, to be honest, I'm more interested in the next four holes. And for good reason: they all hug the rocky and rugged shore, making for the longest stretch of seaside holes in Hawaii.

Golf and the sea have always been kindred spirits. After all, the game was conceived along the wind and wave-smashed shores of Scotland. The two just go hand in hand.

And, most would agree, the game's compelling connection to nature is best exemplified, best realized, when playing directly along the ocean. So, naturally, above all else it seems, we relish opportunities to play courses where this heavenly match is on full display. We will always be smitten with holes that hug the sea.

While numerous courses have one, or perhaps two, seaside "signatures" (this type of land doesn't come cheap), few courses boast extended runs along the ocean. Few courses afford an opportunity to play three, four, five -- or more -- holes in a row that hug the azure glory.

Unquestionably, the most famous stretch of continuous seaside golf is found at Pebble Beach. Seven sublime holes -- Nos. 4-10 -- are pressed hard along the salty sea in Carmel Bay. By all accounts, it's a majestic two hours, or so, of unrelenting by-the-sea golf that will be seared in your memory bank for the rest of your life.

Rivaling the iconic stretch at Pebble Beach is the one found on the famous Ailsa Course at Turnberry Resort in Scotland. Turnberry actually outduels Pebble in terms of the number of holes that comprise the run. Here the fourth through 11th are adjacent to the sea. Unlike other links courses, there are no high dunes to obstruct the sight lines so golfers are treated to breathtaking views of the Firth of Clyde, the Ailsa Craig and the Isle of Arran.

Of course, given Pebble's heroic finish (both 17 and 18 return to the Pacific), it could certainly be argued that Pebble still gets the nod in terms of oceanside drama. (The relatively straightforward finisher at Turnberry has sometimes been cited as a downfall).

While Pebble Beach and Turnberry are clearly the front-runners when it comes to notable seaside runs, a number of tropical courses are getting plenty of attention lately. Places like Hawaii, as I recently found out, the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas, for example, all boast courses that merit mention when the topic is dazzling seaside stretches.

Given the quality of the golf in Kauai, it's no surprise that the "Garden Isle" affords ample opportunity to cozy up to the surging sea on a number of layouts. Here three terrific courses -- Kauai Lagoons, Poipu Bay Golf Course and Makai Golf Club -- serve up awesome stints that dip and dive along the wave-wrecked cliffs.

With the recent unveiling of a new hole on the refurbished Kiele Moana (Ocean) nine, Kauai Lagoons now boasts the longest continuous stretch -- more than a half-mile long -- of seaside golf in Hawaii. The run here -- Nos. 4-7 -- includes three par 4s and a jaw-dropping par 3 that requires a bold smash over a ravine.

At Poipu Bay, the highlight is the soaring sweep -- the 15th through the 17th -- that tumbles along the aerie bluff directly above, perhaps, the most raw and rugged coastline in golf. The view from behind the 16th green, one of the best seaside par 4s in golf, is sublime.

At Makai, the sixth through the eighth also offer jaw-dropping views and, perhaps more important, are excellent golf holes regardless of their pristine location. The seventh, easily one of the most striking par 3s in Hawaii, is the trump card.

One of the newest and greatest entries to the tropical surfside genre is Punta Espada in the Cap Cana development in the Dominican Republic. Joining an already illustrious collection of seaside greats in the Dominican Republic -- Casa de Campo and Playa Grande immediately come to mind -- Punta Espada is a Jack Nicklaus-designed tour de force when it comes to playing along the thundering surf.

Not only are there eight fantastic coastal holes, but also the proximity to the water (a neoprene golf shirt wouldn't hurt) adds immeasurably to the experience. Here the majority of the holes on the back nine careen alongside jewel-blue water and ivory beaches. Golfweek has ranked Punta Espada the top golf course in the Caribbean for the past four years.

In the Bahamas, Sandals Emerald Reef Golf Club, a relatively new Greg Norman design, is home to a dazzling dash along the beach. Here six stunners -- Nos. 11-16 -- skirt the turquoise water of Emerald Bay and provide nonstop photo ops.

Finally, Mexico and Puerto Rico have also become heavy hitters when it comes to great courses along the sea. The Ocean Course in Cabo San Lucas, with its splendid seaside finish, is unforgettable. And in Costa Rica, thanks to the head-turning drama that waits at Royal Isabela and Bahia Beach Resort & Golf Club, you'll find a couple more amazing strings that border the sea.

One thing is clear, from wind-swept links like Turnberry and Old Head (Ireland) to tropical treasures like Casa de Campo and Punta Espada, we'll forever be enamored with drama by the sea. And, no question about it, when it comes to heavenly holes that swerve along the shore -- well, the sentiment will always be: the more the merrier.

Andrew PennerAndrew Penner, Contributor

Andrew Penner is a longtime member of the Canadian PGA. Author of "One Flew Over the Caddyshack," he also writes for a number of magazines throughout Canada and the U.S.


 
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