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Hawaii golf's little giant: Kauai courses gaining notice

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

Kauai does not want to brag. Celebrations are out of the question. No Tiger Woods fist pump here. Certainly no Phil Mickelson mad run to a family hug.

Kauai , Hawaii coastline scene - golf destination
One of Hawaii's least commercialized islands, Kauai offers unspoiled beaches.
Kauai , Hawaii coastline scene - golf destinationPuakea Golf Club - Kauai, HawaiiKauai Lagoons, Hawaii - Jack Nicklaus courses

"I'd never want to say that we have the best golf courses in Hawaii," said Sue Kanoho, executive director of the Kauai Visitors Bureau. "Because there are a lot of other islands that I'm sure think they have wonderful golf.
"Now, if Golf Digest or somebody like that said it, I'd be screaming it from the rooftops."

Golf Digest did rank three Kauai golf resorts among its top 75 in North America. And there are some big names behind many of the island's 153 holes.

Which isn't going to make Kauai change its nickname from the Garden Isle to the Golf Isle. But this lush spot a dramatic 25-minute island-hop from Honolulu (and reachable by direct flight from Los Angeles and San Francisco on United) is steadily building its golf profile.

Kauai was one of the first Hawaiian islands to tout itself as a golf destination, and new developments are solidifying its status. Princeville Golf Resort at Hanalei is getting a new Aveda Spa to go with its 45 holes of Robert Trent Jones Jr. golf. Another new, as-yet-unidentified high-end spa (Kanoho says it's a major name) is also moving in.

The spas fit in with the Kauai way of giving golfers plenty to do besides ... well, just golf.

"It's usually more than just golf for our visitors," Kanoho said. "Though I know our golf courses would like it if it was all golf, it's typically more of a family vacation. It's one or two days of golf and then a few days of sightseeing.

"One of the things we're doing for '07 is encouraging people to take advantage of their opportunities to golf, though. If the kids are on a zip-line tour, you're going to go golf. If the wife's on a shopping trip, you're going to go golf. Our courses also have twilight rates that may give the entire family the opportunity to golf together."

Princeville & Poipu Bay golf

The high-end golf is pretty evenly spread out among the major sections of an island that takes about two and a half hours to circle by car. Princeville's famed Prince golf course, a Jones Jr. that's consistently rated Hawaii's best and is inarguably one of the country's toughest, draws golfers like amusement parks attract Michael Jackson.

Poipu Bay Golf Course at the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa is another track first-time visitors usually want to play. A former home of the PGA Grand Slam of Golf, Poipu and its green, green fairways were broadcast into snowbound living rooms for 13 years. Visitors say it's often in better shape than the Prince course.

Kauai Lagoons & Puakea golf

Kauai Lagoons Golf Club, part of the Kauai Marriott Resort & Beach Club, counters with celebrity golf architect power of its own in the form of two Jack Nicklaus courses. The Kiele course draws consistent raves.

Still, Puakea Golf Club might be the most interesting golf on the entire island. The newest course on Kauai (opened in 2003), Puakea is next to the site where Steven Spielberg filmed Jurassic Park.

With mountains looming overhead, it plays through ravines and across streams with plenty of ups and downs and a reputation for rainbow-spotting. And you can get on for $75 after 11 a.m., $55 after 2 p.m.

There are also two municipal golf courses on Kauai. You'll run out of days before you run out of golf, or sights. Kauai is home to Waimea Canyon, a 3,567-foot deep wonder that's known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific.

Mark Twain spent some time in Hawaii when it was still called the Sandwich Islands (see Roughing It for details). But there's no evidence that Twain, he of "Golf's a good walk spoiled," swung the sticks here. His loss.

Kauai has long been known as one of the least commercial of Hawaii's islands, which only makes it better as setting for golf.

"You can kayak on a really quiet scenic river in the morning and then play a challenging course like Prince in the afternoon," Kanoho said.

Not that Kauai would ever boast about it.

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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Dates: November 10, 2017 - December 31, 2018
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