Kauai: On Par With The World's Best

A true whole-in-one experience, Kauai tees up world-class golf as well as a seductive slate of opportunities ranging from exquisite local cuisine to sublime accommodations.

The Garden Isle, Kauai’s Eden-like nickname, is as enchanting a place as there is in Hawaii… or anywhere else in the world. Where land meets sea, she is ringed by gentle beaches. Her interior is a heave of bright green mountains with sharp, knife-like ridges, often capped with clouds. Tall palm trees, thick vines and red and yellow blossoms line her roads. When we think of things “tropical,”  Kauai comes to mind.

The North Shore of the island proves particularly scenic. Out here, where hikers embark on the Na Pali Coast’s fabled Kalalau Trail, Hollywood has filmed dozens of movies requiring that perfect tropical locale. The most famous might still be South Pacific (1957), which first brought images of Lumahai Beach and Mount Makana (the conical mountain peak called Bali Hai in the film) to the world. But moviegoers have also seen Kauai’s charms on the silver screen in such films as Elvis’ Blue Hawaii (1961), Six Days, Seven Nights (1998) and two of the three Jurassic Park incarnations (1993, 2001).


Prince Course

Such a landscape also lends itself to unique and dramatic golf courses, and two of Hawaii’s best are found at Princeville. Both the Prince Course and the Makai Course are Robert Trent Jones Jr. designs, with the Prince Course annually recognized as one of the top two in the state.

With a longtime home in nearby Hanalei, Jones Jr. considers Kauai a perfect landscape for golf. “Although everyone immediately recognizes the dramatic beauty of the ocean, Kauai also has spectacular inland views of the rugged mountain ranges,” he says.

Both of his Princeville designs take full advantage of those views, with the recently renovated Makai Course remaining a forgiving, resort-style layout, while the Prince Course is still preferred by better golfers, as it has been since opening in 1991.

In addition to new grass (Seashore Paspallum) and bunker sand throughout, the renovation of Makai combined what formerly was known as the Ocean and Lakes nines into one 18-hole layout; while the third nonet, Woods, will be used as a family-friendly nine-hole loop. A new clubhouse and driving range is slated for completion later in 2010.

Hole 6 on Prince Course

The Prince Course, meanwhile, commands respect on every shot. Its resistance to scoring is found in many forms: forced carries from a number of tees, both grass and sand fairway bunkering, wind, hillside lies and fast, undulating greens… not to mention a fair share of rain (which is, of course, why Kauai is so green).

The Prince’s demand for accuracy is nowhere more apparent than on the signature, par-four 12th hole, where you are asked to smack a long and straight tee ball off a cliff with enough accuracy to land in the middle of a narrow, jungle-sided fairway 100 feet below; and then place a wedge shot over a stream and onto a green surrounded by tangled trouble. One almost expects genetically reinvigorated dinosaurs to charge from the jungle to complete the challenge of No. 12.

No. 13 demands about the same, but with a narrower landing zone and a longer carry to a tougher green. A soothing waterfall backs the green of No. 13, though, so even the worries of a bad score (or an angry dinosaur) are soon washed over with beauty.


St. Regis Princeville

While the golf is superb at Princeville, it does not stand alone in its excellence. The 252-room St. Regis Princeville opened last October—the first St. Regis in Hawaii—and immediately took its place among the very best resorts in the Aloha State. Occupying the same footprint as the former Princeville Resort Kauai, the St. Regis is perched on a bluff overlooking Hanalei Bay, with million dollar views from every vantage point.

Entering the expansive lobby, the first thing one observes is a sweeping view of the bay and green mountains behind. Original Polynesian-themed artwork graces the walls, koa wood furniture and woven pandanus-leave flooring accents add authentic Hawaiian touches and a 40,000-piece, waterfall-inspired Murano glass chandelier hangs from the lobby ceiling.

Such elements successfully merge St. Regis elegance with local style. Guestrooms—and 51 premium suites—also bespeak well-crafted luxury, but it’s difficult to take your eyes off the view, as from your bluff top perspective you gaze out upon surfers in the bay, the town of Hanalei and the craggy splendor of the Na Pali Coast.

Even in the marble-lined bathrooms, the view is foremost. With the flick of a light switch a unique “privacy window” turns from opaque to clear. When clear, guests are able enjoy the full visual impact of the magnificent setting while indulging in the pleasures of a wide soaking tub. A glass of champagne pairs divinely with your bath.

A 10,000-square-foot spa and a signature restaurant by Jean-Georges Vongerichten are other noteworthy additions to the resort.


Lumahai Beach

A short drive from Princeville leads to Hanalei, a laid-back North Shore village that serves as an adventure gateway for the Na Pali Coast. Plenty of outfitters can be found here to usher you on snorkeling trips, hikes, kayak expeditions, horseback rides and zipline thrill rides.

Even if you’re not inclined to partake of the legendary 12-mile hike, drive north to where the highway ends and the Kalalau Trail begins. Several picturesque and oft-deserted beaches are found along the way—including Lumahai, of South Pacific fame—and a glimpse of Kauai’s rural lifestyle await discovery. On the opposite side of the island, from the south shore, take a rewarding drive into Waimea Canyon—which Mark Twain dubbed ‘The Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” Plenty of water-oriented fun can be found at Poipu, which often ranks as one of the best beaches in Hawaii. Dining options are abundant in the Poipu area, too, with both Roy’s and a new Merriman’s dishing exquisite Hawaii Regional Cuisine, and longtime beachfront favorites Brennecke’s Beach Broiler and The Beach House Restaurant providing perfect spots for a sunset and cocktails.

Kauai may be, as Robert Trent Jones Jr. says, a perfect island for golf. For everything else, it’s also on par with the world’s best.

Here’s some more information on deals and courses fore Kauai golf.

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