Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

August 21, 2017
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The Prince of Greens

Hawaii's Kauai offers some of the most exquisite, challenging and affordable golfing in the world

My fantasy about playing on Hawaii's garden island began with a magazine feature ranking North America's best golf resorts. Kauai's courses were conspicuous by their beauty and by the number that made the prestigious list. But after drooling over the photos of velvet fairways, cliffside greens, lava peaks and rainbows in the sky, the prices shot me back down to earth. Most of the green fees start at $US150 and a room at a resort started at about $US300. And we haven't even gone to a Luau or rented a car yet. (All prices are in US dollars.)

Kauai, it seems, was pretty much a playground for wealthy swingers or those with enviable expense accounts. But thanks to golf entrepreneur Dave Mills and his Golfer's Guide PowerCard, which offers discounts on green fees and Stay and Play packages, that's no longer the case. "We've made Hawaii one of the world's most affordable golf destinations," Dave boasts. I've never met Dave but I'd sure like to buy the guy a Mai Tai. He saved me a bundle. (See Dollars and Sense below.)

But enough of all this talk about money. Let's hit the links. If the trade winds are blowing, your first glimpse of golf nirvana is on the left side of the plane as you fly into Lihue airport. Finish your guava juice and start salivating. The green on Jack Nicklaus' signature 16th hole at the Kiele course at Kauai Lagoons sits on a small peninsula that juts into crashing turquoise surf. A picturesque lighthouse protects the inner harbour of Kalapaki Bay. With the airport just five minutes away, Kauai Lagoons makes a good starter and finisher for your vacation.

The first nine is considered the toughest. If you can hit high to carry the assorted ravines, mango groves and creeks on holes three to six, you've passed what the staff -- borrowing a nickname from Augusta National Golf Club -- calls Amen Corner. On the last nine, magnificent ocean views provide quite a distraction. Playing among fragrant gardenias and 16 hectares of fresh-water lagoons, you'll encounter a white marble statue depicting an animal at each tee, with -- you guessed it -- a Golden Bear on the 18th. Many of the greens are set diagonally to the fairway, putting a premium on accurate approaches. And should you be in a romantic mood, there's a wedding chapel off the 17th tee. Nicklaus' sister course, the less demanding Mokihana, a Scottish-style rolling links with open fairways and few forced carries, is a good warm-up and quite relaxing, except for the constant drone of planes and helicopters overhead.

 

Moving to the sunny south coast, Poipu Bay, host to the MasterCard PGA Grand Slam of Golf, is one of four Robert Trent Jones Jr. layouts on Kauai. Club selection is definitely a factor here with six holes downwind, six upwind and six crosswind. In addition to 86 bunkers you'll also want to avoid the archeological sites. It's kapu (taboo) to trespass onto these sacred temples, so kiss your Titleist goodbye to avoid any more bad luck or curses. Play the four dramatic finishing holes to the rhythmic rumble of surf washing over the rocks to your left, where you might spot monk seals sunbathing on the beach or humpback whales spouting offshore.

After the game, stroll among the gardens, freeform pools and waterfalls at the adjacent Hyatt Regency Resort & Spa. Consider a decaf Kauai coffee, orange peel and vanilla bean scrub, or a traditional Lomi Lomi rhythmic massage at the award-winning ANARA (A New Age Restorative Approach) spa with its open-air lava rock showers.

Of Kauai's nine courses, most vacationers will stick to the resort ones, but you might consider taking a swing at three of the island's lesser-known gems. Locals favour the seaside Wailua Municipal course designed by former head pro Toyo Shirai ($25 weekdays). Toyo also designed the funky nine-hole at Kukuiolono, a bit rough around the edges but a bargain at $7 (all you can play). Players at the new ten-hole Puakea course can boast that they played twenty holes before lunch. Formerly a sugar cane field, the Robin Nelson design plays around deep ravines and streams in the shadow of towering Mount Haupu.

Remember Puff the Magic Dragon who lived by the sea and frolicked in a land called Hanalei? Well, Kauai's north coast is indeed a magical, mystical place. Laid-back Hanalei attracts gentle New Age hippie types who appreciate the fact that only three percent of Kauai has been developed for commercial and residential use. Just to the east of Hanalei lies the ritzy Princeville Resort. Home to 45 memorable holes, its Prince course is tops in Hawaii. Robert Trent Jones Jr. strikes again. I'd suggest playing the three nines of the Makai course first. The Ocean course ventures closest to the Pacific, the Lakes winds around two bodies of water and the Woods stretches through stands of eucalyptus and Norfolk pines.

By now, this 25-ish handicapper felt she was ready for the Big Kahuna: the Prince with its 145 slope rating. I won't take you through my hole-by-hole demise. Suffice to say I'd lost 13 balls by the 13th waterfall hole and was ready to drown myself. Some of those balls were probably retrievable but the thorny Cat's Claw growing in the rough made that a painful option. "It's heaven in hell," concurs head pro, Jack Baker. "It's a marvellous property but it tests you on each shot. It's like entering a boxing ring, you've got to be prepared for the jabs."

The topography ranges from pastoral plateau overlooking the ocean to jungle-choked ravines with natural hazards ranging from streams, gullies, waterfalls, forests and windswept plains. "In all the world," Jones once said of Princeville, "I never expected to find a more spectacularly beautiful place to build a golf course." The GPS (Global PositioningSystem) on each cart gives a bird's eye view of every hole, keeps score and warns you to hide lunch or risk having it stolen by the feisty free-range chickens at number 9. They have a particular affinity, as do many local Hawaiians, for Spam. A favourite at the halfway house is Spam musubi -- fried Spam atop sticky rice wrapped in a seaweed leaf. Definitely an acquired taste.

Your round at the Prince includes use of the spa facilities. Relax in the sauna and whirlpool, then head to the Princeville Resort's infinity pool overlooking the seductive coast where the Bali Hai scene in South Pacific was filmed. Feel the cool flower lei around your neck, breathe in the balmy sea breezes and enjoy an Oscar-winning sunset. You may want to forget your score card but you'll never forget this enchanted place.

 

 

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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