If you want to ask Travelin' Joe a question, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Canadian Greetings, Joe, We’re heading to Kauai in February for 12 days. I’ve noticed some resorts and courses offer 3-4 round packages. What do you recommend we do as we’re planning on playing six rounds. What’s the best value and what are MUST-plays? Jay Janower Canada What’s hot on Kauai are vastly improved conditions at a fistful of A-List courses. Start with Princeville on the north shore, which reopened its underrated Makai ($145-$220; 808-826-1912, makaigolf.com) course in January 2010 as an 18-hole layout comprised of the old Lake and Ocean nines, with the Woods nine now a separate entity. If you can hold out until March 1 (or perhaps as early as February 8), you’ll witness the island’s best course, The Prince at Princeville, reopen following a thorough course renovation, together with makeovers for the practice range and clubhouse.
Roughly 12 months ago, Poipu Bay ($145-$240; 808-742-8711, poipubaygolf.com) reopened with new paspalum putting surfaces that have made for quicker, more consistent speeds. Of course, the old greens never bothered Phil Mickelson, who shot 59 there in the 2004 Grand Slam of Golf, or Tiger Woods, who won the event seven times. For me, it was always the stiff breezes at Poipu, not the grainy greens that drove up my score, but no question—the difference is striking.
Finally, Kauai Lagoons ($105-$195; 808-241-6000, kauailagoonsgolf.com) reopened its stellar ocean holes—including one brand new one—in May 2011 after a four-year hiatus. After playing there in September, I can tell you it was worth the wait. New white silica sand and TifEagle greens provided heightened aesthetics and playability, but it’s those fabulous four cliff-top stunners that play over and alongside the Pacific that will really impress.
Not so hot are traditional package deals on Kauai, or elsewhere on the islands. That’s not to say you can’t find good deals, but formal golf resort packages aren’t really part of the program, mostly (I’m guessing) because the powers-that-be don’t have to compete to get you there—you’ve already made the decision to go, so there’s more of a “captive audience” aspect to golf in the islands.
Regardless of where you’re staying, all of Kauai’s courses are easily accessible and there are plenty of savings to be had. Even if you’re going from south to north, or vice versa, much of it is a very attractive drive.
If this is a once-in-a-lifetime trip, make the journey to play Princeville’s Makai, even if the Prince has yet to reopen. If you plan to return, perhaps wait until the Prince is back in play. It’s that good.
For best bargains, don’t miss Kiahuna ($72-$103; 808-742-9595, kiahunagolf.com), with its laid-back ambiance and superb greens. Wailua ($48-$60; 808-241-6666, kauai.gov/golf), the island’s muni, is even cheaper and has a couple of jaw-dropping ocean holes, but it’s much more crowded and offers iffier conditions. I’m a fan of Puakea ($59-$135; 808-245-8756, puakeagolf.com) as well, not far from the airport, where parts of the movie “Jurassic Park” were filmed. Each nine is saddled with a few dullards, but each nine also has some of the most beautiful, memorable golf holes you could ask for.
Every one of these courses offers a “deal.” Some are for multiple-play rounds during a week, or to play a second round at a reduced rate—along with the usual deep discounts for resort guests where relevant. If you’re going this route, I do like Kauai Lagoons’ deal of $495 for the week, which includes unlimited golf, engraved bag tag, club storage and even a lesson. The most consistent value is simply to play almost all of these courses in the afternoon, when prices drop by as much as 50 percent. My advice is to check the individual web sites for the deal that appeals to you most.
Bottom line: Among the public-access courses, I rate The Prince Course at the St. Regis Princeville as tops, closely followed by Kauai Lagoons, Makai and Poipu Bay. Yet, every course on Kauai is priced accordingly, so the value is relative. There’s certainly good, inexpensive golf here, but for the most part, on Kauai, you get what you pay for. Hi Joe, Our foursome is looking at Florida this year and was wondering which golf destination you would recommend based on price and golf quality. We are comparing the Innisbrook Resort in Tampa and the PGA Golf Resort in Port St. Lucie. We know the golf is great at Innisbrook but is very expensive. Your thoughts? Craig Emuss Toronto, Canada Do you have any barber training? You’re just about splitting hairs here. Innisbrook is on a bit of a roll, with new ownership from the Salamander Group putting money into all facets of the resort. The vast, roomy lodges have always been more of a “guy” thing, as has the golf, especially the two signature tracks, Copperhead and Island, which demand many forced carries over sand and water to elevated greens. The surprisingly hilly Copperhead hosts the PGA Tour, and par seldom takes a beating, while Island played host to the 1990 Men’s NCAA Championship, where Arizona State’s Phil Mickelson took the individual title.
The other two courses, the North and the South are solid, but not necessarily memorable. I will say that the once-spartan accommodations have nicer accents these days and the restaurants and common areas have noticeable upgrades. I had an excellent filet, Oscar-style, at Packard’s Steakhouse on my last visit. The resort hardly rocks at night, but Tampa definitely has more off-course options than Port St. Lucie as well, if that’s important.
Hard partying isn’t something I associate with the lower-priced PGA Golf Resort, either, but the golf facilities are outstanding, especially for the price. There’s wonderful variety on the three courses, two by Tom Fazio and one by Pete Dye, and the practice ground is one of the finest I’ve experienced. I was smitten with the nine different practice bunkers that offered varied styles and even different sand, a treat for the golfer who travels.
Innisbrook has a little more cachet in its PGA Tour pedigree, more privacy by limiting outside play and more upscale facilities. PGA Golf Resort offers a ton of good things for the money, and its third-ranked course is far better than Innisbrook’s counterpart. Sorry, partner, you’ll have to flip a coin on this one. Take It From Joe: Wrangling a Waialae Tee Time This week’s PGA Tour venue, Waialae Country Club in Honolulu sports, an architecture pedigree that few other sites can match: It’s a Seth Raynor original. Raynor is hardly a household name to casual golf fans, but to design buffs, he’s pure gold. Few ever get to walk up and pay a green fee on a Raynor spread, because his finest creations are locked behind some of the sturdiest gates in golf.
A protégé of pioneer American architect C.B. Macdonald, Raynor crafted such low-key, Top 100 private gems as Fishers Island, Chicago Golf Club, Shoreacres, Camargo and Yeamans Hall. Waialae, which Raynor laid out just before he died in 1926, is not one of his shining stars, though to be fair, much of the magic has eroded over time, with the nines flipped and the design, bunkers and greens altered. It’s still got classic bones, however, and you can’t beat Honolulu’s climate.
Waialae is ostensibly private, but if you find yourself on Oahu and want to walk in the famous footsteps that have trod its fairways, including such past champions Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Hale Irwin and Ernie Els, book a stay at the Royal Hawaiian (808-923-7311, royal-hawaiian.com), part of the Luxury Collection, situated five miles from the course in Waikiki. Registered guests can inquire one week in advance, with play available Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and the occasional Friday. So this isn’t Pebble Beach—or even Kapalua. But a Seth Raynor course, 80 degrees, tropical breezes and PGA Tour history? Sign me up.
(Photo: Princeville Resort)