For golfers, the Garden Isle might as well be known as the Robert Trent Jones Jr. Isle. Four of the island's nine courses, including Poipu Bay—onetime home of the PGA Grand Slam of Golf—are the work of Jones, who maintains a home at Princeville. Combine these four courses with those from Jack Nicklaus, Robin Nelson, and local legend Toyo Shirai, and you'll see that golf sets Kauai apart from the other islands as much as the Pacific Ocean does. Afternoon tee times can save you big bucks.
Kauai Lagoons Golf Club. With the development of the Kauai Lagoons Resort, the golf club is getting a face-lift, albeit a slow one due to the economy. Yes, Jack is back. When Nicklaus is done with this course, 27 championship-style holes (the links-style course is gone) will await golfers. For now, 18 holes are playable including a half mile of ocean-hugging holes redesigned to take advantage of the obvious visual splender of Kalapaki Bay. Number 18 is the island green named "The Bear" for its challenging play into the trade winds. 3351 Hoolaulea Way, HI, 96766. PHONE: 808/241-6000 or 800/634-6400. www.kauailagoonsgolf.com. 18 holes. 6977 yds. Par 72. Greens fee: $155-195. Facilities: Driving range, putting green, golf carts, rental clubs, lessons.
Kiahuna Plantation Golf Course. A meandering creek, lava outcrops, and thickets of trees give Kiahuna its character. Robert Trent Jones Jr. was given a smallish piece of land just inland at Poipu, and defends par with smaller targets, awkward stances, and optical illusions. In 2003 a group of homeowners bought the club and brought Jones back to renovate the course (it was originally built in 1983), adding tees and revamping bunkers. The pro here boasts his course has the best putting greens on the island. This is the only course on Kauai with a complete set of junior's tee boxes. 2545 Kiahuna Plantation Dr., Koloa, HI, 96756. PHONE: 808/742-9595. www.kiahunagolf.com. 18 holes. 6787 yds. Par 70. Greens fee: $103; twilight: $75. Facilities: Driving range, putting green, rental clubs, lessons, pro shop, restaurant, bar.
Kukuiolono Golf Course. Local legend Toyo Shirai designed this fun, funky 9-holer where holes play across rolling, forested hills that afford views of the distant Pacific. Though Shirai has an eye for a good golf hole, Kukuiolono is out of the way and a bit rough, and so probably not for everyone. But at $9 for the day, it's a deal—bring cash, though, as they don't accept credit cards. No tee times. 854 Puu Rd., Kalaheo, HI, 96741. PHONE: 808/332-9151. 9 holes. 3173 yds. Par 36. Greens fee: $9. Facilities: Driving range, putting green, golf carts, pull carts, rental clubs.
Poipu Bay Golf Course. Poipu Bay has been called the Pebble Beach of Hawaii, and the comparison is apt. Like Pebble Beach, Poipu is a links course built on headlands, not true links land. And as at Monterey Bay, there's wildlife galore—except that the animals are not quite as intrusive to play. It's not unusual for golfers to see monk seals sunning on the beach below, sea turtles bobbing outside the shore break, and humpback whales leaping offshore. From 1994 to 2006, the course (designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr.) hosted the annual PGA Grand Slam of Golf. That means Tiger Woods was a frequent visitor—and winner—here. Call ahead to take advantage of varying prices for tee times. 2250 Ainako St., Koloa, HI, 96756. PHONE: 808/742-8711. www.poipubaygolf.com. 18 holes. 6612 yds. Par 72. Greens fee: $240. Facilities: Driving range, putting green, rental clubs, golf carts, golf academy/lessons, restaurant, bar.
Princeville Resort. Robert Trent Jones Jr. built two memorable courses overlooking Hanalei Bay, the 27-hole Princeville Makai Course (1971) and the 18-hole Prince Course (1990). The combination earned Princeville Resort the 20th spot in Golf Digest's list of the "Best 75 Golf Resorts in North America." The Makai Course underwent extensive renovations in 2009, including new turf throughout, reshaped greens and bunkers, refurbished cart paths and comfort stations, and the creation of an extensive practice facility. They also offer free rounds for junior golfers (15 and under) when accompanied by one paying adult. After getting its own facelift, the Prince is set to reopen on Dec. 14, 2011. Rated Hawaii's second toughest course (behind Oahu's Koolau), this is jungle golf, with holes running through dense forest and over tangled ravines, out onto headlands for breathtaking ocean views, then back into the jungle. HI.
Makai Golf Course (4080 Lei O Papa Rd., Princeville, 96722. PHONE: 808/826-3580. www.makaigolf.com. 27 holes. 6886 yds. Par 72. Greens fee: $220. Facilities: Driving range, putting green, rental clubs, golf carts, pro shop, golf academy/lessons, snack bar.).
Prince Golf Course (5-3900 Kuhio Hwy., Princeville, 96722. PHONE: 808/826-5001. www.princeville.com. 18 holes. 6960 yds. Par 72. Greens fee: $170. Facilities: Driving range, putting green, rental clubs, golf carts, pro shop, golf academy/lessons, restaurant, bar.).
Wailua Municipal Golf Course. Voted by Golf Digest as one of Hawaii's 15 best golf courses, this seaside course was first built as a 9-hole golf course in the 1930s. The second 9 holes were added in 1961. Course designer Toyo Shirai created a course that is fun but not punishing. Not only is this an affordable game with minimal water hazards, but it is challenging enough to have been chosen to host three USGA Amateur Public Links Championships. The trade winds blow steadily on the East Side of the island and make the game all the more challenging. An ocean view and affordability make this one of the most popular courses on the island. Tee times are accepted up to seven days in advance. 3-5350 Kuhio Hwy., Lihue, HI, 96766. PHONE: 808/241-6666. 18 holes. 6585 yds. Par 72. Greens fee: $48 weekdays, $60 weekends. Half price after 2 pm. Cart rental: $18. Cash or traveler's checks only. Facilities: Driving range, rental clubs, golf carts, pro shop, lessons.
Kauai Mini Golf. The only miniature golf course on the island, Kauai Mini Golf is also a full botanical garden. The 18-hole course was designed to be challenging, beautiful and family-friendly. Replacing the typical clown's nose and spinning wheels are some water features and tropical tunnels. Surrounding each hole is flora and plant life that walks players through different eras of Hawaiian history. A gift shop with local products and a concessions counter make it a fun activity for any time of day. Open Tuesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Cost is $18. 5-273 Kuhio Hwy, Kilauea, HI, 96754. PHONE: 808/828-2118. www.kauaiminigolf.com.