Kauai Lagoons Golf Club blends stunning island beauty with awesome golf

It is said that when legendary golfer and architect created the Kiele golf course at Kauai Lagoons, the terrain lent itself so well to his vision that he made but a single change to his original design. Little wonder that this incredible par 72 resort course - one of two award-winning Nicklaus layouts at Kauai Lagoons - continues to receive accolade after accolade for being one of the finest golf gems in the Pacific.

Overlooking the gateway to the island of Kauai in Hawaii, Kauai Lagoons is a lush, 750-acre resort carefully secluded in the southwest corner of the island. The resort exudes a romantic tropical ambiance with hints of European grandeur - a combination so alluring that it's been named by Golf Magazine to its elite list of Gold Medal golf resorts since 1998.

Kauai Lagoons is located a mere five minutes from Lihue Airport and Nawiliwili Harbor, Kauai's main seaport. For golfers who can't wait, that means an unbeatably short trip from baggage claim to tee box at either of the resort's Kiele course or Mokihana course.

Once there, players will discover that the Kiele Course, ranked among "America's 100 Greatest Public Courses" by Golf Digest, has a sense of style uniquely its own. Fairways weave along imposing ocean cliffs, over promontories high above the harbor, and among some forty acres of fresh water lagoons that wind their way throughout the resort. Lush groves of exotic foliage thrive amongst the holes. A solitary rotunda sits on the water off the 17th tee and serves as an elegant and exquisitely romantic wedding chapel.

Golfers who strive to emulate Nicklaus' playing style will find that the Kiele suits them to a tee. Built in the late 1980s, this championship layout rewards players who can hit the ball high in order to carry the assorted drainage creeks, ravines and lagoons that one encounters along the way, as well as reach the couple of island greens that finish this challenging course.

To navigate the course, players should think about it in terms of its two halves. The front nine is typically more difficult; on the back nine, the course itself is not as difficult, but the magnificent ocean views can create some formidable distractions. Holes three, four, five and six make up the most difficult stretch on the course -- the Kauai Lagoons golf staff refer to it as the 'amen corner' -- once you make it past that, say 'amen' and keep going.

One of the Kiele's more notable holes is number 5, a long par 3 that has been called by Nicklaus as "one of the best holes anywhere." Measuring 219 yards from the back, number 5 features the largest green on the course. But to get there, players need to loft their balls over a forest of mango, guava plum and schefflera. The prevailing wind usually helps, and for golfers playing from the forward tees, the red markers are thoughtfully placed to avoid the forced carry. The beautiful mountain views are an added bonus.

Kiele's signature hole is located on the back nine. Measuring 330 yard, the par 4 hole number 16 is a bit trickier than its 14 handicap suggests. The Pacific Ocean borders the left side of the fairway, which slopes downhill and usually downwind. The green is built on a small peninsula that juts into the sea. Golfers with strong nerves can consider driving the green, but if the ball doesn't hold the turf, it's likely to be sitting at the bottom of the Pacific (sometimes known as the biggest water hazard in all of golfdom). A small lighthouse perched near the green protects the inner harbor, and the spectacular panoramas from this hole include a view of Kalapaki Bay in front of the Kauai Marriott hotel.

One of the most picturesque fairways on the course is the 207 yard, par 3 hole number 13, which boasts a panoramic view of the Pacific that seems to go on forever. Sloping downhill with the prevailing wind usually on your side, the hole takes the ball over the ocean and plays a bit shorter than its yardage calls for. The scenic finishing hole is just the opposite. Facing the prevailing trade winds, the 431 yard, par 4 hole #18 plays longer than its length and demands two to three more clubs than normal in order to reach the coconut-fringed island green.

Each hole on the Kiele has a unique affiliation with an animal or mystical being - such as the Happy Buddha, Camel, Elephant, Hippo, Swan, Alligator and Dragon - and is marked at the tee box by a white marble statue set upon a three-ton granite base. The 18th hole features - what else? - the Golden Bear, in tribute to the golfer who master-minded the course.

Mokihana Course at Kauai Lagoons Golf Club

The Kiele's companion course is the gentler Mokihana Course, a 6,900 yard par 72 resort layout crafted with Scottish style rolling links. Previously the Lagoons Course, the layout underwent a soft renovation in its landscaping and was renamed in 1999 to pay tribute to its Hawaiian heritage. Designed for players of all skill levels, the course is marked by its open fairways and, compared with its more demanding sister course, by its relative lack of forced carries. The real challenge of the Mokihana are its undulating greens, which will challenge the best of putters.

The Mokihana has been rated by Golf Magazine as one of the ten most playable in America, and proffers outstanding views of Mt. Waialeale, the extinct volcano that created the island of Kauai. Its more hospitable nature is a perfect complement to the more challenging Kiele.

The Kauai Lagoons Golf Club also offers a well stocked pro shop, rental clubs and shoes, and golf instruction. Tee times may be made 30 days.

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