Poipu Bay Golf Course hits a grand slam in Kauai

By George Fuller, Contributor

KOLOA, KAUAI, Hawaii - I knew I wanted to stay forever in Stevenson's Library at the Hyatt Regency Kauai when I heard the heavenly strains of Coleman Hawkins' sax coolly sailing through the room as I ordered up a Macallan 18-year-old scotch, lit a fancy cigar and embarked upon a regal game of chess that would last some time into the night.

Earlier that day I sat at the Seaview Lounge watching whales pass offshore and indulging myself of the sunset with a celebratory drink or two. The architecture and oceanfront setting of this exquisite property-it opened in 1990-makes you want to say something like, "Sunsets and whales should be celebrated, don't you agree?"

Poipu Bay Golf Course is the name of the golf course situated adjacent to the Hyatt. An 18-hole Robert Trent Jones Jr. design that opened in 1991, this is where the PGA Grand Slam of Golf is played each November, pitting the winners of the year's four majors against one another for big bucks.

Golfers have their choice of four sets of tees, all playing to par-72. Farthest back, the gold tees measures almost 7,100 yards. The blue tees stretch out to 6,561 yards, the regular white tees a shortish 6,056 yards, and the forward tees 5,241 yards.

Its setting is superior, with incredible views of the beach and the Pacific. The home holes play along ocean cliffs and here, during the winter months, you can see the humpbacks as they pass offshore. There are fascinating archaeological sites on the course as well, including some ancient Hawaiian heiau (sacred places).

Poipu Bay Golf Course is built upon rolling terrain, with an abundance of undulation on the fairways. The putting surfaces - as do all putting surfaces in Hawaii - have some tricky breaks. And boy are you glad when the wind is at your back. Because when it's not, your best drives of the day may not carry a full 180 yards. And if you're familiar with Trent Jones Jr. courses, this means trouble - sand trouble. Driveable bunkers are found on practically every fairway. If the day is calm, a good drive should carry them. But on many days in this area, the wind will cause problems.

Director of golf Michael Castillo suggests playing this course below the wind, as if on a British Isles links. "Play Poipu Bay smart and low," he says. "Kauai's tradewinds grace your back on six holes, but you'll play into it or with a crosswind on the other 12. The one shot you'll need is a knockdown shot that bounces through the openings of every green."

You're challenged immediately on the second hole, an uphill par-5 running 482 yards from the blue tees. The hole doglegs sharply to the right, and the birdie temptation is to cut the corner and play over some mounding at the bend. But that's a sucker play: there is a large bunker hidden over the rise, and the driving range borders the right as well. The best play is straight up the middle, and make your approach from there. The green takes another dive to the right, making par a good score on this hole.

Poipu Bay Golf Course's ninth is the number one handicap hole on the course. A 405-yard par-4, there is an old Hawaiian heiau on the right side of this fairway. If your ball goes into the heiau, that's a stroke penalty. (Any ball hit into the heiau on this course is considered lost and not retrievable in an attempt to eliminate trampling these historic religious sites.) This hole plays into the wind, making accuracy and length a tough requirement.

The 17th is the most visually striking hole on the course, playing from an elevated tee built on an old Hawaiian stone formation overlooking the Pacific. A par-3, this hole plays 199 yards from the blue tees to a small green, but the wind is at your back. Take a moment to appreciate the great views of the Poipu coastal area from the tee box, and then hit away.

"If you can ignore the whales breaching, monk seals sunning, Nene geese winging, the gorgeous mountain and ocean views from every hole, you should enjoy reasonable scores on your round," Castillo says.

Poipu Bay Golf Course: Stay and play

Strung along 50 acres fronting Poipu's Shipwreck Beach, the 600-room Hyatt Regency Kauai bucked the mega-resort trend that pervaded Hawaii in the 1980s.

Laid out in low-rise buildings with a distinct Hawaiian missionary period flavor-none of the buildings taller than a coconut tree, as Kauai's building code mandates-the Chinese-influenced two-pitched roof lines take their lead from two of Honolulu's most revered buildings, the Academy of Arts and the Alexander & Baldwin building. Sprawling, indoor/outdoor public areas make abundant use of the fabulous views of the Pacific.

The Hyatt offers two huge swimming pools, one with three relaxing jacuzzis, the other an "action" pool with waterfalls, slides, volleyball and a children's area. Anara Health & Fitness Spa is a 25,000-square-foot facility at the hotel featuring eight private massage rooms, sauna and steam rooms and a comprehensive health and fitness program. Camp Hyatt offers children everything from lessons in traditional Hawaiian arts and crafts to hikes in the archeological rich areas surrounding the hotel.

Bravo! I'll drink to that. And did, on the Seaview Terrace, watching the whales. That followed by a volley of Northern Italian treats at the hotel's premier dining establishment, Donderos: an appetizer portion of gnocci tre formaggi (potato pasta with three cheeses), a gorgonzola and radicchio salad, a king's portion of osso bucco (braised veal shank) accompanied by one of the fine selections from the wine list, the Heitz cabernet.

Which in turn led to the menu of single malt scotch and vintage port at Stevenson's Library. Named for writer Robert Louis Stevenson, rich koa wood bookcases surround sturdy billiard tables, flooring of green Italian marble and teak, overstuffed couches on which to lounge after your chess game, a magnificent koa wood bar, and one of few places in Hawaii you'll hear Coleman Hawkins sweet sax.

Stevenson himself would be pleased. Even though there is no evidence he ever got past Waikiki - unlike Mark Twain, whose chief contribution to Kauai was his calling Waimea Canyon "the Grand Canyon of the Pacific," giving writers an easy line for the ensuing century - if Stevenson were alive today this library would certainly be his favorite island home, too.

Unfortunately, as for the concept of staying at the Hyatt Regency Kauai forever, I couldn't get a break on a yearly rate. But for a week of immersion in classic, old-style Hawaiian grace, playing golf in one of Kauai's loveliest corners, watching whales swim offshore, exploring the lushest island Hawaii has to offer, or merely repairing to Stevenson's Library to try a few of the scotches you missed on your last visit-such as the Cardhu 12-year-old or the Laphroaig 15-year-old ... and come to think of it, I never got a chance to inspect the flavoring of Knockando-this is the place to go.

George Fuller, Contributor

Editor, writer and photographer George Fuller has been writing about golf and travel for more than 15 years. His projects have taken him throughout the United States, Asia, Polynesia, Europe and Mexico.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment