A good walk on Hawaii's Garden Isle: Must-play golf courses on Kauai

By Brandon Tucker, Managing Editor

LIHUE, Hawaii -- Kauai may not have as many golf courses as Oahu, the Big Island and Maui, but there may be no island better to tee it up.

Prince Golf Course at Princeville Resort at Hanalei -- No. 13
The par-4 13th hole at the Prince Golf Course is cut through dense jungle.
Prince Golf Course at Princeville Resort at Hanalei -- No. 13Kauai Lagoons Golf Club at Marriott Kauai Lagoons ResortPuakea Golf Course - No. 6Poipu Bay Golf Course - No. 16
If you go

According to Golf Magazine, five of the top 20 golf courses in Hawaii in 2010, including three of the top eight, hail from the "Garden Isle." And the island's smaller size means you can play them all pretty easily on one trip.

Here's a look at some of Kauai's must-play golf courses ...

Prince Golf Course at Princeville Resort at Hanalei

A round on the Prince Golf Course at Princeville Resort at Hanalei is not for the squeamish. Chances are it will rank among the toughest courses you will ever play, especially if you don't have the humility to play from the right tee box.

But the Prince's setting is one of golf's boldest, tiptoeing along rolling ground 300 feet above the ocean and darting down into deep tropical jungle. You can get up close with the ocean on the sixth hole and the par-3 seventh hole, which plays over a coastal ravine. But the jungle holes, such as Nos. 12 and 13, are equally remarkable.

The golf course is named for Prince Albert, son of Hawaii's King Kamehameha IV. Shoot your handicap here, and it's deserving of a celebration fit for royalty.

Kauai Lagoons Golf Club at Marriott Kauai Lagoons Resort

Kauai Lagoons Golf Club has been in a transitional phase the past few years, but it's current golf layout is still well worth the play and stands to get better. Original course designer Jack Nicklaus visited the island this fall to oversee renovations, which include construction of new holes that will make up the longest stretch of ocean holes in Hawaii.

"The new holes we are building are going to fit in nicely with what golfers have come to expect from the Kiele Golf Course," Nicklaus said during his visit. "Great golf holes with beautiful ocean panoramic views."

Currently, nine holes from the original Kiele and nine from Mokihana are in play. Although Nicklaus designed both, you'll notice a difference, as the Mokihana holes are generally more wide open and less penal. The entire project, which is scheduled to be completed in the spring of 2011, will feature a new 27-hole layout.

Puakea Golf Course

Puakea Golf Course doesn't have the up-close-and-personal holes along the ocean such as its Lihue neighbors Kauai Lagoons and municipal Wailua Golf Course, and it's not affiliated with a resort, but this Kauai daily-fee golf course is a bargain darling.

Puakea Golf Course is an ingenious design by Hawaii native architect Robin Nelson that subtly winds along ravines and out toward the coast. No golf course has better routing than Puakea, which subtly changes direction on nearly every hole and makes full use of the island's trade winds.

Don't let the small clubhouse and first hole playing toward Costco fool you. Puakea gets better with every hole, until you find yourself in wide-open space playing beside the island's lush green mountains on the back stretch.

Poipu Bay Golf Course

No golf course on Kauai boasts the consistently spectacular coastal beauty of Poipu Bay Golf Course on the South Shore, thanks to the fact that there is no real estate anywhere to be seen. Many points of the course lay on exposed cliffs well above the ocean, while others play beside ancient stone walls.

Poipu Bay's closing stretch was worthy of the PGA Grand Slam of Golf for 13 years. The par-4 15th and 16th holes play from elevated tees to fairways that hug cliffs. With trade winds at your back, you can hit some mammoth drives.

Editor's Note: Poipu Bay Golf Course is currently under renovation and is expected to open in mid-December 2010.

Brandon TuckerBrandon Tucker, Managing Editor

Brandon Tucker is the Managing Editor for Golf Advisor. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and over 500 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker and on Instagram at BrandonTuckerGC.

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