First set out by Jack Nicklaus within a 36-hole golf facility known as Kauai Lagoons Golf Club in the late 1980s, the remodelled Ocean course at the Hōkūala resort winds through mango and guava groves on a dramatic clifftop property.
Around 2010, the intention was to revamp the original Kiele and Mokihana 18-hole courses to form a new 27-hole layout (comprising the Mauka, Moana and Waikahe nines), with greens converted to TifEagle Bermuda grass and red sand bunkers replaced with white silica sand hazards.
Unfortunately, the Waikahe nine no longer exists and several of the holes have since been turned into walking trails and an organic farm.
The Mauka nine is routed through native vegetation, with three tough par fives in the first six holes and a heroic par three at the fifth hole, where the green sits behind a gulley filled with a forest of mango, guava plum and schefflera plants.
The Moana back nine reaches the shoreline at the 13th green then the next three holes are laid out along the coast before heading inland for the par three 17th then the 459-yard closing hole (rated stroke index 2) which narrows to a peninsula home green.
Jack Nicklaus designed 36 holes of golf on the coast in Lihue, Kauai in 1987. Initially the development was known as Kauai Lagoons, and the two courses were named The Lagoons Course, and The Kiele Course. Adjacent to the airport, and attached to the Marriott hotel in the heart of town, Kauai Lagoons was a popular golfing destination. Over time, with different ownership, changes were made – 36 holes became 27 holes and then 18.
Timbers entered the picture and developed some quality ocean side residences and resort accommodation, and Mr Nicklaus came back to revitalise the course. The newly named Ocean Course at Hoku’ala has essentially taken the best of the previous 36-hole layout, and produced one high quality course.
After some nice strategically bunkered parkland opening holes, Hoku’ala hits you in the face on the par 3 fifth hole. At this stage the course is routed though dense tropical vegetation including mango and guava groves. The fifth hole is an “all or nothing” par 3 with a significant carry over a gorge to a table top green. It’s about now when you may realise Mr Nicklaus intends for this to be a serious test of golf, not just a walk in paradise. A par here is well earned. And the cart ride from tee to green is quite the journey! Up, down, and through the jungle.
The back nine is even stronger as the magnificent coastline comes into play. I love the short strategically bunkered par 4 twelfth hole which gives the player decisions on length and line for the tee shot which radically impact on the playability of the hole.
Thereafter it is sensory overload as the course turns to the coast with a variety of memorable holes- one after the other.
Hoku’ala is memorable for the variety of terrain and holes played, the sheer beauty of the site, and the way it challenges players at all levels. I loved it! The Ocean Course is one of the highlights of any golfing tour to Hawaii.
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.