Opened for play in 2010, the Kukui'ula course is a Tom Weiskopf design, where sand-capped Paspalum fairways are laid out within a 216-acre upmarket real estate development on the south coast of Kauai, the fourth largest of the main islands in the Hawaiian archipelago,
The course occupies a property that was once in use as a sugar cane plantation and golfers enjoy panoramic Pacific views from most of the holes, even though the Ocean never actually comes into play.
Water hazards threaten occasionally during the round and there’s dazzling white bunker sand – imported from Cambodia, of all places – to defend par on many of the holes, especially the par threes.
There’s also a wide selection of arboreal species – including Macadamia Nut, Royal Palm and Chinese Banyan – to add both visual delight and strategic challenge around the course.
Fairways are generally wide and generous but, for those who do stray too far off line, the thick, wiry Bahia grass around the fairway fringes is very penal – it might not look too severe at first glance but you’ll be lucky to find a ball in it let alone play out of it.
Highlight holes include a very strong trio on the front nine at the 5th, 6th and 7th, which rise, fall then rise again across the gentle coastal landscape. On the inward half, short par fours at holes 11 and 14 catch the eye, as does the 504-yard closing hole, played to a pond-protected home green.
Kukui'ula encompasses 1,010 acres of land -- located on the southern perimeter of Kaua'i. The facility was created as a family getaway -- a haven from the 24/7 pulse that consumes daily living. Keep in mind Kukui'ula is a private club. Those fortunate members and the invited guests will find a meaningful disconnect with golf being high on the pecking order but far from the only activity.
The site was the former McBryde Sugar Plantation from 1899 to 1996.
The opening of Kukui'ula marks the first private club on the island and the Tom Weiskopf golf design is well done -- accentuating the designer's recent penchant for emphasizing playability and scenery together. The layout is not meant to cause endless searches for golf balls with high rough or demanding with forced carries and the like. With that said -- the layout takes a few holes to get its mojo going full steam.
The name Kukui'ula comes from the kukui / candlelight torches placed on the property -- these same torches were placed was fire pits on the south shore of Kaua'i serving as a guide for voyagers going to and from Tahiti.
Membership at Kukui'ula provides a slew of different elements of note and activities galore. You can take a quick short ride to a significant farm -- 13 acres total which is on property -- set on a nearby hillside where the crops produced are incorporated into the menu.
The facility also provides for one of the finest designed spas I have seen. The smartly designed complex provides a tropical setting with sufficient spacing and separation so that total comfort and relaxation are fostered.
Although Weiskopf competed at the highest levels of professional golf - winning his lone major at The Open in '73 at Royal Troon -- his design emphasis has always been about creating layouts with versatility -- providing fun for the widest range of players. Kukui'ula clearly allows sufficient elasticity for nearly all handicap types to negotiate the terrain. There's a good bit of elevation change throughout the 216 acres set aside for the golf course but nothing onerous that forces players to play one particular way.
The first four holes are there to get the cobwebs off your swing -- it's at the par-4 5th where the challenges start to intensify. The hole climbs steadily uphill to a green that fits naturally into the setting. The 6th plunges downhill and again consistent shot execution is called upon.
Fairway widths are quite generous -- partly to handle the blowing trade winds which can be strong at times.
The true essence of Kukui'ula commences with the final 5 holes and starts with the downhill short par-4 14th -- driveable for the strongest of players. When you stand on the tee you are mesmerized by the shimmering Pacific Ocean which provides a backdrop of alluring beauty. Weiskopf smartly included a series of bunkers and the green appears to be even smaller when engulfed by the sand.
The 15th and 16th are both long par-4's and require two very strong shots to get near both greens -- especially when encountering the prevailing trade winds. The par-3 17th is a functional short hole before the finale - a risk-and-reward par-5 -- giving you one final shot in securing a low number before the round concludes.
Kukui'ula has seaside paspalum as its turf type and it provides fine coverage. The bounce of the ball is better than most other times I have played on it but the course is not by any real definition "fast and firm."
An interesting side element at Kukui'ula is the provision in which a full-time resident of Kaua'i can play the course for just $35 providing they can present two forms of ID on the first visit – Hawaii driver's license and voter registration card or income tax form that confirms residence on Kaua'i full-time. There are 4 tee times (16 players) a day beginning at noon for $35 a round. The residents call in to make their tee time a week in advance with a lottery type drawing, but the majority of requests are confirmed for the requested day. Not a bad thing to consider if moving to Kaua'i full time is doable.
by M. James Ward