The now defunct PGA Grand Slam of Golf end of season tournament was played between 1994 and 2006 at the Poipu Bay Golf Course in Koloa, near the most southerly point of the island of Kauai. Hosting the tournament in Hawaii allowed the event to be televised live at prime-time in the United States because of the time difference.
Tiger Woods won seven of the eight 4-man competitions that he participated in here – claiming first place in the event for five consecutive years, starting in 1998 – but his best 18-hole score of 64 was easily beaten by the amazing thirteen-under-par course record of 59 that Phil Mickelson posted in 2004.
Highlight holes include the 179-yard 7th (the shortest par three on the card, with a large pond protecting the right side of the putting surface), the 501-yard 16th (the longest par four on the course, played along the clifftops to an offset green that’s partially obscured on the left by an ancient rock wall), and the 550-yard 18th, where water protects the left side of the home green.
Poipu Bay is a resort course on the island of Kauai in Hawaii. Fair warning, Kauai is the wettest of the Hawaiian Islands. It rained every day we were there except one. Poipu Bay is a Robert Trent Jones design and other than the last 5 holes is rather pedestrian.
The front starts of with a welcoming par 4. If you have not played in Hawaii before you maybe wondering what is welcoming about a 400+ yard par 4? Answer, trade winds. Typically, the wind will be at your back and while there are fairway bunkers on both sides a decent drive will carry the one on the left to set up a relatively short iron. Also, if you have not played in Hawaii before, pay attention to the grain. Hammered putts into the grain won’t reach the hole and downgrain only needs to get rolling, especially if it is downwind. The 2nd is a dogleg right. Unreachable for most human beings as it is into the trade winds. The key to this hole is stay left on your first two shots as there are a gaggle of bunkers on the right. The 3rd is a tough par 3. Uphill and into the wind and measuring at over 200 yards par is a good score. The 380-yard par 4 4th does not look that tough on the card, but it is right into the tradewinds. While there is a crossbunker a decent tee shot will not be affected. Make sure you take an extra club on your approach.
The par 4 5th is a birdie opportunity. At only 355 yards the key is keeping your drive out of the fairway bunkers on both sides. Take an extra club as you are hitting into the trade winds. While the par 5 6th is the longest hole on the course it is also one of the easiest as we are now downwind. The key is to avoid both the fairway bunkers and greenside bunkers. The 7th is the shortest and is a typical Florida par 3. The 8th is another par 4 that one must avoid the fairway bunkers. See a trend here? The 9th is the number one handicap hole. Long and into the trade winds. Once again keep it between the fairway bunkers and take an extra club into the wind with a slightly elevated green. Be respectful, there is an ancient worship area that you should not enter.
Déjà vu, again, the 10th is eerily familiar to the 9th. The 11th is another Florida par 3. Aim a good ten yards left of your target line due to the wind. The 12th is a tough par 4 with a nice view of Mt Haupu. Long, into the wind to a green guarded by 4 bunkers. The 13th is a short par 4 and a birdie opportunity. Be cognizant of the water right, you may want to lay up a wee bit off the tee.
The fourteenth is only a 530-yard par five, but it plays real long as it is uphill and into the trade winds. The tee shot is blind. When I was there the winds were howling, I hit a good drive, a good five wood, another good five wood and I was still five yards short of the green. Favor the left side to avoid the large fairway bunker island on the right side. The 15th is a pretty hole, Pacific Ocean left and three bunkers right. It is over 400 yards but downhill and downwind. A decent drive should leave a wedge in your hands for a birdie opportunity. The 16th is the zenith of Poipu Bay. The 500-yard par 4 sixteenth hole is the signature hole and while long, it plays short; downhill and downwind from an elevated tee box. It is still a tough hole, slight dogleg left on a cliff with everything going hard left towards the ocean. I felt Dalyesque when I hit driver and an 8 iron to the green. It has the largest green on the course and is protected by three bunkers right and back and the ocean left. The long downhill par 3 17th provides great eye candy. The hole looks much tougher on the card. The 18th is a risk/reward par 5. Slight dogleg right with the green protected by a water hazard left. The further right you are in the fairway off the tee, the better your chances to get home in two and finish strong. A word of caution, in our group 2 ended up in the water and 2 hit the green, but did not hold. We all ended up bogeying.
Good not great, 15-17 scratch your itch, but I left feeling disappointed.
The golf course was designed by legendary architect Robert Trent Jones Jnr and opened for play in 1991, and occupies a rolling plateau wedged between the sea and the mountains.
The translation for Poipu is 'crashing waves', and when players hit the back nine the course plays true to name.
RTJ is a prolific and gifted designer, and obviously impressed the locals with his skills- he also designed nearby Kiahuna GC, Princeville Makai, and Princeville
Prince (currently closed)- that's four out of nine courses on the island designed by him- impressive!
From 1994 to 2006 Poipu Bay hosted the The Grand Slam of Golf tournament, an invitational event where the winners of the 4 majors each year gathered to play to a huge television audience for major bragging rights. With the lush tropical mountain backdrop, the colour of the bougainvillea, and the crashing of the waves offshore – Poipu Bay was a feast for sore eyes. Tiger Woods enjoyed the event prevailing on seven occasions!!
The course itself is nicely maintained and winds through the palm trees and strategically placed bunkers maintaining the interest without ever overwhelming you. Two of the par 3’s – the 7th and the 11th grab your attention with green side ponds and the ever-present breezes increasing the challenge. But it is the big finish that is really memorable and you can hear those crashing waves as you move through holes 13 & 14 to reach the coastline.
They are four big holes to finish- holes 15 & 16 are long par 4’s playing along the cliffs, 17 is a long and difficult par 3, and the closing hole is a par 5 with water very much in play. It is a grand finish.
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
The first review for Poipu Bay is quite accurate, both in terms of the description of the course holes and also the playability. I found it to be generous off the tee and the course conditions, despite the moisture this time of year, to be generally good. It does have a "resort" feel to the course and it's not hard to imagine the pros tearing this place up in benign conditions. It was mildly disappointing that despite being so close to the ocean the views and amount of holes playing on the coast were less than I had hoped. Service was excellent, practice facilities were strong, but pace of play was not great since it was the holiday week and crowded. Overall a good experience with a few memorable views from the holes on the back. I thought it was comparable to Makai in Princeville in terms of what they are offering but Makai had notably more views of the water and holes along the ocean.
The literal translation for Poipu means "crashing waves" and Poipu Bay -- designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr. -- certainly has provided major awareness of golf in Kaua'i after having served as host layout for the Grand Slam of Golf event played there between 1994 and 2006.
Phil Mickelson caused even more attention when firing a course record 59 -- in winning the 2004 event.
Poipu Bay has 85 bunkers scattered throughout the layout and is located on 210 acres of ocean front land and is really about two golf presentations. The first half of the holes is primarily interior and away from the water -- although ocean breezes can impact play no matter where you are at on the course.
The par-72 7,123 yard layout really comes to the forefront as you make your way into the final nine holes. The back nine features plenty of strategic holes where making the right decision at the tee can pay huge dividends. The 10th thru 14th holes play slightly away from the ocean with the 15th thru 17th holes take you to the edge -- where property meets coastline. You can hear the waves breaking onto the surf so keeping focus can be tough to do.
The par-4 16th is one of Hawaii's top holes. The 500+ yard par-4 demands a well-placed tee shot as the landing are gently turns left. Avoiding bunkers to the right is important but being equally sure not to be too aggressive down the left side where a rock wall lurks throughout the entire hole. The approach is no less daunting. The putting surfaces bends to the left hugging ever tightly to the rock wall previously mentioned. Even with the tradewinds helping -- the 16th can determine your entire round so pay heed at all times with execution. The putting surface is also quite large -- knowing where the pin is located can make a huge difference in avoiding three-putts or more. When the pin is cut in the deep far left side -- it takes nothing less than courageous shot to land nearby. Just a fantastic hole and one that needs to be played with an ultimate mixture of respect and courage.
At the par-3 17th, played from an elevated, at 225 yards is a daunting challenge. The more left one plays the greater the carry and demand becomes. If you bailout to the right you keep your ball in play but only add to the challenge with a testing recovery from that side. The 18th ends the round in grand fashion. A dog-leg right off the tee -- those able to play closest to that side will have an opportunity to reach the par-5 ending hole in two blows. Be mindful of the fronting water hazard that protects the target for the slightest mishit.
Poipu Bay is a mixed bag -- the outward nine is really uneventful from an architectural standpoint -- the inward half is where the player must bear down on just about every hole on that side. Being a resort layout -- Poipu Bay blends flexibility for different skill sets while still providing a few holes of exceptional note capable in testing the superior player.
by M. James Ward