Puakea Golf Club began its life as a nine-hole golf course, but critical acclaim and commercial success drove ownership to bring back designer Robin Nelson to add a second nine during 2003.
The course plays over what was once a sugar plantation on the island of Kauai, with remnants of its former use still in sight. Your eyes will be more attracted to the natural beauty of the holes in front of you, however. To one side, you’ll be treated to views of the blue Pacific from various points across the park, while the volcanic mountains that created the island will almost always be evident on the other side.
The holes themselves will not quite get down to the ocean, however there are still heroic shots to be had, include par threes that cross jungle valleys and water hazards. Where there aren’t natural hazards to cross, Nelson added an abundance of bunkers, large and small. Although the walk won’t be easy due to occasionally lengthy trips between holes, Puakea is still relatively playable, coming in at less than 7,000 yards.
Unfortunately, Puakea has remained closed since the onset of COVID-19, however has not yet made any suggestions that the move is permanent.
So much of Hawaii golf is based on the self-created hype from the constant bombardment of marketing messages from the big time resorts. Few actually deliver. And, candidly, one of the really interesting surprises comes from the public course Puakea.
Although there's been comment on the first five holes being adequate -- I really enjoyed the par-4 3rd with the way the water pushes right up to the putting surface. When the pin is cut on the left side the slightest pull will make a quick splash and watery death.
The holes that follow for the bulk of the course have the benefit in being on more hilly terrain and blend nicely into what Mother Nature originally provided. Credit architect Robin Nelson in fashioning a range of fun holes and, at the same time, keeping playability front and center so long as one chooses the appropriate tee box.
Puakea gets little attention because it doesn't have a mega marketing amplifying budget. But, the locals know full well on the quality golf found there. When going to Kauai be sure to keep a time slot open and check it out.
M. James Ward
Puakea Golf Club is a public access golf course in Lihue on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. The course was originally built as a 9-hole facility on an old sugar cane plantation just 2 miles from Lihue airport.
In 2003 the course re opened after a major makeover from noted architect Robin Nelson. Nelson made full use of the terrain to craft an entertaining 18 holes of golf.
After a quite opening few holes through a housing estate the course heads into tropical jungle with significant elevation changes and water hazards featuring and all with a magnificent mountain backdrop.
It is quite a dramatic course from hole 6 onward.
Puakea is a quality course in a memorable setting.
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
One of the most underrated golf courses in Hawaii. The first few holes provide a straight ahead warmup for the great golf to come. Great mountain views, jungle encroaching on several holes and great use of bunkering and approach shots makes Puakea a great gem of a course on Kuaui.