KOLOA, Hawaii — The beauty of Poipu Bay Golf Course is that you can experience the golf course’s beauty before hitting the first tee shot.
In fact, it is highly recommended that you do.
My family took the first option, a hike, without even knowing it existed. On our first day in Kauai, we wanted to shake off a long day of travel with a hearty walk. We noticed there was a path that started at the edge of the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa and we were off.
Like most things in Kauai, the views into the Pacific Ocean were staggering. As the walk took shape, we noticed golf holes in the distance. They were part of Poipu Bay, where we were playing the next day.
Chad Dusenberry, Poipu Bay’s head professional, said we were walking on the Heritage Trail. And like us, most golfers “stumble on it.”
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The views of the jagged rock on some of the ascending cliffs gave a unique perspective of the Poipu Bay holes. This perspective was from the ocean side. The trail then moves to the Pacific-hugging 14th, 15th, 16th, and 17th holes. Surveying those holes from the path, it fueled our anticipation even more.
The Heritage Trail is an easy to moderate 3.7-mile hike. However, for those who want a less strenuous pre-round excursion, Poipu Bay has a sunset tour ($50 fee). You can do a self-guided trek of the course in a golf cart, eventually reaching the 15th hole for the grand finale: A spectacular Hawaiian sunset.
Needless to say, you don’t have to be a golfer to enjoy that facet of Poipu Bay.
Actually playing Poipu Bay lives up to the previews. From 1994-2006, the course hosted the PGA Grand Slam of Golf, the annual fall event featuring the winners of that year’s majors. Not surprisingly, Tiger Woods won seven times at Poipu. Dusenberry takes pride in noting that when the PGA moved the event to Bermuda in 2007, Woods did not play that year.
“Tiger showed up every year when it was here,” Dusenberry said. “We like to think that speaks volumes of what he thought of Poipu Bay.”
Phil Mickelson shot a course-record 59 in winning in 2004. With wide fairways, the course was vulnerable to the pros if the wind was down. Currently, the back tees play to 7,123 yards, with a course rating of 73.9 and slope of 134.
Dusenberry, though, says it is a rare day when the wind isn’t blowing. Usually the breezes are in the 10 to 15 miles per hour range.
“You’re looking at one- to two-club winds for most shots, and even days with three-club winds,” Dusenberry said.
Dusenberry says people have a tendency to underestimate the course when they see several sub-400-yard par 4s on the scorecard.
“They think those holes are short until they see the wind conditions out here,” Dusenberry said.
With four sets of tees, the course is playable for all levels. The front nine features a nice mix of holes with some terrific mountain views. No. 2, a 524-yard par 5, plays uphill into the wind with a well-guarded green. At 179 yards, the par-3 seventh is short, but challenging with water to the right of the green.
Golfers should try to get their prime scoring done in the opening holes, because for most players, the par-4 eighth is where the course begins. Here, the course turns back into the wind, presenting some of Poipu Bay’s most difficult and scenic holes. They eventually lead to the ocean holes on the back nine.
The highlight, Dusenberry says, is the par-4 15th. The view of the Pacific is amazing. An elevated tee box, along with strong downwind conditions, makes it bombs away on the 427-yard hole.
The par-3 17th also is strong, and the par-5 18th, with a pond guarding the green, provides a good challenge for the finishing hole.
Dusenberry adds there is another unique aspect to Poipu Bay.
“There are no (housing) developments on the course,” he said. “Not many golf courses in Hawaii can say that. You turn one way, and there’s the mountains. The other way, and there’s the ocean.”
Indeed, the views from Poipu Bay are memorable, whether you’re playing, hiking, or simply enjoying a sunset.
Ed Sherman is the former golf writer for the Chicago Tribune. Currently, he is co-host of a Saturday morning golf show, The Scorecard, on WSCR in Chicago. Ed lives in Highland Park, Ill.