Before the economy tanked, my favorite golf getaway spots were also the most expensive golf getaway spots in the land: Las Vegas, Hawaii, Scottsdale, Ariz. Prices have declined, but there still are many ways to drop $200 or more — in some instances way more — on a round of golf.
Fear not. On a recent trip to one of those faves, the Hawaiian Islands, and Kauai in particular, my wife, Terri, and I took it upon ourselves to find good golf that is not expensive golf. We are pleased to report that, no, you don't have to sell your kids to play golf in Kauai. Heck, you can even include them.
Kukuiolono Park and Golf Course
The word: The greatest cheap golf experience on Kauai — maybe anywhere.
The freight: A buck a hole, so for $9 you're good for the entire day. Yep, give 'em a 10 and they give you change, play until your legs give out or you run out of balls. Another $9 for a cart, per nine played; schlep your clubs, save money, lose weight.
The back story: A sugar magnate donated the course and park in 1919 to the good people of Kauai. Pop by his grave by hole No. 8 and say thanks. If your traveling compadre doesn't golf, many folks visit the park to walk, jog or check out the gardens.
The course: Mother Nature provides most of the water, which isn't much, but they water the greens — and who doesn't like fast-running dry fairways that make us feel like Bubba Watson? The shoulders are broad, and greens tend to be on the small side. The whole thing sits on a promontory with awesome views of Waimea and Niihau to the west and Poipu to the east.
Wailua Golf Course
The word: Muni golf, as owned by Kauai County. Easy on the wallet. Real golf. Couple of passes by the crashing surf.
The freight: $48-$60; half-price after 2 p.m. $20 flat-rate for a cart. (Show up before 1 p.m. and you may have the place to yourself before the deal birds flock in.)
The back story: For many years this was one of the nation's most acclaimed public courses and hosted several United States Golf Assn. events. Public budgets being what they are, something had to give, so the place isn't as buttoned-down as it once was. Apparently the county can't land a concessionaire to sling burgers and brews.
The course: Those are facts, not a diss. Wailua is the island course visitors play as frequently as the Wailua-loving locals do. Thoughtful doglegging, a surprising amount of elevation on the back, sweet greens, an all-Hawaii par 3 in No. 17 that plays down to the water's edge, trade winds; what else is needed?
Puakea Golf Course
The word: High-value, high-quality Garden Island golf. (Have the grill's ahi poke wrap.)
The freight: Peak rate is $99, including cart, to as low as $59 in midafternoon. Last summer we caught an advertised rate of $79 for morning play.
The back story: This course was under construction when Hurricane Iniki slammed through in '92. Puakea finally opened in 1997 with 10 holes. Six years later eight more holes were added.
The course: This is the lush, tropical golf you would expect, and you get long-range views of Mr. Big Blue Pacific and gorgeous frames throughout of the emerald mountains. Don't let the topography of the holes near the clubhouse fool you. Once this White Blossom (puakea in Hawaiian) unfurls, it dips and dives and twists with the best of 'em, and at a fraction of the cost; being mauka, or toward the mountains, has its advantages.
Kiahuna Golf Club
The word: The $10 rate for an accompanied junior puts some big family bang into this sunny south shore course.
The freight: $75-$95, cart included. Check for deals when you arrive.
The back story: This site was popular before the advent of golf, as shown by the native and European-era archaeological ruins incorporated into the course. The tenant of note is a local named Joe, whose eponymous Joe's on the Green serves belly-filling island-inspired plates for breakfast and happy hour as well as drinks and live music post-round; dinner too.
The course: Kiahuna appears to have settled into its skin and dropped its prices accordingly, becoming a fun, playable, value-leaning inland course with ocean views in many spots. The back nine is particularly strong, but the entire course gets credit for challenging and varied par 3s and great use of short, swervy par 4s.
Kauai Mini Golf & Botanical Gardens
The word: Putt-putt golf meets arboretum meets history lesson.
The freight: $18; $10 for ages 5 to 10 and free for 4 and younger.
The back story: Once slated for retail commercial development, this jungle-framed piece of the north shore became a community park, family gathering place and an intriguing miniature golf course.
The course: It's putt-putt. The 18 "holes" of waterway and lava "outcroppings" and hazards galore are set within a tableau of gardens that tells the story of the islands' flora from indigenous plants to Polynesian introductions to the arrival of the world, and how those peoples and plants affected Hawaii's natural and human development. Neat stuff, even if your wife beats you by seven strokes.
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