A Prince and a Saint

December 2009

Bobbing on a crowded tour boat at the base of true beauty, sitting next to family and new friends, surrounded by passing pods of dolphins and an occasional sea turtle, I notice everyone is pointing and whispering. We are in the presence of greatness. A single life, certainly my life, at the face of 1,000-foot lava cliffs, sea caves and waterfalls, seems insignificant.

Kauai's Na Pali Coast and the scenes at Hanalei Bay were a bonus for me. As a certified golf junkie, I flew to Honolulu, jumped another plane to the Lihue Airport and drove 45 minutes north on a two-lane highway mainly because I wanted to play the Prince Course and see the new St. Regis Princeville Resort.

The Prince Course, ranked No. 67 among America's 100 Greatest Golf Courses, is a Robert Trent Jones Jr. design. As I navigated a round that cost me $200 and three sleeves of balls, I was intimidated, frustrated and amazed that Jones was able to turn the terrain into a golf course. With its elevated tee boxes, small greens, smaller landing areas and trouble that I'd call "jungle," it wasn't long before I switched to the compact swing I reserve for tough layouts. Still, I shot 15 strokes above my average.

When a course has a 100 Greatest ranking and a big green fee, the 15th club in my bag is always expectation. I give the Prince birdies on the spectacular-scenery scorecard, but it didn't leave me with that I can't wait to get back to the first tee feeling. (Tip: Don't go back any farther than the 6,521-yard white tees.) The course wasn't in great shape, either. It's a struggle for Bermuda grass to stay grown-in that close to salt water, especially with so much rain.

Kauai Golf Guide

The neighboring 27-hole Makai Course, also a Jones Jr. design but with a different owner and management, just underwent a complete renovation and should reopen in early 2010. Jones and his staff switched to a more durable, salt-tolerant grass, reconfigured green complexes, rerouted cartpaths and reshaped bunkers. Some argue that the Makai is on more scenic property than the Prince. (The Makai was built first, in 1971, versus Prince in 1990, and is closer to the ocean.) My opinion: It's a nice resort-course complement to big brother Prince, which is a more difficult test and gets more national recognition. I'd suggest playing the Prince once or twice in a five-day stay and then playing more at the Makai if you want to maintain a sense of golf sanity.

The Makai Course is managed by Troon Golf and overseen by Cornerstone Real Estate Advisers, which spent a multi-million dollars renovating the adjoining Princeville Resort. Cut into the cliff overlooking Hanalei Bay, Princeville was suffering from age and mildew after years of ocean exposure. It reopened Oct. 1 as a St. Regis, the high-end of Starwood's multitiered properties. "I've been here for three openings of this resort," says Stephanie Kaluahine Reid, its public relations director. "The exterior footprint is the same, but as a Hawaiian I relate to this vision of the resort the best."

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