For the past five million years Kauai has been passionately ravaged by nature, shaped, sculpted, and chiseled into an infectiously beautiful island. The allure of this island’s beauty has enticed the world’s most esteemed golf architects to transform the “Garden Island” into “Golf’s Emerald Jewel.” (Opening photo: Makai Golf Course, 3rd hole.)
This rare jewel is naturally blessed with verdant tropical foliage, lush rain forests, spectacular waterfalls, and rainbow covered coastlines that take your breath away. But it’s the elegance, brilliance, and architectural mastery of Kaua’i’s golf courses that made my heart race. Through an expenditure of millions of dollars in renovating their top courses, Kaua’i’ has created the quintessential golf experience. It’s visually astounding, emotionally thrilling, athletically challenging and deeply rewarding. The game of golf becomes fifth dimensional in Kaua’i! It is a regal pleasure, the seduction of paradise.
Golf can be a game of battling your inner demons. It’s learning how to maintain concentration under pressure. It’s mastering how to avoid the mental and physical tensions that will sabotage any shot. It doesn’t matter if it’s a simple two foot putt or a bunker seeking tee shot. When you play golf, you’re always contending with that “nagging inner voice” that says, “How can I keep from messing up this next shot?”
Hole 7 — Par 3 is a temptress. The championship tee box is perched on a cliff overlooking the serene Hanalei Bay and blue waters of the Pacific Ocean. I loved the feeling of being on top of the world. But the trajectory to the green was exceptionally frightening. My professional partner for the day, Doug Sutter, didn’t seem phased. He teed up his ball. His back swing arced to perfection. At the end of his back swing I noticed that the focus of his eyes remained directly on the back edge of the golf ball, As his hips rotated towards the green, he kept his upper body totally passive and his head still. At the precise moment his club head struck the ball, the “thrack” of a well hit shot sent shock waves through me. He had to carry that shot 213 yards above the most rugged, terrifying cliffs I’d even seen. The ravine was 160 feet deep, with white swells churning against the black rocks at the bottom. The green was fronted only by a cliff opulently covered with red bougainvillea trees and tropical vegetation.
I watched his ball soar higher and higher. The white speck against the deep blue sky grew wings. Unfortunately the green below was surrounded by the magnetic pull of several dazzling white bunkers. Did Doug’s ball have a protected force field around it? The surreal view of the mountains meeting the white tipped waves of the ocean was nothing compared to the aerial stunt his Nike ball performed. Overcoming the beastly odds of nature and Bobbie Jones Jr.’s architectural golf mastery, his ball flew over the bunkers, hit the green and gracefully rolled two inches from the cup. This course deserves it’s rating as one of the top five in National Geographic Traveler!
The mischievous Menehunes (Hawaiian Leprechauns) of the Makai Golf Course were everywhere that day. The rain intermittently poured down in liquid sunshine for exactly 52 seconds at a time. Rainbows appeared out of nowhere. On the 8th hole of the course, an attractive blond haired gentleman with an impish smile, blue golf hat, burgundy collared shirt and confident presence, introduced himself to us as Bobbie Trent Jones Jr. With great pride, he volunteered to give us some pointers about the design of his course.
I found Mr. Jones to be an artistically astounding man, gifted with a passion for golf, storytelling, politics, and poetry and, designing golf courses. Delighted to ride in the golf cart and golf with the man that designed those brilliant white bunkers, and terrifying tee shots, I asked him what was the most important part of designing a course.
He gave me a thoughtful smile and told me without hesitation that a “Good golf design possess an overall mood or rhythm that engenders feelings of anticipation, mixed with nostalgia in most players when they reflect on the course. The architect produces this effect in a fashion similar to the way in which a great composer creates a symphony. Each hole is deftly adapted to the site’s natural attributes. A great course also has balance, which derives from the melding, in a pleasant order, of holes of varying degrees of difficulty. For me the hallmark of a great course resides in a golfer’s ability to remember and visualize all the holes after playing the course once.”
Mr. Jones has succeeded in making the Makai Golf Course great! I can close my eyes right now and visualize every bunker, tee shot, and breathtaking scenery from that day.
How can it get any better than this, I wondered as I walked into the lobby of The St. Regis Princeville Resort? As if on cue, the island spirit of Ahupua, (living in balance with nature) greeted me in full force, as I entered the grand lobby and looked up at the 4,000 pieces of glittering Murano glass that sparkled from the ceiling chandelier.
The vision echoed the stunning brilliance of the Na Molokam Mountain waterfall. But it was the deep booming voice of a tall, dark handsome man with a crisp white linen shirt that showered me with the “Aloha” welcome. He had a warmth and elegance that made me feel the serene luxury and privilege of being their guest. Kaleo Guerrero introduced himself as my private butler. He welcomed me to the resort as if I was the new owner. I found myself mesmerized by the residential feel of the property with luxurious sofas, a coffered ceiling of natural woven raffia, palm wood floors, and soaring glass panels that opened to the expansive views of the sea. The hotel is built into the cliffs above Hanalei Bay. The views of the mountains, including Makana, the landmark peak immortalized as the mysterious Bali Hai Island in the film “South Pacific” is mystically enchanting.
I looked out across the expansive lobby and watched a light gray mist encapsulate the deep green vegetation of the coast line. A mysterious play of light filtered through the droplets of rain. The sun peeked in and out of the clouds. And then the light show began. A double rainbow emerged between the shore lines and arced across the sky. The colors radiated and faded three or four times, with at least eight different rainbow images painting the sky with blues, purples, pinks, oranges, and yellows. Kaleo smiled at me and invited me to stand on the lanai for a better viewing. As I walked to the edge of the patio, the shimmering end of the last rainbow fell upon my sandaled feet. Was it Princeville’s majestic beauty, the luxurious services and amenities of the iconic St. Regis, or the regal presence of Kaleo that prized me as the pot of gold? Or perhaps it would be the new Halele’a Spa or the Kaua’i Grill by the world renowned chef Jean-Gearge Vongerichten that would show me the treasures of sophisticated island luxury and serene relaxation.
The resort had just completed a multi-million dollar renovation of their 252 guest rooms. My room was one of the 51 premium ocean view suites complete with butler service. I have never experienced the supreme luxury of having my own butler. It was beyond my wildest imaginings. My French press coffee was delivered at the appointed time. My bags were unpacked and my wardrobe meticulously hung in the oversized closet, color coordinated and pristinely pressed. My socks and bathing suits never looked so happy in a dresser drawer! They say “God is in the details”. If this is true, the St. Regis is God’s mansion.
My Junior Suite was larger than my first studio apartment in Chicago. I opened the six foot wooden shuttered windows, sat on my 12 foot window seat, sipping my fresh coffee (delivered by you know who) and watched the sun sparkled waves inviting me to come out and play. But how could I leave this amazing room? The sun burst mirror gleamed over the king size bed. The earth tone woven head board was the crown for the crisp white duvet bedding embroidered Hawaiian green Ti leaves. It gave the room warmth and sophistication.
This suite was complete with a LG wide screen television; surround sound speakers with IPOD station, mini bar, and gold L shaped conversational sofa, original artwork and contemporary decor. I could curl up and read for days, lounge, nap, or entertain my best friends.
The “Bath Suite” was an opulent invitation for relaxation. It included a long marble top vanity with two sinks and an oversized Jacuzzi tub, rain shower, and an expansive glass window looking out at the ocean, electronically controlled for my ocean view bathing or private champagne toasting.
Everything at the St. Regis accentuates a sense of relaxed yet refined island luxury. When it came time to leave, my butler suggested I spend my last few hours at the beach sitting under the thatched roof cabana relaxing. She offered to do my packing for me. At first I was hesitant. I never had the luxury of someone packing me for a trip. But the beach looked so inviting and I longed to spend as much time languishing in the sunshine as I could, so I agreed. I had two and half more hours of Kauai’ magic because of this fantastic service. When I returned to my room, my bags were neatly in line ready for the valet to load them into the van. What was even more thrilling is that each of my treasured items was individually wrapped in tissue paper with a gold St. Regis sticker. When I arrived at my next destination, a wave of nostalgia overwhelmed me as I opened my neatly packed suitcase filled with St. Regis memories.