Kauai Lagoons Golf Club, Kiele Course

March 3, 2008 1:36:51 PM PST
If golf never tested our patience, it would be hardly worth playing. Golf raises hopes and then dropkicks them. Just wait a hole or two---or maybe a day. But, you know that. And, you also know the mystification of splendid golf on a front nine, followed by horrendous shots on the back. We're talking 36-45, the numbers on my cart after my first time around the Kiele Course at Kauai Lagoons Golf Club.


That's like picking up your prom date in a limo, and discovering she's a blow-up doll.

Score does not matter (of course), but after the round, I craved liquid consolation, hence my hurried descent along a narrow walkway to the massive pool and bar at the Kauai Marriott Resort and Beach Club, which is affiliated with the course. About half way down, a Hawaiian gentleman blocked my path. He juggled a tripod, an amplifier, a tripod, and a speaker. Clearly, he would be performing that evening.

"You're hoofin' just to play the guitar," I quipped.

"Uh huh. See if you can slide around."

"No sweat. I can wait."

But, when the man stepped aside, I moved on, quietly cursing Jack Nicklaus for deigning to design golf courses. I mean that in a nice way, and with all due respect. I like Jack's designs. If you've played his other works, you'll recognize recurring themes. He like laying out a view of the hole from a tee box. He understands the concept of strategic bunkering. He defends greens with water and sand.

And so, Kiele.

On the front nine, Kiele's 219/213/176/74 yard, par three, 5th, offers your first real test of nerve. From all but the shortest tee, you'll hit across a forest of mango trees to a broad, two-tiered green that appears to rise, like an island, from the jungle. With the trade wind blowing from behind, use at least one less club, and remember that the hole does not play as long as it looks.

The 519/507/496/403 yard, par five, 6th, demands another daunting carry of 172 yards from the blue tees. For your second, the hole takes a hard right and becomes fairly simple. Right-handed golfers should hit a cut from the tee if they can. With a good bounce, it is possible to hit this green in two shots without incurring substantial risk.

It is Kiele's back nine, however, that creates lasting memories. As on other Nicklaus Signature courses, it finishes with several in-your-face challenges, testing a player's brain, brawn, nerve, and patience.

We're told that after Kiele's completion in 1987, Nicklaus liked the design so much that he made only one change---adding a back tee to the 207/188/162/126 yard, par three, 13th You know this hole. It is famous, and regularly included on the list of Hawaii's best holes. Golfers pose on a cliff, staring stare in awe at the daunting prospect before them---a shot through the void and across a frothing, gaping gulf to a green that, from the blues, looks about as big as a goldfish bowl in a carnival. The 13th conjures memories of the 16th at Cypress, or the second shot on the 8th at Pebble Beach, which happens to be one of his favorite shots in golf. Perhaps it provided some of his inspiration, here.

From the blue tees, I hooked my six iron into a water hazard also known as the Pacific Ocean. My second was almost perfect, but alas, it meant nothing. I'd already declared intentions to hit from the drop area, and made a double-bogey.

One wheel off. Now the rest, because Mr. Nicklaus took me to school the few holes as I methodically blew a previously perfect round. It's his style, you know. As at Nicklaus North in Whistler, for instance, he strokes a golfer's ego, and then cold cocks them into silly, punch drunk protoplasm.

Your muted agony may reach a psychological crescendo at Kiele's signature hole, the 330/330/279/255 yard, par four 16th. "Jack, you're taunting us," I jested on the tee. The 16th requires an uncharacteristic (for Nicklaus) blind tee shot into a narrowing, downhill, fairway which funnels balls left and down to the green for the last 100 yards. If you're going by the book, knock a mid-iron to the right side of the fairway. I hooked that shot, too, naturally--- over the cliff and into the surf below. If you're bold, hit a fairway metal or driver because, with the roll, you may reach the green. Straight is good. And, if you hook it, at least you're closer to the hole, leaving a decent chance for par. Now, one other hint. When hitting into the green, experienced players aim right and a bit short, bouncing their balls into the hillside, and letting them roll down. This is a prudent play because balls landing on the green routinely roll off the back into oblivion.

Before leaving, look back and appreciate the small green perched on a lava cliff, overlooking a lighthouse and inviting bay filled with golf balls.

Now to the 171/147/130/111 yard, par three, 17th, which requires a forced carry over a large lagoon and a bunker. Use at least half a club more than you need. Just hit the green. Better to land long than short. Jack finishes with the 431/403/361/325 yard, par four 18th. This hole requires a long, straight drive to a fairway guarded by a lagoon on the right and beyond. The second shot will test your guts, gumption, and skill, as you play into an island green, essentially. Had my drive not missed the fairway, and my first two approaches not splashed, I would have made par.

"You need to see that course at least one time before beating it," I told my playing partner at dinner. At that moment, we were enjoying a performance by the very same guitar player who had blocked my way, earlier. When he transitioned smoothly from a Hawaiian standard into an instrumental version of Peter Frampton's Penny For Your Thoughts, he won me over. I fed his tip jar, motioned a big thumbs-up, and, the next day, hummed that tune through my revenge round.

Let the record show---I blistered that back nine.

And now the kicker, because when packing after the round, that guitar player appeared, again. He's a maintenance man at the course. We shook hands.

"Dude, your tune put me in a good frame of mine all day."


"No, thank you."

For the record, his name is Lourn R. Hess, and the guy can ring a guitar. I sincerely that, as preparation for the Kiele course, you look for him by the pool at the Marriott.

Can't hurt.