Cruising the Fairways
By TOBY SALTZMAN
KAUAI, HAWAII -- The sun was rising as we warmed up at Kauai's
Kiele Lagoons -- a dazzling golf course where sculpted marble beasts
preside over tees banked by blossoming frangipani and tulip trees.
Fairways roll through rain forests, descend into valleys framed
by purple mountains, and meander toward cliffs jutting above turquoise
seas. Kauai, however, is the rainiest place on Earth, so the weather
was bound to kick in. Sunny skies over the ninth hole turned drizzly
grey by the 10th. Two holes later, a rainbow arched over blue Nawiliwili
Bay. Gusty winds came into play, forcing us to punch low shots over
roughs and send bump and run shots onto undulating greens. Driving
off the 16th tee was breathtaking: It juts above crashing waves,
over a volcanic gulch and onto a skinny fairway that slopes along
the coast to sea level, where a tiny green hugs an old lighthouse.
This was one of many spectacular vistas we experienced on a golf
cruise around the Hawaiian archipelago. Hawaii's diverse courses,
sculpted around wildly shifting topography, teem with visual thrills.
They hug seashores, straddle lava flows and wind up mountaintops.
But on our first day out, we also discovered that stray shots can
lead to trouble in paradise.
Golfers at heart, we booked this cruise because it promised prearranged
tee times at select courses, shuttle services, plus cart and club
rentals. The seven-day itinerary, looping from Honolulu's historic
Aloha Tower to five ports on four islands in the Hawaiian archipelago
-- Oahu, Kauai, Maui and Hawaii, the Big Island -- allowed for three
golf games interspersed with sightseeing. En route to Kauai, we
jogged around the top deck watching a school of playful dolphins
escort the ship, their shiny skins glistening in the sun.
The next day, still exhilarated by the Kiele Lagoons course, we
embarked on a helicopter tour of Mount Wai'ale'ale. We soared over
the razor-edged cliffs and palm-fringed beaches, deep canyons and
cascading waterfalls that were natural sets for the filming of South
Pacific, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Jurassic Park.
At dawn, we sailed into Maui. Circled by sugary white and jet-black
beaches -- and gorgeous golf courses -- Maui is also a hub of activity.
Lahaina, an old whaling port, once the capital of the Hawaiian kingdom,
buzzes with bistros and galleries, and the area off its shores is
a winter playground for humpback whales. Adventurous types rose
early to watch the sun rise over Haleakala, the world's largest
dormant volcano, then bicycled down its walls.
In search of a more level playground, we drove to Wailea. The challenging
Gold Course, a par-72 at 7,070 yards, turned out to be a strategist's
dream that rewards smart layups. The 11th was a sweet par three
cloistered by four bunkers. Besides rough gullies, hazards on the
Gold Course include large chunks of papohau -- remnants of ancient
lava rock walls built by the early settlers. Every hole has spectacular
views of Mount Haleakala rising 3,000 metres to the east, with the
blue Pacific in the west.
By dawn the next morning, the ship was in Hilo, the Big Island's
gateway to Volcanoes National Park. We traded our soft spikes for
track shoes and joined a group on a 11-kilometre hike around the
Kilauea Caldera Crater. Heeding warnings about the park's fickle
climate, which can shift radically as you travel from steamy rain
forests to chilly summits to dry plateaus, we made sure to bring
layers of clothes, sturdy shoes and loads of water. After following
the Crater Rim Trail through fragrant forests to vast swaths of
land devastated by lava flows, we descended through the rain forest,
dense with tree ferns, to the crater's parched floor. Though the
view was awesome looking up, we spent most of our time watching
our steps, straddling fissures and circumventing plumes of steam
that hissed up from the crusty lava.
That night, we stood on deck listening to legends about Pele, Goddess
of the Volcano, while sailing by the rare spectacle of the Pu'u
Huluhulu volcano spewing its molten lava into the sea. Early again
next morning, we waited to come ashore while the ship was anchored
off the Big Island's Kona coast. This section of the island boasts
Hawaii's best weather, best-preserved Hawaiian temple, the world's
clearest astronomical vantage from the Mauna Kea Observatory and
arguably the world's best beach at Hapuna Bay -- a long, wide arc
of white sand.
Most courses on the Big Island are chiselled and gouged out of
nature's harshest concoction: 5,000-year-old lava fields, scrubby
savanna, damp rain forests and parched deserts. Golfing here pitches
you against daunting elements. You must hit strong over ocean carries,
gulches of crusty lava and mangled scrub. To choose a course was
tough. Mauna Kea is a ruggedly undulating, sea-level coastal course
crafted by Robert Trent Jones with tight fairways lined by trees,
scrub and clefts of crusty lava. The nearby Hapuna Course, designed
by Arnold Palmer and Ed Seay with narrow, Scottish-links-style fairways,
runs 30 to 180 metres higher in elevation through a lunar landscape,
dubbed a dryland forest, scattered with wheat-coloured grasses and
shrubs that skirt desert dunes. Both championship courses offer
views of the ocean melting into the sky. But time was tight so plying
Kona's nearby Mauka Course made more sense.
By the second hole, we were gritting our teeth. Mauka, which means
mountain, wends up and around a steep, undulating slope, past wide
ponds and lava gulches, before winding back down to sea level. We
learned quickly that bouncing balls roll down to the fairway below.
Never mind. For all our nerve-racking flubs, we found golf heaven
here at the top of the world, playing high in the sky on the green
crest of the mountain. At this altitude, only the birds heard me
cheer when I parred the 12th and 13th holes.
When the ship returned to Honolulu, we took a day room at the Royal
Hawaiian and rushed down to the beach. The sand was warm, the ocean
shimmering silver and blue. After concentrating on long drives,
low punch shots, bump and runs and tricky putts, we needed a rest.
If you go
Encore Cruises offers Hawaii golf cruises priced in Canadian
dollars. For more information, contact a travel agent.
Kauai Lagoons Golf Club: 3351 Hoolaulea Way, Lihue, Hawaii;
phone: (800) 634-6400; Web: http://www.kauailagoonsgolf.com.
Wailea Golf Club: 100 Wailea Golf Club Dr., Wailea, Hawaii;
phone: (888) 328-6284 or (808) 875-7450; Web: http://www.waileagolf.com.
Mauna Kea Golf Course: 62-100 Mauna Kea Beach Dr., Kohala
Coast, Hawaii; phone: (808) 882-7222 or (800) 882-6060; Web: http://www.maunakeabeachhotel.com.
Hapuna Golf Course: 62-100 Kauna'oa Dr., Kohala Coast, Hawaii;
phone: (808) 880-1111 or (800) 882-6060; Web: http://www.hapunabeachprincehotel.com.
Kona Country Club (Mauka Course): 78-70 Alii Dr., Kailua
Kona, Hawaii; phone: (808) 322-2595. For more information on Hawaii
golf courses, visit http://www.gohawaii.com
or call (800) 464 2924