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Mokihana, sister course to Ki'ele, has classic style

Rebecca LarsenBy Rebecca Larsen,

LIHU'E, Kauai, Hawaii -- Most visitors to Kauai Lagoons, the golf club located near the Marriott Kauai Resort, yearn to play the star attraction, the Ki'ele Course, because of its superb water views.

After all, there are seaside shots to attempt at Ki'ele that will remind you of the breathtaking landscape of Pebble Beach.

But there's another course at the Lagoons and that second-choice course -- Mokihana -- has its own classic beauty with imposing mountain backdrops as well as a very distinct personality. If you play Ki'ele, you should play Mokihana as well to get a more complete picture of golf on the garden island.

Mokihana bills itself as a links course and it probably comes closer to the real definition of the word "links" than most courses that sell themselves that way. It is indeed built on a strip of land that lies between the sea and farmland - the way they did it back in the good old days in Scotland. It's also right on top of the busy Kauai airport. There's some airplane noise, but the location also makes Mokihana a great spot to play before you take off for the mainland.

Both Mokihana and Ki'ele were designed by Jack Nicklaus. Ki'ele opened first in 1988; Mokihana in 1989. Mokihana is named in honor of a purple flower and green berry that grows in Kauai.

When Mokihana opened, Nicklaus characterized it as "a softer, more gentle course" than its magnificent twin Ki'ele. "Whenever possible, we have tried to keep bunkers less severe, water a bit more out of play, and features with softer slopes," Nicklaus said.

Kenneth Kimura, operations manager for Kauai Lagoons, told TravelGolf, "It's more user friendly, more of a fun golf course. The fairways are wide open; there are not as many forced carries, but it can be challenging from the back tees. And the wind can come up here."

Although you catch some glimpses of the ocean at Mokihana, you're not going to drop your ball in the Pacific. The tests are there, though, in the sprawling red-sand bunkers and the lush lagoons of this course. But as in many links courses, there is also the pleasure at Mokihana of being able to roll your ball onto the green.

A hole that is everyone's favorite, including Kimura's, is No. 4, where the entire left side of the fairway on this sharp dogleg left par-5 (508 yards from the back tees and 411 from the forward) is one giant bunker. As daunting as that sea of sand might be, you can see the trouble all the way and an accurate drive placed on the right can reward you with a birdie or even an eagle.

No. 11 is an interesting par-3 (203 yards from the back and 132 from the forward) with more of those serious bunkers around the green. Watch out for the three big, twisted trees in back of the green as well.

The par-3 No. 15 (155 yards from the back tees and 100 from the forward) has a lagoon to drive across, and for those hitting from the back tees there's danger that the wind will blow your ball into the water.

Conditions on the Mokihana Course are just as immaculate as they are on Ki'ele, the showpiece course. The real downer here is the clubhouse, which looks out on a spectacular, jungle-landscaped lagoon, but is shabby and dated and not worthy of the courses it serves.

The golf club's longtime owner, Shinwa Golf Group of Japan, has had some financial difficulties and was forced to sell Kauai Lagoons recently.

On Oct. 1, 2003, the new owners, Golf BC of Vancouver and Alexander & Baldwin, Hawaii's fifth largest private landowner, took over Kauai Lagoons, plus a nearby undeveloped hotel site. (Also part of the deal were three golf courses and 270 acres of land at the Wailea Resort on Maui.)

"We just met with top management," said Kimura of Kauai Lagoons, "and we don 't anticipate any major changes. We are hopeful that they will complete development of the property in future."

Where to stay

About a half-mile down the road from Kauai Lagoons is the Kauai Marriott Hotel, under different management and ownership than the golf courses. Just like the golf club, it's located in Lihu'e, one of the largest towns on the island and also is the location of the airport.

In contrast with the golf club, Marriott poured $28 million into renovating this hotel in the 1990s. There are more than 300 rooms and more than 200 timeshare units. The focus of the hotel is a central arboretum with ponds, waterfalls, rare birds and a fabulous plant collection. The Marriott claims to have the largest swimming pool in Hawaii with 26,000 square feet lined with 1.8 million mosaic tiles. Kalapaki Beach is nearby.

Rooms range from $200 to $400 in price. Call (808)-245-5050 or (800) 220-2925.

To really get a feel for Kauai, stay in another location on the island for a few days, perhaps in one of the other main regions -- like Po'ipu Bay, the driest and sunniest area, or Hanalei Bay, on the wet side of the island. The condo, bed and breakfast, resort and motel options are endless in both places.

Where to dine

Try Duke's Canoe Club inside the Kauai Marriott, part of a restaurant chain dedicated to Hawaii's surf star Duke Kahanamoku. Phone: (808) 245-5050. But in Lihu'e, restaurants are everywhere near Kalapaki Beach, including JJ's Broiler (808-246-4422) in the Anchor Cove, a place that serves steak and seafood, and Café Portofino (808-245-2121), a gourmet Italian restaurant overlooking the beach.

Other places to play

Also in Lihu'e is Puakea Golf Course at 4150 Nuhou St. This course, designed by architect Robin Nelson, was just completed in July 2003 and has a dramatic layout sprawling over what was once a Kauai sugar plantation. Phone: (866) 773-5554 or (808) 245-8756.

Off course

On the Kaumu'ali'i Highway between the town of Lihu'e and the campus of Kauai Community College, you'll find the Kilohana Estate, a former sugar plantation, now converted into a paradise for tourists. The main house of the plantation, known as Kilohana Estate, has been converted into art galleries and stores. There is also an award winning restaurant, Gaylord's, named after Gaylord Wilcox, who owned the plantation and who belonged to a prominent missionary family on Kauai. Carriage rides, sugar cane tours and strolls through fabulous gardens are available. Call (808) 245-9593 for more information.


Mokihana Course at Kauai Lagoons

Conditions: 4.4
Value: 4.3
Service: 3.8
Design: 3.5
Overall: 4.0

Fast Fact

Kauai Lagoons is no more than five minutes from the Kauai Airport, making the club a great place to stop off for a final round before catching a plane to another island or the mainland.

Rebecca Larsen is a former features and assistant features editor for the Marin Independent Journal, a medium-sized daily paper located north of San Francisco. She has also worked for the Milwaukee Journal and for a Chicago public relations firm. She has a bachelor's in journalism from Northwestern University and a master's from the University of California at Berkeley.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

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