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Tee it up on historic Kukuio'lono Golf Course, Kauai, Hawaii's most casual experience

Brandon TuckerBy Brandon Tucker,
Managing Editor
Kukuiolono Golf Course on Kauai - 6th green
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Kukuio'lono Golf Course sits high in the hills overlooking south Kauai. (Brandon Tucker/TravelGolf)

KALAHEO, Hawaii -- With high-end resort golf courses such as Poipu Bay, Makai Golf Club and Kauai Lagoons Golf Club, Kauai's resort golf scene is as good as it gets.

But what if you're in the mood for a more laid-back, basic golf experience?

There is a little place on Kauai for that, too: historic Kukuio'lono Golf Course.

After two previous Kauai golf trips, I decided I wouldn't fly home this time around without finding this mysterious little nine-holer in Kalaheo, a small town well off the coast that doesn't get much traffic from tourists.

On the way from Poipu, I passed Kukui'ula -- the new residential development and private, Tom Weiskopf-designed course on the way -- and headed into the hills, far from resort country, where modest housing, dense tropical forests, and small farms and shops line the landscape.

Eventually, just down the street from the main intersection in Kalaheo, the entrance to Kukuio'lono Park appeared: an old stone gate that's blackened over time. A small, shady road leads up the hillside until golfers appear, walking peaceful, open fairways.

Next to the parking lot is a full-length driving range (balls are served in old tin containers), which plays downhill towards the water, making for one of the island's most-scenic driving range backdrops. The pro shop is modest, with a walk-up counter to pay a rate of $9 walking (pull carts and golf carts are extra).

And yes, this is the rare Hawaii golf club that doesn't give locals a sweet ka'amaina deal while charging visitors more. The most touristy-looking golfer in the islands still pays just $9 at Kukuio'lono.

The golf course at Kukuio'lono: What to expect

The course rolls gently on firm, high ground through a mix of trees, open spaces and Japanese gardens. There are nine holes with three sets of tees to choose from, playing a maximum of 3,173 yards.

The tee boxes are bone dry and not very flat, the fairways and rough blend together, and wide-playing corridors are framed lightly by coconut trees. Despite being built back in the 1920s, it's still a decent test for today's golfers and equipment.

After a mellow par-4 first hole, the second hole plays 595 yards down wind, which puts to rest any notion this is a mere executive course.

Each hole is peaceful and presents some lovely backdrops, but the most scenic hole at Kukui'olono is the par-3 sixth, which demands a long carry over a ravine to a small green. Standing on the green, you can see for miles down over south Maui and begin to realize why this place has been preserved for so long. On the eighth, a missing white tee marker was replaced with an empty, 32 oz. plastic cup.

Like many of the best Hawaii golf courses, the final hole is downwind: a par 5 ripe for birdie with a good tee shot.

"You know the green fee is good for the day, right?" invited the woman who took my money about 90 minutes earlier as I made my way towards the parking lot after a final-hole birdie of my own. The suggestion sounded intriguing, but I had places to be. So I had a cold Coke in the clubhouse for $1.50 and drove off back to resort country with proof that a $9 golf course exists on Kauai.

Kukuio'lono Golf Course: The verdict

Kukio'lono is a bare-bones, local Hawaiian golf experience that's easy on the wallet and great for beginners who aren't ready for a full 18 holes at a more expensive course.

Check your resort golf expectations at the stone gate, stick your golf bag on a pull cart and walk a peaceful Kauai park with just enough of a golf test to keep you interested.

For the pleasure, while the fairways and rough is virtually indiscernible, the small greens are maintained quite well. Truth is, Kukuio'lono has had native paspalum turf on its greens decades before the resort courses made the switch.

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Kukuiolono Golf Course on Kauai - starterKukuiolono Golf Course on Kauai

Brandon Tucker is the Managing Editor for Golf Advisor. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and over 500 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker and on Instagram at BrandonTuckerGC.

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

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