For our fifth round in Kauai with local friend and blogger, Wayne Halm, we visited the Ocean Course at Hokuala. The course is formerly known as Kauai Lagoons, but was renamed after Timbers Resorts took it over from the Marriott.
The front nine of this Jack Nicklaus design underwent a face lift in 2016 with new fairways, greens, and some bunker work, but was open and ready for action when we arrived in December. This was my first time playing the course so I cannot compare the pre and post-renovation conditions, but I can confirm that it was indeed pristine.
The front nine starts out with a very open feel to it over the first several holes, but don’t be fooled, Jack always has a few tricks up his sleeve, and doesn’t let you feel calm for very long. The 76.2 course rating and 142 slope from the back tees back up that claim fairly well.
The par-5 2nd hole from the fairway:
You may be feeling pretty good about yourself after the first several holes, but by the time you’re on the 219 yard par-3 5th hole pictured below, it’s gut check time. A long forced carry, deep bunkers, and severe tightly mowed runoff areas to the right and long of the green make the putting surface the only comfortable place to be.
Even the short par-3’s will test your nerve with a wedge or short iron. A look at the par-3 8th hole (yes, I made birdie):
Although it’s called the “Ocean Course”, you will have to wait until midway through the back 9 for those dramatic ocean views, but the rest of the course will keep you entertained until then.
Jack doesn’t make a short par-4 without a twist, and the 12th hole was no exception. If you miss the three fairway bunkers off the tee, you’re rewarded with a blind, uphill approach shot into the green. It’s a bit of “hit and hope” the first time around:
As you make your way down the 13th fairway, your pace of play might slow down a bit as everyone starts to reach for their cameras to document one of the most scenic stretches of golf on the island. The view down the par-4 13th fairway:
Notice the plane coming in for a landing in the picture above. This part of the course is right near the Lihue airport, and I know it may be hard to believe, but that was kind of a cool feature.
I’m not sure if it is actually their signature hole, but the par-3 14th is what I would consider their signature, and definitely my favorite hole on the course.
Yours truly on the par-3 14th (and yes, I hit the green):
The 14th is a saucy looking hole from every tee:
The views keeping rolling, but the 15th hole isn’t just a good view, it’s a damn good hole.
The par-4 15th hole from the fairway:
By far the trickiest and most polarizing hole on the course is the par-4 16th hole. The green is reachable from the tee, but there are a lot more ways to never see your ball again than there are ways to find the green, and you cannot see the green from the tee. I obviously went for the green….and never saw my ball again.
Here’s a view of the 16th fairway and green about halfway down the hole:
The Ocean Course at Hokuala is a thrill to play, however, it was the toughest course on Kauai to “figure out” when playing it for the first time. It’s the type of course that would take a few iterations to become more comfortable with your decisions, even though there is a girl who lives inside the golf cart GPS machines and gives you advice.
The advertised rates to play Hokuala range from $159 – $265 depending on what time of day you play, which isn’t a steal, but it’s on par with the other premier courses on Kauai. It was in fantastic shape and the staff welcomed us with true aloha spirit.
The Ocean Course at Hokuala ranked No.6 in my Top 10 Golf Courses of 2016 (No.3 in Kauai). Could it have crept up the ranks if we played each course several times instead of just once? Very possibly. It’s the type of course that would likely grow on you the more you play it.
Also check out Wayne’s post on Hokuala for more photos and stories from this fun day on the links.
If that isn’t enough, click here for my other Kauai golf course reviews.