7309 YARDS (PAR 72)
COURSE RATING/SLOPE: 75.7/140
COURSE ARCHITECT: Robert Trent Jones Jr. (1990)
ACCESSIBILITY: NLE (Closed in 2014)
COURSE WEBSITE: http://princeville.com/golf/prince-golf-course
ROUNDS PLAYED: 1
LAST PLAYED: November 3, 2006.
LOW SCORE: 88 (+16)
– Golf Digest Best New Resort Course 1990
There was no way that I could miss the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of playing a world-class golf course on the other side of the world. Thankfully, the wife agreed so I booked a round a couple of days after arriving.
First impressions of the facility were overwhelmingly positive. The opulent clubhouse is an incredible 60,000 square feet and has a spa, restaurant and a gorgeous pro shop. Marble was everywhere and huge bay windows offered you spectacular views of the course, the ocean and the surrounding mountains. Easily one of the nicest clubhouses I’ve seen.
I didn’t bring my sticks with me – that would have been stretching it considering the fact we were honeymooning! So the pro hooked me up with a set of Ping I3’s and off to the range I went. I ended up getting paired with a gentleman from Orange County, California and the two of us, each in our own cart, headed to the first hole.
I’ve included a shot of the course routing above. The ocean, which isn’t depicted in the photo, is on the right side and runs all the way down toward the bay on hole #7.
The first hole (shown below) is a 448 yard, downhill par 4. Out of bounds on the left, jungle on the right and water looms in front of the green. I seriously can’t remember a more intimidating first hole in all my days of golfing. Somehow, I pumped my Ping right down the pipe and we were off. My second ended up in a chipping swale to the left of the green and I couldn’t get up-and-in, settling for a bogey.
The second is an uphill par 5 measuring 597 yards. I can’t say I was a fan of this hole, as the tee shot required a 3-wood to ensure that I didn’t hit the ball into a ravine that crosses the fairway.
The third hole is a run-of-the-mill par 3 measuring 177 yards but the green was quite devilish, with a huge swale that ate my chip shot from behind the green on my way to a double bogey.
The fourth is a 554 yard par five with a huge reservoir pond running down the length of the fairway on the right side. A decent risk/reward hole for the longest of hitters but that isn’t me to be sure. I laid up, hit my first green in regulation and finally made a par, my first of the day.
To be honest, the course was completely underwhelming up to this point, with the exception of the difficult first. I was starting to wonder what all the fuss was about. The sixth hole and its rumpled fairway finally piqued my interest.
This dogleg right, 453 yard par 4 had out of bounds to the left and a bunker down the right side about 280 off the tee. The second shot was played from a severe left-to-right sidehill lie to a small green protected by bunkers short right and long left, nailing faders or hookers. A really interesting hole, as the closer you play to the fairway bunker, the more level the lie. The green also opens up a lot more from the right side.
The sixth hole (shown below) is where the fun really begins. The ocean finally makes an appearance here as the backdrop to the 428 yard, downhill par four. There is a bit of a punchbowl effect here, as drives left or right can kick back into the fairway.
Jones places a bunker in the middle of the fairway about 80 yards from the green and it offers a bit of deception to an otherwise straight-forward hole. The bunker gives the impression that the green is closer than you think and also playing into that is the ocean, which seems to be RIGHT BEHIND the green. I’m sure there are a lot of shots that end up short here.
The seventh hole is just beautiful, a 205-yard par 3 with the ocean to the golfer’s left and a ravine that runs all the way from the tee to the green. Unfortunately, my playing partner didn’t get the ocean in the background of the following picture.
I hit one of my best shots of the day here, nailing a three iron to about six feet. Yeah…I missed the putt. We got let through here by another couple so I rushed the following picture on the way back to my cart, likely the best look at the Pacific on the entire course.
The eighth hole is a tough 460 yard par four back up the hill and offers a lovely vista of its own, with the towering mountains in the background (see below). I needed a three-wood second into this sucker and made a great par.
The front nine ends with a pretty routine par 4 measuring 366 yards, the shortest two-shotter on the course. The incoming nine begins with a bang. It’s a 588 yard par 5 that is shaped similar to a boomerang. The tee shot is shown below and it’s pretty routine, with only a bunker on the right offering trouble.
It’s the second shot that really makes the hole. If you hit a good drive, you can cut a bunch of distance off and try for the green in two. However, you must have the nerve to cross a 180 yard ravine to hit the elevated green. Your other option is to go well right of the green to a lower fairway, a safer choice but one where the third shot is no bargain.
I was about 230 yards out here and hit a great 3-wood onto the left side of the green…where I ended up three-whacking for par. This is one of the most stunning golf holes I’ve ever played from an aesthetic standpoint.
The 11th hole is a 187 yard par three and it is followed by one of the scariest looking tee shots I’ve ever come across…
This 390 yard par four plays substantially downhill and the fairway looks like a sliver of land from up top. I tried to steer a 3-iron and hit it into the trees right of the fairway, where I ended up making a double bogey six. Hindsight being 20/20, I should have just ripped the big dog here, as there is more room down in the valley than you think from up top. Really cool hole though, with a heavily protected green site.
The signature hole at The Prince is the 13th, a 418 yard par four. I remembered this hole from the Tiger Woods EA Sports video game as being impossible. However, the tee shot looks innocent enough and even forces the driver out of your hands, as the fairway is bisected by a monstrous ravine down the right hand side. It’s when you get to your ball in the fairway when you see that the fun has just begun.
It literally looks like you have to cross 180 yards of ravine with your second shot and the green looks like a thimble from the fairway. There’s a gorgeous natural waterfall behind the green that offers a nice calming effect…that is before you realize that you have to HIT THIS SHOT! After hitting a perfect tee shot, I hit my approach short into a depression area and ended up making yet another double. Words can’t describe how tough the approach is here from a visual standpoint. Again, upon playing the hole, I know that there is a little more room than it seems, especially left, as you can see from the photo I took when we left the valley a couple holes later.
The 14th is a lovely par three back up the hill and over the ravine again (see below). Gosh, this course was relentless with the forced carries! The one thing Jones Jr. does do is offer bailouts, with one here to the right. However, getting to the bailout areas is a chore for the higher handicap as well…this just isn’t a course made for the casual golfer.
I put it in the bunker right off the tee, shanked it out and then chipped in for my unlikely par. Highlight of the day from a scoring perspective, unfortunately. The view from the 14th green back down into the jungle/valley is one of the nicest panaramics on the course (see below).
The ‘wow’ factor continues on the par 5, 576 yard 15th hole. It plays downhill and doglegs to the left with another huge ravine bisecting the hole about 315 yards from the tee.
I hit a big tee shot here and was left with about 260 yards for my second shot, which you can see below. I ended up chickening out and semi-duffed it down the left side, leaving a routine pitch into the green. I missed a ten footer for birdie, settling for my second par in a row.
The 16th is an uphill, dogleg left par four measuring 375 yards. Pretty routine hole but a pretty one, especially looking back down the fairway from the green, as seen below.
The 17th tee offers the money shot, easily one of the most beautiful vistas I’ve ever seen. The mountains in the background, the jungle, valleys and vegetation down below. Heaven. The hole itself understandably pales in comparison to the backdrop.
The 18th, like most of the par fours at The Prince, is a brute at 455 yards, all uphill. There is a cavernous bunker down the right side that I figured was a target but it swallowed my ball up in fine fashion. I had to wedge out and hit my third shot from about 80 yards. The clubhouse and the mountains provide a great backdrop here to the finishing hole.
This course humbled me like few have done in the past. I shot an 88 and played pretty decently – this course punishes you like no other when you make a poor swing. It is the toughest golf course I’ve ever played, without question.
I literally used every club in the bag here and you really need to shape the ball both ways if you want to score. Driver was taken out of my hands on a couple of long holes (par 5 2nd; par 4 13th) and you rarely are able to use run-up shots so it’s not the most ideal from a playability perspective.
This has to be one of the hardest and most relentless golf courses in the world. Not for the casual golfer! The pro was aghast that I went out with only three sleeves of balls but thankfully, I only lost two balls in total.
There are a couple of pretty vanilla holes, especially on the front nine. A couple of the par threes are similar as well but this is still a relatively interesting design, certainly made better by the surroundings. The ‘wow’ factor is really high at The Prince, helped substantially by the numerous elevated tee shots and gorgeous vistas. The strong holes are very memorable and tend to overshadow the weak ones. The aesthetics are quite strong, from the cut of the bunkers to the beautiful vegetation that surrounds the holes. The prettiest course I’ve played.
I played two days after a heavy downpour which dumped 11 inches of rain on the island. However, the greens were shaggy and slow, the fairways were patchy and the bunkers weren’t raked in areas. Nowhere near as well-kept as a top-100 course should be.
Playing the Prince is very peaceful and the surroundings are obviously gorgeous, as previously stated. However, there are a couple of things that would have made it better. First of all, the ocean never comes into play and really is only a supporting player here. Jones uses it on the Makai Course but really missed the boat with it on the Prince. I also don’t like the fact that you must take a cart…you can’t have that “walk in the park” feeling that you get with a bag on your back. That all said, a cart is definitely necessary, as there are a number of long drives between tees on the expansive piece of property. The severe elevation changes wouldn’t help either.
At the end of the day, I would wholeheartedly recommend this course to every golfer who is travelling to Kauai. I had a great time playing here but wonder if it really deserves the acclaim it receives. Don’t get me wrong, I loved it…but top-100 in the US? Maybe if it was maintained a bit better. Still, one of the most scenic courses imaginable…bring your ‘A’ game!
UPDATE – NOVEMBER 2019
The Prince Course has been closed since 2014 and as such, has fallen off every course ranking list in recent years. There is talk that one day, it could reopen, perhaps with different ownership, but it would require significant work to get the course back to a playable state.
While it wasn’t necessarily worthy of the heavy acclaim it was given (as noted at the end of my original review), it was a unique golf experience and a very interesting property.
I hope they figure out a way to bring the course back at some point down the road.