For golfers, the Garden Isle might as well be known as the Robert Trent Jones Jr. Isle. Four of the island's eight courses, including Poipu Bay—onetime home of the PGA Grand Slam of Golf—are the work of Jones, who maintains a home at Princeville. Combine these four courses with those from Jack Nicklaus, Robin Nelson, and local legend Toyo Shirai, and you'll see that golf sets Kauai apart from the other Islands as much as the Pacific Ocean does. Afternoon tee times at most courses can save you big bucks.
Ocean Course Hokuala Golf Club. The Jack Nicklaus–designed Ocean Course Hokuala completed its latest renovation in November 2016 creating not only a superb golf experience, but a visual treat and a Hawaii educational experience as well. With an assortment of plants and tropical birds adding to the atmosphere, this course wends through dark ravines and over picturesque landscape. The 5th hole is particularly striking as it requires a drive over a valley populated by mango and guava trees. The final holes hold unmatched views of Nawiliwili Bay, including the harbor, a lighthouse, and secluded beaches. 3351 Hoolaulea Way, Lihue, Hawaii, 96766. 808/241–6000; 800/634–6400; www.hokualakauai.com/golf. From $160; after 2 pm $126.
Anaina Hou Mini Golf & Gardens. The island's first miniature-golf course also has a small botanical garden and a new 300-seat theater/arts center. The 18-hole course was designed to be challenging, beautiful, and family-friendly. Replacing the typical clown's nose and spinning wheels are some water features and tropical tunnels. Surrounding each hole is plant life that walks players through different eras of Hawaiian history. A gift shop with local products and a concessions counter make it a fun activity for any time of day. On Saturday morning and Monday afternoon, a farmers' market is adjacent to the course with fresh Kauai produce and local goods. 5-273 Kuhio Hwy., Kilauea, Hawaii, 96754. 808/828–2118; www.kauaiminigolf.com. $18.
Kiahuna Plantation Golf Course. A meandering creek, lava outcrops, and thickets of trees give Kiahuna its character. Robert Trent Jones Jr. was given a smallish piece of land just inland at Poipu, and defends par with smaller targets, awkward stances, and optical illusions. In 2003 a group of homeowners bought the club and brought Jones back to renovate the course (it was originally built in 1983), adding tees and revamping bunkers. The pro here boasts his course has the best putting greens on the island. This is the only course on Kauai with a complete set of junior's tee boxes. 2545 Kiahuna Plantation Dr., Koloa, Hawaii, 96756. 808/742–9595; www.kiahunagolf.com. $96, including cart.
Poipu Bay Golf Course. Poipu Bay has been called the Pebble Beach of Hawaii, and the comparison is apt. Like Pebble Beach, Poipu is a links course built on headlands, not true links land. There's wildlife galore. It's not unusual for golfers to see monk seals sunning on the beach below, sea turtles bobbing outside the shore break, and humpback whales leaping offshore. From 1994 to 2006, the course (designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr.) hosted the annual PGA Grand Slam of Golf. Tiger Woods was a frequent winner here. Call ahead to take advantage of varying prices for tee times. 2250 Ainako St., Koloa, Hawaii, 96756. 808/742–8711; www.poipubaygolf.com. $209 before noon, $189 after.
Princeville Makai Golf Club. The 27-hole Princeville Makai Golf Club was named for its five ocean-hugging front holes. Designed by golf-course architect Robert Trent Jones Jr. in 1971, the 18-hole championship Makai Course underwent extensive renovations from 2008 to 2010, including new turf throughout, reshaped greens and bunkers, refurbished cart paths and comfort stations, and an extensive practice facility. Since the renovation the Makai Course has consistently been ranked a top golf course in the United States. Check the website for varying rates as well as other nongolf activities at the facility like the Sunset Golf Cart Tour, where you ride the course, sans clubs, and take in the spectacular ocean views. 4080 Lei O Papa Rd., Princeville, Hawaii, 96722. www.makaigolf.com. $295.
Wailua Municipal Golf Course. Considered by many to be one of Hawaii's best public golf courses, this seaside course provides an affordable game with minimal water hazards, but it is challenging enough to have been chosen to host three USGA Amateur Public Links Championships. It was first built as a nine-holer in the 1930s. The second nine holes were added in 1961. Course designer Toyo Shirai created a course that is fun but not punishing. The trade winds blow steadily on the East Side of the island and provide a game with challenges. An ocean view and affordability make this one of the most popular courses on the island. Tee times are accepted up to seven days in advance and can be paid in cash, traveler's checks, and some credit cards. 3-5350 Kuhio Hwy., Lihue, Hawaii, 96766. 808/241–6666; www.kauai.gov/Golf. $48 weekdays, $60 weekends; cart rental $20.