When I hatched this idea to play the oldest public golf courses in the US in 2019 logic told me to play the historic golf courses closest to me just to see if this adventure was even doable. I needed to test this idea of heading out on my own to discover why these historic courses were so unique, I needed to work on logistics like planing travel, booking tee times, and finding time to share my adventures. And finally, I needed to find out if I was even interested enough to take on this journey?
I realized something very fast; one, this was going to be a great journey, and two, after those two courses I pretty much exhausted all the historic courses on my list near me, which required me to travel East. I wrapped up 2019 playing the two west coast courses and Overland Park in Denver and Patty Jewett in Colorado Springs
Finally this year I returned to the map in the Golf War Room and set my sights beyond Colorado to find the next historic golf course to play on my journey. That course is Waveland Golf Course in Iowa. That would be cool, I thought. It’s in the middle of the country, and strangely, and for no good reason I have always wanted to go to Iowa. I thought this would be a nice quick drop into Des Moines on Friday, rent a car and head to the course the next day, and play a casual round on Saturday. I would be back in California before too late on Sunday and have a fabulous adventure to write about for the next blog post. Well let’s just say this, after doing my travel research it was very clear travel costs have jumped quite a bit. By the time I was done tallying up the costs it looked like I was preparing to head out for a week long vacation and not a casual weekend of golf. I’m guessing the reason for this is supply and demand. As the county slowly opens more and more folks are trying to travel, and the tourism industry is slow to respond. It was while pondering this travel dilemma a brilliant idea popped into my head.
A vacation, that’s what we need. It’s been 18 months of isolation, the country is opening up, and I need time to work this golf journey, blog, adventure thing out. “Let’s take a vacation to Kauai '' I blurted out to my wife.
I never really had a desire to go to Hawaii and then 3 years ago the opportunity presented itself with an invitation to attend a destination wedding to Kauai. In the short 36 hours we were on the Island we covered most of it and by the time we skidded into the airport to catch our flight home, both of us said basically at the same time…we need to come back and experience this thing called “island time”. Soooo flash forward to May of this year...and we found ourselves pulling out of Lihue Airport in our rented convertible Mustang, like every other tourist vacationing on the island of Kauai.
I made plans to play two public golf courses while I was on the Island; Poipu Bay Golf Course and Kukuiolono Golf Course, and these two courses could not be more opposite of each other. Poipu was the site of the PGA Grand Slam of Golf from 1994 to 2006 with tough tee times to book that can cost almost 4 times that of your local muni. Kukuiolono is a 9 hole historic hidden gem that takes no tee times and the green fees are less than half the cost of your local muni.
I played Poipu first and enjoyed every hole and every swing with one exception. I was on the elevated cliff-side 16th hole with sweeping ocean views and a slight breeze on my back, prime driving conditions. Looking out on this immaculate course I set up to hit a majestic drive out onto the very forgiving fairway, but instead blasted a drive that duck hooked 50 yards out and flew quit far mind you, out over the ocean falling some 300 feet into the crystal clear water below.
Yes it was somewhat disappointing, but also it was pretty fun to just watch the ball fly forever and slowly descend down below. When on Kauai please try and play this course. It is totally worth your time and money.
Kukuiolono Golf Course was my main objective when it came to playing golf on the Island. It was originally built as the personal golf course of sugar magnate Walter D. McBryde. He donated the course and the surrounding land to the state as his gift to the people of Kauai in 1919, and the course is considered the eight oldest golf course in Hawaii. All of this made this a course of interest for me, it may not be the oldest course on the my list, but it has a great local story. One other fact that really piqued my interest was that they don’t take tee times. The only other time I have heard about a course not taking tee times was when reading the book The Range Bucket List by James Dodson.
He tells a story about Van Cortlandt Park Golf Course opening in 1895 as the first 18 hole golf course build for the public. Before that there were only a few courses open to the public and there were only nine hole tracks. When “Vanny” opened they didn’t take tee times, you showed up and played. Can you guess what happened…that’s right, fist fights would break out to literally fight for a tee time. As I sat on the beach looking out on the ocean I was hoping I didn’t have to work too hard for a tee time.
When the day came to play Kukuiolono it felt a little different than days when I have a tee time reserved. I didn’t have this background stress of being late for something. I was three days into the vacation and enjoying the pace of play of Kauai. I would wake up to a sunrise and I would walk to the beach to test the water making sure it was clear, had good surf, and was still warm. Check!
This day was no different except I made a mental note to get in the water after my round. While walking back to my room to get into some golf attire I wasn't really thinking about the upcoming round. There was this ease about the morning. I was not clock watching or back timing in my head all the things that I normally need to consider before a round; how long is the drive to the course, how much time to I plan for at the range, getting some drinks for the round, and getting to the first tee minutes before for my tee time. On this day, I never looked at my watch once, as we headed out to course I was asked if we had time to get coffee before the round, yes I said, and we have time to eat. While driving to the course we stopped to pick something up for the evening, again it was not an issue. We hit a little traffic halfway there, no problem. I guess if I really thought about it I was a little anxious, not so much about the round, but more about seeing if there were any fist fights going on for tee times.
We drove up the hill to the course, weaving around chickens, it’s a thing on Kauai, and what revealed itself at the top of the hill was a well groomed empty golf course. Yup, no fights, only beautiful views from the parking lot, and a wide open course. I walked up to the proshop to get the lay of the land, and to pay. I stopped in and asked to play as a single and have a ride along. No problem, he said and you’re next up. I said I still need to get my clubs, loosening up, and maybe putt a little. He looked at me for a short while not saying anything, as if to say, “really, you need to do all of that, you're in paradise and you have the course to yourself”. I heard him loud and clear, I paid my $15 dollars, that’s right, 15 dollars that is not a type-o, and get this, you can play all day if you want.
By the time I grabbed my clubs out of the trunk and hooked them to the cart I heard my name being paired with another twosome. We rolled up and learned that they just teed off and were waiting for us. I felt a little anxious because I was holding them up so I quickly pulled out the driver and rushed to the tee box. The first words out of their mouths were “take your time, we are not in a hurry” . A calm rushed over me, “that’s great neither are we” I responded. I took a few practice swings to loosen up, I lined up my drive, and hit one of the best drives in weeks. I never did know the time I teed off. I don’t even know how long the round was. I do know it was a pleasure. The company we had for the round was relaxed, we shared plenty of laughs, and they pointed out a few “must sees” on the Island.
I don’t think our mainland golf culture could sustain a no tee time policy. We don’t have island trade winds, unending perfect ocean views, and Island Time. I’m sure it’s also very helpful that folks are on vacation and have all the time in the world to wait for a tee time. I do have to say it was one of the most relaxing rounds I have had, and I think that has to do with no tee time "pressure". As small as a tee time may seem it is on your mind, it may be way back there, but you are thinking about not missing your time from the moment you wake up to the moment you tee off. You time everything you do prior to the tee time to make sure you arrive on time. It’s sort of like traveling, and having that train, bus, or plane departure time on your mind. Every decision you make prior to the departure is based on getting to the transportation on time, which puts pressure on you all day. No tee time, no pressure. Play Kukuiolono Golf Course and feel the game on Island Time.
Stay tuned for Riving The Journey Part 2: Van Cartland Park