Hole #1- Par 4
Landscape Highlights: Monkey Pod Trees, Lonomea, Shower Trees, Kamani, Milo
The starting hole at Kukui`ula isn't exactly an easy start to one's round. Typically into the prevailing trade winds, the first hole can be quite a test right from the start. Players are introduced to bahia grass almost immediately as a grassy swale slithers down the entire left side of the golf hole from tee to green. Most players are quite pleased with par on this stout opening hole.
The Tee Shot - With bahia rough stretching from tee to green down the left hand side of the fairway, the tee shot is best missed on the right hand side of the fairway. The green is typically best approached from the right hand side of the fairway as well.
The Approach - The approach shot on the first hole should be managed differently depending on the day's hole location. The right side hole locations typically lend themselves to aggressive approach shots however you may feel like you run out of room quickly long right with a sneaky bunker lurking just past the putting surface. One of my favorite approach shots on the golf course is an approach to a back left hole location on #1. I usually aim a bit right of the flag in that instance, maybe at the center of the greenside bunker and allow the wind and the ground contours to deliver the ball towards the hole. With that said, short left can be one of the worst places to miss it on this hole.
On the Green – The first green at Kukui`ula is the largest green on the golf course, measuring 9,100 square feet. While it's nice to have a putt for birdie on the opening hole of any golf course, pay special attention to the subtleties in this green to allow for an easy two putt when faced with a long lag to start your round. On the upper right side of the green, the majority of putts try to fall towards the front of the green. The lower left hand side of the green typically breaks towards the front left side of the green. Look for the drains in the approaches just off the putting surfaces. These are usually nice clues as to where your putt is trying to break to.
The first at Kukui`ula is a strong test of golf to open your round. Four would be a great score here for most players so don't try to get too much out of your approach shot to this green.
Hole #2 - Par 4
Landscape Highlights: Kukui Nut Trees and Macadamia Nut Trees
The second hole at Kukui`ula is sneaky. It isn't a long hole, even into a prevailing trade wind but without the proper strategy, players can make a mess of their scorecards early in the round if they aren't careful here. This isn't a hole to try to push around. Conquering #2 at Kukui`ula takes some carefully planning and execution. Par is a good score here. The next time you play this hole, make sure to stop and check out the newly fruiting macadamia trees down the right side of the fairway!
The Tee Shot - If the trade winds are blowing, plan on a tee shot directly into the wind. From the tee, players are faced with a large fairway bunker on the left hand side and some bahia covered mounding on the right. Dead in the center of the fairway about 95 yards from the green is a small but well placed fairway bunker. I'm always surprised when I play this hole with members and they immediately reach for their drivers on this hole. From the blue tee, it is 219 yards to the center bunker and almost 240 yards to carry it entirely. Not an easy task, especially if the wind is blowing at you. On the left, you have just over 13 yards of fairway to squeeze the ball between fairway bunkers. 13 yards! That might be the skinniest fairway in Hawaii. On the right, the you only have 25 yards between the fairway bunker and the bahia rough, another low percentage shot for most players. I suggest playing your tee shot 215 yards or less if playing the blue tee. It's a simple formula. Find out the distance from the tee you are playing and subtract 100. That is how far you want to hit your tee shot on#2. From 100 yards in, the fairway is 45 yards wide, which certainly is a much more manageable and realistic target to hit versus the 13 yard fairway to the left and the 25 yard fairway to the right.
The Second Shot – On a trade wind day, I prefer to play from the right center of the fairway here which usually means a shot straight into the breeze rather than having a cross wind. Either way, it is important to take a lot of club and swing easy on this shot. The green isn't very deep from back to front so distance control outweighs direction on this shot. With the right side of the green severely falling off, the center of the green is usually a good idea.
On the Green – The second green is bisected in the center of the green by a spine which means putts on the right side of the green can break sharply towards the ocean and putts on the left side of the green tend to break a little more gently. The green slopes from back to front so putts downhill and downwind can be very fast on this hole.
Hole #3 - Par 3
Landscape Highlights: Money Pods and Royal Palms
The third hole at Kukui`ula is challenging par three that features one of the few forced carries on the golf course for all players. This hole plays slightly up hill and often plays slightly into the breeze. The putting surface is well protected by bunkers so really anything on the putting surface should be declared a victory.
The Tee Shot - Club selection tends to be critical on this hole. The front of the green features a slight false front that leads to a steep slope that can send a short approach shot toppling down and away from the green. This green is 10' higher in elevation than the tee so it's not a bad idea to hit a little extra club here. Long left isn't a bad place to miss on most days. I tend to settle for a shot right in the center of this green regardless of where the hole is cut that day.
On the Green – This green generally slopes from back to front, with most putts draining towards the front right portion of the green. There are however a few subtleties added to this hole which makes reading this green less than automatic. Next time out, pay particularly close attention to the back center area of the green and try to identify a slight swell in the putting surface. This "muffin" as Mr. Weiskopf often refers to them as, can push a ball in the opposite direction of the prevailing break. Be mindful of the intricacies here and you might just sneak away from the third with a good score.
Hole #5- Par 4
Landscape Highlights: Pua KeniKeni, Crown Flower, Clinostigma Palm, Lonomea, Monkey Pod
Its easy to understand why the fifth at Kukui`ula is the #1 handicap hole on the golf course. It's long, uphill, and often into the wind. It takes a couple of mighty and accurate shots to get to this par 4 in two from any tee. The fifth is a beautiful dogleg left that carves its way into the lush, green mountains and is lined with fragrant crown flowers and pua kenikeni.
The Tee Shot - Left center is the preferred position in the fairway off the tee. Approach shots from the left side of the fairway tend to be a bit shorter and it is a much more favorable angle to the green. Shots that miss too far left may find themselves in a grave situation, however. Left of the fifth is home of some of the toughest lies on the golf course. Thick bahia rough and tight groups of pua kenikeni trees make for a wild experience for those that miss left.
The Approach – Careful club selection is important when approaching this green. It can play as many as two more clubs in elevation alone and a normal trade wind might also knock the ball down a bit. While this approach looks tight from the fairway, there are more options than what appears. Left of this green sit several closely mown mounds that allow shots that miss left to roll back onto the green; a secret members may want to keep for themselves. If you find yourself too far from the green to realistically reach, I recommend laying up to your favorite short yardage. A false front and steep approach send short shots rolling back towards the fairway.
On the Green – The front third of the fifth green runs downhill towards the ocean. Any putt towards the ocean is going to be fast and should be respected. A spine runs from the bunker on the center-right portion of the green. The back right hole location breaks from left to right once the ball is clear of the spine.
Being one of the toughest holes on the golf course, the fifth hole is one to be patient with. Sneaking away with a par or bogey should be counted as a victory.
Landscape Highlights: Pua Kenikeni
The 6th hole at Kukui`ula is a strong par four playing downhill and slightly doglegging to the right. There is plenty of trouble to get into on this hole including a large fairway bunker complex on the left, rough native landscape to the right and a lake near the green.
Hole #6 - Par 4
The Tee Shot - With the mighty blue pacific as the background and a generous and downhill fairway in front of you, the 6th hole tee shot might be one of the best at Kukui`ula. Ideal tee shots favor the left center of the fairway here, which allows for a little room to miss without risking a lost ball in the native area right of the fairway. I like to play the tee shot just inside the fairway bunker on the left side of the fairway. Many players playing the course for the first time attempt to "cut the corner" from the tee. The majority of our members that play here often would agree that this isn't advisable.
The Second Shot – How players approach the 6th green is contingent on where the hole is cut that day. The green runs diagonally from front left to back right and some ominous mounds in front of the green protect the back right hole location. If the hole is cut front left, club selection can be critical because there isn't a lot of room beyond the flagstick without finding the greenside bunker. Shots should be played to the right of the hole here to allow the slope to tug the ball back towards the hole. I recommend hitting a club that will produce a shot just farther than your yardage to the front of the green and allow the slope to do the rest. With the hole location is cut back right, the challenge becomes more about the mounding in front of the green rather than the greenside bunker. A shot that comes up short of the green will likely roll back towards the fairway. Hit the backside of the mound and you are likely going to have a ball bounding over the green. Your margin for error concerning club selection here is very small. The smart play to the back right hole location is to start your approach well right of the flag. Use a club that would produce a shot slightly farther than the middle of the green. The contours will bring the ball back to the left, towards the hole.
On the Green – The sixth green breaks towards the front of the green and towards the lake. This is important to consider on approach shots and pitch shots to the green as well as putts. Many players have made the comment that this green doesn't break as much as it looks. I tend to agree and typically play slightly less break here than my instincts suggest at first glance.
Hole #7 - Par 5
Landscape Highlights: Starfruit, Lychee, Royal Poinciana, Monkeypod, Lonomea, Kamani, Royal Palm
The 7th hole at Kukui`ula is the longest hole on the golf course, stretching as far as 563 yards from the back tees. For the first time this year, a number of the young lychee trees left of the fairway have begun to fruit.
The Tee Shot -Its easy to get distracted on this tee with the beautiful water features that grace the start of this hole. The key to the tee shot here is to avoid the large fairway bunker complex on the right side of the fairway. In fact, a shot favoring the left side typically provides the best angle on this big, dog leg right par five.
The Second Shot – Players have a number of different options on this hole for their second shots. This is probably my favorite fairway on the golf course. IT has so much movement and character yet looks as if the contours have been there forever. For most, laying up is preferred here. The second shot is blind to the green so most players should hit a long iron or perhaps a hybrid at the lone royal palm tree left of the fairway. Try to give yourself between 100 and 80 yards in for your final approach to the green to allow for the most level possible lie. It's critical here to avoid the lengthy section of bunkers that extend most of the way down the right side of the fairway to the green.
The Approach – When approaching the green, be mindful of the false front that often sends short approaches bounding back towards you in the fairway. This green runs diagonally from front left to back right so it can feel a bit shallow at certain points. Club selection is important. It's common on your approach shot to not feel much wind. Once your ball rises above the hillside on the right of the putting green, the typical trade wind will pick it up and push it back to the left. I like to always aim a little right here.
On the Green – The seventh green runs from the back right of the green down to the front left fairly consistently. There is a subtle "muffin" that protrudes slightly in the front left section of the green that can produce some unexpected movement, perhaps even opposite of what you were expecting. Pay close attention to the gentle contours here and you should present yourself with a nice opportunity to make a putt and a good score on the seventh.
Hole #8 - Par 3
Landscape Highlights: Starfruit, Kamani, Monkey Pod, Chinese Banyan
The 8th hole at Kukui`ula is a stunning and challenging par three with the beautiful blue Pacific Ocean and an overachieving Chinese Banyan Tree as the backdrop.
The Tee Shot - One of the few holes at Kukui`ula with a forced carry, the 8th gets your attention right from the tee. From most tees, players must first negotiate a ravine that sits between the tee and green from all but the forward tee. In addition to the ravine, a greenside bunker also must be avoided to give yourself a chance at the green. The tee on the 8th is well protected from the wind and often fools players when they are selecting their clubs. The hole is typically downwind and can play as many as two clubs less on certain days, even though you may not feel a strong wind on the tee. The smart shot from the tee is a planned shot to the front right part of the putting green. Balls missing slightly right of the green have a tendency to bounce towards the green and often result in a good outcome. Players playing from the forward tee have a much more favorable angle into this green and can be a little more aggressive with their approach shots.
On the Green – The 8th doesn't let up once you find the putting green. A number of subtle (and not so subtle) contours make for a very exciting putting experience. In general, the green breaks right to left and can be fast in almost any direction. Putts towards the ocean are slightly uphill but usually downwind which makes it feel more like a level putt. I see a lot of players underestimate the wind putting uphill on this hole and run the ball several feet by the hole. Downhill putts are often into the wind on this hole, which players commonly misjudge and leave short. Possibly the most difficult hole location is front left. First, it's extremely difficult to get anywhere near the hole from the tee due to the hole being cut so close to the greenside bunker. Shots barely clearing this bunker often hit the down slope and bound towards the back of the green. There are also a few very subtle contours at this hole location that can make short putts a little dicey when trying to grind out a par (or bogey). Pay close attention to these slight contours and the wind when forming your approach on these short putts and you'll give yourself the best chance to make the putt.
Hole #11 - Par 4
Landscape Highlights: Queen Emma Shower Trees, Kukui Nut, Monkey Pod
The 11th hole at Kukui`ula is a wonderful example of a risk – reward par four. Playing less than 300 yards down the prevailing trade wind, the 11th hole is drivable for many players off the tee. The short par four has truly become a benchmark for Tom Weiskopf designed golf courses. Mr. Weiskopf recalls the thrill of playing St Andrews for the first time during his storied career as a professional golfer. He was surprised to learn that he could drive 4 or 5 of the par fours! Tom's affinity for the nuances of links golf has certainly carried over in his designs; you can catch glimpses of the "home of golf" all over Kukui`ula if you look hard enough. The 11th hole is certainly one of those tributes.
The Tee Shot - From the tee, players should make a firm decision whether or not they are going to attempt driving the green. If you've given yourself the green light, I prefer taking aim at the middle of the three monkey pod trees on the hillside right of the fairway, regardless of where the hole is cut that day. A well struck tee shot over that middle monkey pod, along with some help from the prevailing trades will often result in a ball scurrying rapidly towards the putting surface.
For players opting against going for the green, I recommend taking note of where the flag is on that particular day to determine the best approach. For a right side or center hole location, I suggest a tee shot over the first fairway bunker down the right hand side of the fairway. This will give players the best look and angle at the flag. If the flag is all the way on the left side of the green, I suggest a tee sheet that favors the left side of the fairway. This is the only way you can see much of the flagstick on your approach when the flag is on the left hand side of the green.
The Approach - It's important to miss the large greenside bunker complex in front of the green. Players finding their ball in that bunker are often faced with a difficult endeavor to get the ball anywhere near the hole*. A ball just barely clearing that bunker is often rewarded however. There is a relatively steep slope just passed the bunker complex that usually sends balls bounding down towards the green. Short approach shots rarely result in a favorable outcome here as there are false fronts on both the front left and front right parts of the green that send short approaches toppling down the fairway and away from the green.
Hole #12 - Par 3
Landscape Highlights: Hala, Ficus Benjamina , Kukui
The 12th hole at Kukui`ula is the shortest hole on the golf course, measuring less than 100 yards from the forward tee. Despite its absence of length, the 12th is long on significance and heritage. It is here, just to the left of the putting surface, that a large ancient "rock caldron" was found where native Hawaiians once burned kukui nut oil, which produced a long lasting and distinct red flame. The word "Kukui`ula" means red glow of the kukui nut. Although it is not a big hole, the twelfth green is surrounded by one of the largest bunkers on the golf course, which wraps from the front left and around the back of this large putting surface. The green is also protected by two more bunkers on the right, on that was designed to honor a famous bunker at Pine Valley (and is referred to by a derogatory name not appropriate for this article). This special bunker, which is the furthest from the tee on the right side of the green was designed to swallow approach shots that are just slightly off line, giving this short par three a little bit of teeth.
The Tee Shot - The tee at #12 is a breathtaking place to just stand and look. The panoramic view of the Pacific is mesmerizing and the hole itself is simply gorgeous. When playing #12, club selection is crucial to making a score here. IF the trade winds are blowing, plan on hitting at least one less club, if not more. The tee shot plays a bit downhill and the prevailing wind direction would be quartering from right to left and helping quite a bit. LONG IS DEAD on #12. IF you are between clubs, it might make sense to take the lessor of the two. Once on the ground, the ball will tug fairly hard from right to left. When the hole is cut on the right side of the green, it can be tempting to play a shot right of the flag to allow the wind to bring the ball back on line. This approach really brings in the two bunkers on the right side of the green which would result in a slick downhill, downwind bunker shot with very little green to work with. Spend more time thinking about the right distance rather than the right line here. IF you manage to get the ball to rest somewhere near hole high, you'll have a good chance at birdie and an almost certain par. Because of the length of this green from front to back and the undulation, it can be difficult lagging a putt close to the hole on #12 from 30 feet or more.
On the Green – The #12th has as much movement on the putting surface as any other hole at Kukui`ula. IN addition to the two distinct tiers, there are many subtle twists and turns that can be difficult to identify the first few times you play the hole. When I play the #12th, I like to walk the green when I am waiting for my turn and try to "feel" the different contours with my feet.
Hole #13 - Par 5
Landscape Highlights: Lonomea, Coffee, Monkey pod, Hala
The 13th hole at Kukui`ula is a breathtaking par five complete with an amazing pacific ocean backdrop and an exciting risk/reward layout. Players may have a chance at an eagle some days and other days walk away a double bogey or worse. While the opportunity does exist to do something heroic on the 13th, wise players typically prevail here.
The Tee Shot - The tee shot on #13 requires a decision to be made on how much risk the player would like to assume. This dogleg left par five is well protected from the tee by a rather large bunker complex located at the corner of the dogleg. Players may be tempted to really cut the corner here and lessen their second shot to the green. My suggestion is to not cut off any more than half of the fairway bunker. Tee shots left of the center of the first bunker complex may end up in the "what bunker", which is hidden from the tee. (Mr. Weiskopf playfully refers to the hidden bunker on #13 as the "what" bunker.)
Guest: "I think that is going to be perfect"
Member: "Actually, I think that may be in the bunker"
Guest: "What Bunker?"
IF your tolerance for risk is on the lower side, there is no shame in starting your tee shot well right of the fairway bunker, which should open up the hole for your next shot.
Approach Shot – Approaching the 13th is typically a downhill, downwind situation to a slick green that runs very fast away from the players. The green is small and very well protected by bunkers. If you are comfortable with bunker shots, you may consider giving the green a go in two shots. If you aren't close enough to consider reaching the green, I suggest a lay up shot to the extreme right side of the fairway. This will create an ideal angle to approach the green on your third shot in between the front and right front bunkers.
On the Green – The 13th green has very little elevation change however often feels as if it slopes away from the fairway and towards the ocean. In reality, the green slopes slightly from right to left with very little elevation change from front to back. With that said, on trade winds days, the green can be very fast putting downwind towards the ocean.
Hole #15 - Par 4
The fifteenth hole at Kukui`ula never plays easy. In fact on most days, it's a monster. Playing as long as 473 yards into a sturdy trade wind, the fifteenth hole feels like much more than a par four. But if played wisely, players can walk away from #15 relatively unscathed.
The Tee Shot - Aside from being intimidating, the tee shot on #15 is one of the most scenic places on the entire course. When viewing this hole from directly above, it becomes obvious that the center of the fairway is actually further left than most players see from the tee. This is a 3 shot hole for most people most of the time. Make sure to give yourself plenty of room to the right and play safely towards the center of the distant fairway bunker.
The Second Shot – On a trade wind day, even a ripped drive from most tees leaves a long second shot to the green. Now is a time to be realistic. If hitting a 3 wood 240 yards into the window through a 15 yard window is something you can perform on regular basis, go for it! For most of us, it is time to get wise and do a little math. Think about what your favorite short distance is to have into a green. Maybe it is a 100 yards? Subtract your number from your actual distance and play a shot to your "sweet spot". This shrinks your margin for error and leaves you with a third shot that you can be confident about.
The Approach – Now that you have found your favorite distance in the fairway, you can get a little aggressive. Both the wind and the contour of the green will move the ball to the right so buy some room left of the hole. Abbreviate your follow through to keep the ball a bit lower and to hold its line to green.
On the Green – The fifteenth green slopes in two directions: from back to front and from left to right (towards the ocean). Putts coming down hill and downwind tend to be very fast on this green so respect the speed in that situation. At worst, walk away with a bogey (and be proud of it!).
Hole #18 - Par 5
Landscape Highlights: Hala, Lonomea, Singapore Plumeria, Coco Palms, Kukui, Monkey Pod, Mango
The finishing hole at Kukui`ula has everything you would want in a great finishing hole: opportunity and drama. A wide variety of outcomes should be expected on this fantastic par five finishing hole. Whether you need a birdie on the last to win your match or just needed to make a bogey and ended up with a triple to shoot your best score, the 18th hole at Kukui`ula promises to provide a thrilling finish to you're a wonderful set of 18 holes.
The Tee Shot - From the tee, players must avoid the bunkers on both sides of the fairway. This is the only hole at Kukui`ula that has bunkers on both sides of the landing area. This hole is often into the wind, so despite its moderately short distance for a par five, this hole can still be quite a beast.
The Second Shot – If you've just ripped one down the middle, you may have a decision here. It isn't uncommon for players to have 200 yards or so left after their tee shot and at times it can be irresistible to not go for this green in two shots. Players going for the green in two must carry the large lake the rests in front of the green to avoid turning this "opportunity" into a disaster. A small strip of fairway exists to the left of the green but it often tempts players into making a questionable decision from the fairway. If going for the green isn't part of the plan, a wise layup is called for here. The lake begins at roughly 75 yards from green. Look to hit a layup shot that will leave you between 90-120 yards to give yourself the best chance at scoring on this approach.
The Approach - If the wind is up, make sure to take enough club to carry the lake and the small greenside bunker short of the green. This green is very large from left to right but isn't very deep so distance control is critical. The real question here is "how much risk can you tolerate?". The safe play is to favor the left side of the green.
On the Green – This green generally runs from left to right however there is a small false front on the front right of the green that can send approach shots rolling back into the water. A small spine bisects this green right down the middle. Balls rolling down the spine tend to pick up quite a bit of speed. This is another huge green so long lag putts should be handled with care.