Puakea Golf Course: Kauai, Hawaii's secret gem

LIHUE, Kauai, Hawaii – Don't let the first impression of the Puakea Golf Course fool you. Beyond the trailer clubhouse and the flat holes behind the local Costco hides a tropical golf paradise.

Puakea opened as a 10-hole course in 1997 after a hurricane halted construction. It was rescued when AOL founder Steve Case purchased the land in 2000. Original architect Robin Nelson was brought back to complete all 18 holes, which opened in 2003.

The 6,954-yard layout remains a local favorite for its scenery and affordability. Green fees max out at $99, a steal once golfers get outside of the housing development of the first five new holes and into the jungle for the original routing. The views of Mt. Ha'upu later in the round leave everybody feeling satisfied.

The par 3s star throughout the day. The sixth hole requires a heart-stopping 176-yard downhill shot over water. The two par 3s on the back nine -- the 228-yard 13th hole and the tiny 134-yard 16th hole -- are a study in contrast. The greens are in the process of being converted into seashore paspalum, another step in the fascinating evolution of Puakea.

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed and photographed more than 1,000 courses and written about golf destinations in 20 countries for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Instagram at @jasondeegangolfpass and Twitter at @WorldGolfer.

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Puakea Golf Course on the Hawaiian island of Kauai lacks the coastal wow-factor of its neighbors that sit close by the ocean. Instead, design aficionados will notice more subtle nuances by architect Robin Nelson. More than any other course on Kauai, Nelson was maestro of the tradewinds here. Not a single hole plays in the exact same direction. And in many cases, subtle doglegs make each shot play just a little differently.
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Puakea Golf Course: Kauai, Hawaii's secret gem