A petit clin d'œil to Kauai Lagoons
last update: 10 May 2022
So where is Kauai Lagoons? Or better still, what was (and still is) Kauai Lagoons?
Its a golf resort complex on the island of Kauai, the fourth-largest island in the Hawaiian Islands (and is also known as the garden island). It's a Marriott today, but in 1991 it was a 840 room Westin hotel with two Jack Nicklaus-designed golf courses. It had great write-ups in the press.
I was working in Albuquerque, and we looked to add a golf oriented holiday. I remember phoning from Europe a travel agency, which people had recommended, and asking them about a golfing trip. It was November, so they suggested that many Americans were considering California, or Hawaii. We talked through a few packages, and picked the resort Kauai Lagoons. My impression was that trying to book that trip from Europe would have cost an arm and a leg, but for locals it was not an unusual winter holiday option.
I don't remember much about the trip, but I do remember being impressed by the oriental-style setting of the hotel, and fantastic pool and beach. I remember the room was on the ground floor and overlooked a tropical garden. Breakfast was had next to the pool, and I remember we often ate in the golf club.
PGA Grand Slam of Golf
The PGA Grand Slam of Golf was an annual off-season golf tournament contested from 1979 until 2014 when the tournament was cancelled. It was contested by the year's winners of the four major championships of regular men's golf, which are the Masters, the US Open, The Open Championship (British Open), and the PGA Championship. If I remember rightly the prize was $1 million.
When we arrived in the hotel, there was a lot of fuss, because the Grand Slam 1991 was being hosted in Kauai Lagoons at the same time as our vacation. In many ways it became the theme of our stay. We actually played what is called today The Oceans course just before they closed it to prepare for the tournament, the rest of the time we played the other course (which I think is now called the Waikahe Course). The first day we followed the competition on and off, and the second day we just followed the group from hole 14 through to the 18th (from 1991 the competition was for 2 rounds of golf).
I remember very well that the four players were the Welshman Ian Woosnam (Masters winner and world n° 1 in 1991), the Australian Ian Baker-Finch (The Open), Payne Stewart (US Open) and John Daly (PGA).
I vaguely remember The Oceans was a par-72, and quite hard. Today its 7,156 yards (6,543 meters) from the back tees with a slope of 142 (they may have had pro-tees as well). I remember watching from hole 14, which today is a par-3 210 yards (192 meters), but mostly across water and out-of-bounds. Along the path running alongside the hole the view was really impressive. Someone next to me had a pair of binoculars, and his guess was that Woosnam hit a full 7-iron, and Daly ¾ 6-iron, but who knows (he said the other two hit full 6-irons).
I think that Baker-Finch had the advantage, but Woosnam would birdie the 14th (50 cm putt), and another three, whilst Baker-Finch would double-bogey the 18th and finish 2nd. Woosnam collected $400,000 and Baker-Finch $250,000 ($200,000 to Stewart and $150,000 to Daly).
We actually chatted with Baker-Finch because we found him and his wife, I think with a small girl, on the beach (they stayed on after the tournament). One funny moment was in the club house (where hotel residents were allowed), when Payne Stewart was looking at the Kauai Lagoons t-shirts (which were really very nice with a beautiful logo). In walked John Daly who started to joke about Payne Stewart's dress sense. We did not see Ian Woosnam, but it was said that he flew in and out on his private jet, and stayed closed in the hotel with his entourage. I must say that John Daly appeared to live in the club house, and was very friendly, would chat to anyone, and he took a liking to my wife's French accent.
One finally memory from that time, was what happened after the tournament. The course was open again, but fully booked by Japanese golfers, so we were lucky to get a tee-time just before they close the course for the tournament. We were in a restaurant for lunch overlooking the 14th hole. It was great fun. The buggies would arrive at the 'normal' tee box, I think it was 170 yards (155 meters), four Japanese golfers would hit four balls into sea, drive down to the dropping zone, drop balls, and chip onto the green. They would then all have their photographs taken on the putting green, so they could pick them up when they arrived in the clubhouse. In my round on the course, I managed to find the back bunker, but still ended with a double-bogey.
The one trip we made was with Air Kauai, where we took a private tour of the interior of the island. Beside the fantastic views over the island, I remember two things. Firstly the humidity inside the extinct volcano (as seen below), and the way we gradually rose up the face of the waterfall (the curtain), to the point where we were directly in line with the crest and saw the water cascading over the rock edge.
These are photographs picked from the Web, but they evoke what we saw. I hope one day to dig-out, and digitise, the video-cassettes I took at the time.
Bad times ahead
Our impression in 1991 of both the site and the hotel was extremely positive, but it would appear that all was not well. As a Westin hotel it was opened in 1987, but already in 1991 the Japanese Shinwa Golf group acquired the courses, hotel and retail units, for $200 million (which might explain the oriental touches we saw in the hotel). It would appear that the site was badly damaged by Hurricane Iniki in 1992. The site re-opened in 1995 after being bought by Marriott, with a plan to convert the site to vacation club and time sharing.
It would appear that by 2005 the resort had fallen on bad times, the luxury shopping centre was abandoned, and Marriott were still trying to revive the site as a vacation club under the Ritz-Carlton brand. Apparently, they implied that you could take the water taxi on the lagoons and have direct access to the ocean, which you can't since the lagoons are landlocked (as clearly seen on the site map).
There was also the mention of the fact that site was sitting right next to the local airport. I do remember noting the occasional plane flying over when we were on Kalapaki beach, but that was more than offset by the wonderfully warm ocean water (a place my wife still dreams about).
In 2005 Marriott's were selling 3-week time-shares for $300,000, and fully furnished units starting at $1.7 million. Today I've seen houses on the site being offered for $4-7 million, but also timeshares being drastically discounted.