PRINCEVILLE, Kauai, Hawaii -- Picking the right golf resort can be the difference between a wonderful vacation and just a so-so time.
It's never an easy decision where to spend your hard-earned money and days off. Thankfully, there are never really any "wrong" decisions when the destination is an exotic tropical island like Kauai.
There are subtle difference in the three resorts I visited in May, the St. Regis Princeville Resort, the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa and the Kaua'i Marriott Resort. Here's a look:
St. Regis Princeville Resort in Princeville
Who fits in best: Golfers, couples.
The inside scoop: Princeville is one of the rare American golf destinations (think Bandon Dunes, Pebble Beach, Whistling Straits) with two top-100 public courses on site. Recent renovations to the Prince Golf Course and Makai Golf Club, two Robert Trent Jones Jr. designs, have both in prime condition.
The Makai offers more ocean views, while the Prince rises and falls through the jungle. Each facility is trying to become more beginner and family friendly as well. The driving range of the Prince Golf Course transforms into a six-hole beginner course starting at 4 p.m. The overflow Woods nine of the Makai Golf Club isn't as crowded and costs less than the renovated 18 holes with five ocean holes.
A multimillion-dollar rebranding and renovation in 2009 transformed the former Princeville Hotel into one of America's best golf resorts. A personal butler assigned to each of the 252 rooms can make just about anything happen, from packing and unpacking your bags to running errands. I saw children walking around the St. Regis, but the place just oozes with such extravagance, I'd much rather take just my wife than the whole family (your wallet will thank you). Although the new pool along the beach is nice, there are no toys like a water slide or splash zone for youngsters. The north shore overlooking the scenic Hanalei Bay feels quite secluded, which is a blessing for couples looking to get away.
Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa in Koloa
Who fits in best: Families, couples.
The inside scoop: The sprawling 602-room Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa on the south shore might be the island's most versatile property, especially after a $45 million renovation completed in 2011.
Golfers will love Poipu Bay Golf Course, a wind-swept RTJ Jr. course that hosted the PGA Grand Slam of Golf from 1994-2006. Several holes on the back nine run along cliffs on the Pacific Ocean. The resort feels like a giant garden of palm trees and exotic plants. Native flora and fauna accent the open-air walkways.
Rough waters tend to hinder swimming at the beach, so most children end up playing in the cool man-made saltwater lagoon and water slide in the freshwater pool instead. More fish-filled lagoons surround the excellent Tidewater Restaurant.
Couples should definitely book a romantic night out at the Beach House Restaurant nearby. The live music at Stevenson's Library, a sophisticated hangout, creates an ambiance that stimulates the best resort nightlife on the island.
While the kids are partying with Camp Hyatt, both parents should spend at least a half-day inside the Anara Spa. It's a special place. Paying extra for a treatment in a secluded garden hale is a great investment toward future sanity.
Kaua'i Marriott Resort in Lihue
Who fits in best: Families, golfers.
The inside scoop: Convenience is king at this fine 345-room Marriott located just a short shuttle ride from the Lihue Airport. You don't need to rent a car. Everything is nearby. Those who want to get away from the 800-acre resort can walk to a nearby shopping plaza stocked with restaurants and bars.
Secluded hot tubs complement a spectacular pool, one of the largest in the Hawaiian islands. Major upgrades part of a $50 million renovation finished in 2010 have the resort's pool deck, guestrooms, suites and restaurants sparkling.
Kalapaki Beach, surrounded by a sheltered bay, might be the best of the three resort beaches. Its sandy, shallow entry is ideal for all ages. Find time to cruise the calm waters on a standup paddle board.
Golfers have their choice of two strong golf courses. The 27-hole Kauai Lagoons Golf Club by Jack Nicklaus showcases the longest continuous stretch of ocean holes in Hawaii. Just a short distance away, the underrated Puakea Golf Course has some so-so holes, although several awesome ones make up for the shortcoming.