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The Lodge at Kukui’ula

By Larry Feldman

“Sometimes you wanna go . . . Where everyone knows your name”

–Theme from “Cheers”

Over the 40-some-odd years I’ve been covering golf, I’ve been blessed to go to some of the most spectacular and stunning resorts around the world.

But no matter how elite these places are, when I would check in or visit one of their restaurants or sneak off for a quick massage at the spa, nobody knew who I was until I checked in at the respective front desks and announced myself.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that. After all, these employees come into contact with thousands of people every week, so why should they know your name?

So, when I arrived at The Lodge at Kukui‘ula on the spectacular island of Kauai, I was pleasantly surprised that everyone knew my name. From check-in to check-out and everything in between, they knew that my wife and I were Mr. And Mrs. Feldman.

Never before have I experienced that at a resort.

And that’s not all.  You don’t need money at the resort. Wait. 

What?

The Lodge at Kukui‘ula is a cashless experience. That is, no tips, no paying a tab for dinner or drinks, nothing to the valet when you come and go.

“As the staff isn’t tipped, there is no financial pressure that you would typically see from staff at a five-star hotel who are trying to make a buck off of you,” according to Brian Hallberg, General Manager of Kukui’ula Development.

Okay, here’s the lowdown. The Lodge at Kukui’ula is an ultra-exclusive private club that has a limited number of rooms (about 40) available to the public. So, if you come as a guest, you’re treated like a member.  

Pretty cool.

The resort has so much to offer. Positioned on the island’s southern coast in Po’ipu and nestled between the National Tropical Botanical Garden and historic Old Koloa Town, Kukui’ula comprises a collection of custom ocean-view homesites and luxury homes, villas, cottages and bungalows. The private clubhouse serves as the social and recreational centerpiece of the community and includes the main clubhouse, a world-class spa, pickleball and tennis courts, an inviting collection of saltwater swimming pools replicating a private oasis and an expansive lawn area with sand-pit volleyball, bocce ball and more and, of course, the Golf Clubhouse which is home to the amazing Tom Weiskopf-designed 18-hole golf course. The Club also offers a 10-acre upcountry Farm & Lake and orchard park area for members and guests to pick their own produce from tropical fruit to herbs and hike its surrounding trails. Dinner is truly on them!

The Hi’ilani Spa and Fitness Center is something you don’t want to miss as it provides a unique sense of tranquility that becomes a refreshing experience for the mind, body and spirit. The full-service sanctuary features private indoor/outdoor treatment rooms, lava rock saunas, hot and cold plunge pools, extensive fitness facilities, a movement studio hosting 30+ classes a week, a 25-meter lap pool, men’s and women’s locker rooms with outdoor garden showers and glass-walled steam rooms.  

But the best part of the spa is The Club at Kukui`ula’s signature “Water Ritual”, which is offered before all treatments. In order, it goes like this. Dry sauna, cool shower, steam room, cool shower, hot tub, cold plunge, hot tub. All I can say is that you need to muster up the courage for the cold plunge, but it’s so worth it once you’re in.

Kukui’ula prioritizes farm-wellness experiences to increase the soil’s biodiversity and support human health, with its 10-acre community Upcountry Farm, including an expansive lake and nature trails, as well as immersive opportunities. Equipped with a staff of farmers who help residents and guests harvest seasonal fruits, vegetables and herbs on site, travelers can tend the soil or pick from fields of red ginger, papaya, mango and more. Kukui’ula hosts farm floral arranging workshops, gardening lessons, private cooking classes with chef Ben as well as Chef Ben’s seasonal farm-to-fork fare under the stars. The Farm works with the spa to cultivate a wellness garden to produce botanicals that are incorporated in tonics and treatments, in addition to fresh-pressed juices. When members and guests are unable to make their way to the farm, a self-serve produce stand is located on the lanai next to the Clubhouse with an abundance of produce and flowers available.

Kauai is home to some of the most famed locales for adventure in the world, perfect for connecting with nature, learning a new skill and experiencing the islands healing properties led by a team of local experts, the Huaka’I Outfitters. There is an abundance of water activities including stand-up paddle boarding, surfing, snorkeling or just about anything. 

The newest and most exciting thing in watersports, eFoils – electrically powered surfboards – have debuted at The Farm Lake. Whether you’re a surfer or not, eFoils were designed with everyone in mind, making it an excellent activity for generations of families to participate in.  While nobody would mistake me for Kelly Slater, it was a blast.

And, in response to the interest and demand from Members and guests alike, Kukui`ula opened three new Pickleball courts in 2023. Guests can take advantage of a private lesson or group clinic with the tennis pros. Huaka‘i staff can also assist with set-up, game matching and play for any racquet sports.

So if all of this doesn’t entice you, I’ve saved the best (I’m biased, of course) for last.

GOLF!

The Club at Kukui’ula, in my humble opinion, is the finest golf course on all the Hawaiian islands that’s open to the public. Why? As mentioned, the club is private for the most part but as a guest of the Lodge, players have the privilege to experience not only a fantastic Weiskopf design but play possibly the most pristine 18 holes on the planet. Every blade of grass was perfection! 

Todd Michaelson, Director of Golf, agrees. “I would rank our superintendent, Joe Vittum, with anyone in golf,” said Michaelson.  “He’s worked on several of the islands in Hawaii and we couldn’t be more thrilled to have him here at Kukui’ula. It makes for a once-in-a-lifetime experience for our members and lodge guests every time they step to the first tee.”

The other great thing about Kukui’ula is that because it’s private, tee times are easily accessible. “We have approximately 300 members, but only about 40 live here full time, so if you staying with us as a guest of the lodge, it’s usually fairly easy to get a tee time and be able to play in four hours,” added Michaelson.

The Club at Kukui’ula plays to 7,052 yards from the tips but is extremely playable, which always makes things enjoyable, whether you’re a low-handicap or the average Joe.

The front nine provides a solid middle stretch beginning at Hole 4.  At 513 yards, it’s reachable in two for the long hitters, but the challenge comes when arriving to the complex green that forces you to be in the correct position or three-putt stares you in the face.

Holes 5 and 6 go up…and then back down. The 5th hole, a Par 4 measuring 452 yards requires length and accuracy. Driver, 3-wood is not uncommon as it plays longer.  If you can navigate those two shots, then par or even birdie is in your future. As you make the turn down the hill on the 493 yard, Par 4 6th hole, pretty takes on a new meaning.  From the elevated tee, this hole provides a stunning backdrop of the club and the Pacific Ocean. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the native flower, Puakenikeni, which help make the leis the resort offers up.

One other insider tip as you play No. 7 is to not forget the grab some Lychee. You can take the native fruit to the clubhouse after your round and Tyson behind the bar will whip you up a nice tropical cocktail for you.

Another majestic hole is the 8th hole, a 223-yard Par 3. The hole favors a draw from right to left as everything slopes that way. Go left and double bogey comes into play. Take your par and run.

Like the front nine, the backside features a middle stretch that will tickle your senses and test your game. At 530 yards, the 13th is a solid Par 5 but when you arrive for your second shot, you have the choice to go for it in two or lay up. Or, just forget about everything and take in the ocean views. There’s also the chance to nab some authentic Kauai coffee beans down the left side for your morning cup of Joe. 

The signature 14th hole not only possesses possibly the most breathtaking view on the entire island, it’s a downright fun hole. At 320 yards, the downhill Par 4 is driveable if you catch the speed slot down the left side. If you don’t have the distance, play safe down the right for an easy approach. But, with the blue Pacific staring you in the face, who really cares what you card?

But, when you step to the tee on 15, you better get your head back in the game. The 473-yard, Par 4 is a dogleg right that requires an accurate drive that hopefully cuts the corner because your approach is typically into the prevailing trade winds, so you’ll need to jump on the second shot in order to pull out the short stick.

“If you’re here as a guest of the Lodge, we strive to provide an unforgettable golf experience,” said Michaelson. “We take pride in treating our guests like a member and make them feel as if they own property here.”

Speaking of real estate, there are numerous opportunities that can help you call Kukui’ula home and, hence, become a member of this prestigious club.

Homesites at Kukui’ula range from one-third acre to three acres, and include some of the last Kaua’i coastline still available for building. Renowned architects like Shay Zak, Olson Kundig and Bing Hu have constructed a collection of stunning homes along hillside slopes and ocean overlooks. Meanwhile, the Club Cottages, Bungalows, and Villas provide opportunities to experience all Kukui’ula has to offer just steps from the Clubhouse. 

Currently, the Aepo Nei and Kula Makai neighborhoods are the only two with available homesites.  Aepo Nei is located closer to the Farm and offers expansive ocean and golf views while Kula Makai offers larger homesites nestled overlooking the deep blue ocean. Homesites range from $1.35 million to over $5.475 million.

If you’re looking for move-in ready, Kukui’ula has over a dozen homes available on the market which include a mix of resale and soon-to-complete new builds ranging from $3.95 million to $16.95 million.  In addition, there are a few new developments on the horizon including Na Hiku, featuring 14 fully furnished, contemporary plantation-style homes designed by architect Ginny Latham, featuring interiors by Jas Interiors which range from $6.8 million to $7.4 million; two spec homes by Kaua’i Bahia at Aepo Nei, blending international flair with island contemporary architecture with extensive use of teak and other materials sourced from Brazil and Indonesia ranging from $9.9 million to $10.4 million; and Kaupili Phase I which is a collection of seven plantation-style homes by Meridian Pacific on the upper reaches of our Kahela neighborhood ranging from $6.9 million to 7.6 million.

Hey, it’s the price you pay to live in paradise. But, don’t forget, if living at Kukui’ula isn’t in the cards for you, just book a room and experience it just like you’re a member. It’s the amazing quality this resort offers over everyone else.

Oh yeah, don’t forget to pick up your Lychee cocktail from Tyson at the bar. He’ll know exactly who you are when you walk in.

Cheers !!!

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