A New Shade of Green in Kauai

It was good to hear that Poipu Bay Golf Course in Kauai, home of the PGA Grand Slam of Golf from 1994 – 2006, reopened in December, 2010 following a nine-month greens refurbishment project.

The course, a splendid Robert Trent Jones Jr. design that tightropes bluffs above Keoneloa Bay, closed last April to install Seashore Paspalum, a warm-season, salt-tolerant turfgrass that requires less water and fewer chemicals to maintain tournament-quality conditions.

Agronomy is a snooze for most golfers, but paspalum has transformed the quality and sustainability of playing surfaces throughout the tropics. Naturally, Pete Dye was behind its current popularity as the go-to grass in the equatorial zone.

Around the time Dye was planning his fourth course at Casa de Campo (later named Dye Fore), he was told that his use of fresh water would be monitored by the water company, i.e., he was on the meter. He was also informed that a dammed lake, located near the site of the new course, would be available to him. The hitch: The damn lake was filled with sea water! Necessity being the mother of invention, Dye went in search of a grass that tolerates salt water. He found a research professor at the University of Georgia, Dr. Ronny Duncan, who had been studying a grass called paspalum since 1993 under a grant from the USGA. It was a marriage made in heaven. Dye, the iconoclastic designer always pushing the envelope; Duncan, a brilliant scientist on the brink of a turfgrass breakthrough.

Poipu Bay is one of Hawaii's prettiest courses

After putting together what he called a “world collection of existing paspalums,” Duncan, who concluded that fine-textured paspalums originated on African sand dunes and arrived in the New World as bedding on slave ships, began experimenting with different strains of the grass. Paspalum, which requires a fraction of the amount of pesticides, insecticides and fertilizer required by normal grasses, not only tolerates sea water but thrives on it with proper salt management. (It also can be irrigated with brackish or recycled water). Paspalum develops a lush, deep green canopy not unlike that of Kentucky bluegrass. Stiff-leafed and waxy, a golf ball perches nicely on it. Divots fill in quickly. The grass responds well to lower mowing heights, and the speed of ball roll is comparable to that of hybrid Bermudas.

The university’s college of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences has characterized Seashore Paspalum, which Duncan and his staff came up with after years of experimentation, as “the most environmentally friendly warm-season turfgrass in the 21st century.”

This resilient turfgrass is at its emerald-green best at Poipu Bay, which lays out along Kauai’s wave-tossed south shore. The out-and-back routing is a good fit for the breezy, links-style course. While the front nine plays to pleated volcanic peaks, the back nine doubles as a maritime zoo. Rare monk seals, green sea turtles and the occasional sprouting humpback whale can be glimpsed between the 15th green and the 17th tee. The ocean pounds the rocks below the bluffs, sending up salt spray that once wreaked havoc with the greens. In addition to being eco-friendly, Poipu Bay’s new paspalum greens now provide a faster, more consistent roll.

Poipu Bay sits adjacent to the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa, a low-rise, traditional Hawaiian-themed property fronting saltwater lagoons and a lovely beach. The resort’s Anara spa offers Lomo-Lomi massages in open-air treatment areas encased by tropical flora. Within the hotel are beautifully refurbished guest rooms as well as six restaurants and lounges, including Tidepools, a Pacific Rim favorite set among hale pilis (grass-thatched huts) near waterfalls and koi fish lagoons; and Dondero’s, an elegant Italian bistro with an outdoor courtyard. Stevenson’s Library, a comfortable book-lined lounge with an impressive koa wood bar, is the perfect place to sing the praises of paspalum while sipping a fine whisky or playing a game of billiards.

Details: www.poipubaygolf.com; www.kauaihyatt.com.

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