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Way Beyond the Buddy Trip

Wide-ranging choices suitable for families are the motif of a new resort being developed on Kauai called Kukui'ula. The plan is to have a Tom Weiskopf golf course, a twenty-one-room inn, a spa and a community of 1,500 luxury homes. But what will set it apart, according to development president Dick Holtzman, is a twenty-person concierge staff that will take personal service to a new level. Want to scuba?A staff member will take you. An ecotour of the island?Of course. If you want ukulele lessons, they'll be available too.

Meanwhile, established resorts are retrofitting to adapt to these new demands. Kiawah Island recently added a boutique luxury beach hotel called the Sanctuary. Resort president Roger Warren reports that it is more popular with female guests than the villas that were the staple of Kiawah accommodations for the resort's first three decades. The Sanctuary features an extensive spa, and guests can select from a broad range of activities. "Women generally don't want to play thirty-six holes a day," Warren says. "They want to play a round of golf, and then they may want to go to the spa or take a bike ride or go shopping." Women, he says, now account for 8 to 10 percent of the resort's golf guests, and their number is growing.

Kiawah has also retrofitted "family tees" on its courses. They're located in existing fairways, within a short distance of the green. On summer evenings kids can play nine holes for free if they're with parents (who pay a reduced rate and also play from the family tees). Tee times during this family hour are spaced fifteen minutes apart so that beginners won't feel rushed. Warren says it's not uncommon to see kids prancing with glee because they've managed to best mom or dad on a hole or two.

For the avid, traveling golfer, the changing character of the golf resort has advantages and disadvantages. Being at one of the new small luxury resorts can be more like playing at a private club than at a big hotel course at high season. The golf courses designed for these resorts are usually player-friendly, the rationale being that there isn't much future for a resort with a course that beats up the customers. Developers want beautiful scenery and visually arresting features. They want their courses to be fun. But there is also the danger of what golf architect Robert Trent Jones Jr. calls "fairway robbery." When a golf course is designed as an amenity for a second-home development, the developer can get "voracious," Jones says. The result can be fairways lined tightly with homes or condos. Worse, developers might take a good par five and turn it into a cramped par four for the sake of more building lots. The smartest developers realize that both property values and profits are enhanced when homes are placed unobtrusively around the golf course.

In the final analysis, the evolution of the golf resort means more choices for everyone, including serious golfers. There will always be room for a pure golf project like Bandon Dunes, the most artistically successful new American golf resort in years. It does quite well without an elaborate spa, in large part due to its location on the Pacific Ocean. As Kukui'ula's Holtzman observes, there just aren't that many thousand-acre parcels of undeveloped oceanfront left. Developers without that sort of land probably can't follow the Bandon Dunes model.

It's no coincidence that Pinehurst, the patriarch of American golf resorts, has seen some significant changes in the past few years. It has a new 31,000-square-foot spa and five of the resort's eight courses have recently been fitted with kids' tees. Donald Ross, the crusty Scotsman who designed Pinehurst's first four courses, may well have thought a spa was best left to the decadent Continentals. He may also have thought that the proper place for children at a golf resort was the caddie yard. But Ross, for all his genius, was a man of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries—and this is a new millennium.

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