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Passage in Paradise

The tenth is a 579-yard par five that is shaped like a question mark. This bizarre design means a drive down the left creates a heart-stopping chance to hit over a ravine and cut 125 yards off the hole. On what may be the world's shortest long par five, a 240-yard drive and a 215-yard approach--all carry--into a breeze will get you home in two. Gulp. The 385-yard par-four twelfth starts from one of the most elevated tees in the world. The fairway, actually quite wide, gives the illusion of being a one-lane ribbon of road through the Mesozoic Era. Pacific views distract you, too.

Luckily I don't remember every nuance of the 398-yard thirteenth; if I did, I'd wake up screaming. There is jungle everywhere and barely enough acreage in the fairway to give Trent Jones Jr. a proper burial after you murder him.

The last day, though, Mr. Jones redeemed himself. We played his gorgeously scenic, yet forgiving twenty-seven-hole Makai layout at Princeville, a perennial top-one-hundred track before the Prince arrived. The prettiest single hole on all of Kauai--and as spectacular a 360-degree vista as exists anywhere--is number seven on the Ocean course. You've seen this 204-yard par three even if you don't know it. Infinite ocean. Na Pali coastline. Cliffs that make Pebble Beach look flat. Surf so huge that the once-a-year big-wave surfing championships are held a few miles away at Wiamea Bay. And a back tee on a tiny, lofty peninsula jutting out over the whole scene.

For kids this course is a dream comparable to Kiele because it combines megaviews with plenty of room off the tee for younger players. And for the rest of us, anyone who can play an eighteen-holer on the mainland can play Makai and Kiele and feel they've enjoyed the most deluxe golf anywhere.

Going to Kauai was something that I had long assumed would be a gift to myself--my ultimate middle-age self-indulgence. Yet within a month of returning home, I discovered that Kauai had been a far greater gift to someone else--my son.

With a sportswriter for a father, Russell never had a realistic chance to avoid sports. But over the years, his affection for different games seemed genuine. He loved sports and wanted to be good at them. But he was just a normal kid. In basketball, his career highlight was two baskets in one game.

Something happened in Hawaii. Maybe it was just that he'd turned twelve and was starting to inhabit his body more comfortably. But I don't think that's all. In Kauai I assumed he'd only want to play a couple of times and that battling hard courses would test both his patience and his athletic self-esteem. I didn't want him demoralized by tracks that can get the best of Mark O'Meara and Vijay Singh. "You don't have to play," I'd insist. "If it isn't fun, don't do it."


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