Think of Hawaii and the picture that will come most immediately to mind is one of a glorious island paradise with beautiful ocean views. A tropical resort in the sun-drenched Pacific Ocean awash with loud shirts and pina coladas. For those who are a little older the Hawaiian islands may invoke visions of Steve McGarrett, surfers and, of course, sun. “Book ’em, Danno”.
It is only those in the know who will be thinking also of the superb golf courses that the islands have to offer. And there are golf courses in Hawaii that stand favorable comparison with some of the very best in the world.
So for golfers, finding some of the best golf courses there are in the midst of such splendor can only make for a sporting experience that is truly unforgettable.
The History and Geography of the Hawaiian Islands
Hawaii is the 50th state of the United States of America, having been admitted to the Union in 1959 – although it had been a US territory since 1898. Indeed it was the attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii by forces of the Empire of Japan in 1941 which led to America’s entry into the Second World War.
Uniquely amongst US states, it is located not in the continent of North America but out in the Pacific Ocean, where it forms part of the Polynesian sub region of Oceania. Prior to its incorporation into the USA the archipelago had at different times been both a kingdom and a republic.
The land area of Hawaii comprises a total of 132 volcanic islands, and spans around 1,500 miles. Nicknamed The Aloha State, its motto is Ua Mau ke Ea o ka ʻĀina i ka Pono, which translates as “the life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness”. Its population of almost 1.5 million is made up primarily of settlers from Asia and mainland USA, as well as Native Hawaiians.
The largest island in Hawaii is simply called Big Island, also known as The Orchid Isle, the land mass of which is made up of five volcanoes.
Why Golfers Love to Play on Hawaii Golf Courses
Golf is important wherever one goes in the States. Couple it with a taste of paradise such as is offered by any golf course in the sun-drenched Pacific and Hawaii is always going to ooze charm and appeal like few others. In the circumstances it is hardly surprising that players often dispense with the stuffier norms of golfing attire and opt for something more appropriate to their surroundings, such as Hawaiian shirts and floral tropical pants.
But the call of the courses and fairways of this island paradise is especially beguiling when considering the sheer quality of the sport that is available for resort guests of all skill levels on the palm tree-lined greens of Hawaii.
For an island group so relatively small, the list of private and public courses available for play is more than considerable. Whatever your handicap, or skill level, or financial means, there is something for everyone spread out across the islands.
A History of Hawaii Golf
As far as we are aware, the first game of golf ever played in Hawaii took place in 1890 on pasture land in Manoa Valley. We even know who played (Alexander Garvie and John C. Cook), and which player eventually triumphed (Garvie). They played with a set of clubs borrowed from one Archibald Scott Cleghorn, the father of Princess Ka’iulani who was the last heir apparent to the throne of the Kingdom of Hawaii.
In 1898 the first course ever to be installed on the territory was the Moanalua golf course, at first a full eighteen holes but later reduced to nine.
The first tournament as far as we know was a challenge for the Davies/Bishop Calabash Trophy played in 1904 at the Manoa Golf Club. This was moved in 1906 to Oahu Country Club, in the Nuuanu valley. The first championship course was opened in 1927/28 at Waialae Country Club in Kahala, and in 1930 the Hawaiian Golf Association was established.
At the time when the archipelago was granted statehood in 1959 there were 25 recognized golf courses in Hawaii. Its first recognized major golf tournament was held three years later on the Kaanapali north course.
At one point the Ala Wai golf course was reckoned to be the busiest in the world, with some 175,000 rounds being played each year. Koolau is sometimes said to be the world’s toughest.
Best Known Hawaii Golf Courses
These are just some of the most notable and sought-after golf courses in Hawaii:
- Kapalua Plantation Course – Possibly the best known of all the Hawaii golf courses and host to the annual PGA Tour’s Sentry Tournament of Champions, the Kapalua Golf Resort in located on the island of Maui, which claims some of the finest golf courses in the world. Some important renovation work was recently undertaken to the Plantation Course by a design team led by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore.
- Mauna Kea Golf Course – Situated by the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, this Big Island course in Kamuela was built by Robert Trent Jones Sr. in the mid-1960s and has since been modernized by Rees Jones.
- Hualalai Resort – Also on Big Island, this resort which is close to the international airport boasts two golf courses, one of which is private and the other at the disposal of resort guests. It was the first of the golf courses in Hawaii to have been designed by Jack Nicklaus and it plays host to an annual PGA Tour Champions event. The glorious Four Seasons resort is available to tournament guests.
- Makai Golf Club – The Princeville Makai Resort in Kauai is a superb Robert Trent Jones Jr. design, opened in 1971 and was redesigned more recently in 2009. Six ocean holes are included in the feature.
- Waikoloa Kings’ Course – A Scottish links-style par-72 course designed by Jay Morrish and Tom Weiskopf, Waikoloa sits proudly on the Kohala coast.
- Manele Golf Course – The Challenge is a course in Lanai City which includes three holes on cliffs which actually use the Pacific Ocean as a water feature. It was built by golf legend Jack Nicklaus in the early nineties.
- Poipu Bay Golf Course – Designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. with pro shop and practice range, this award winning Big Island venue is open to the general public.
- Turtle Bay Resort – an Arnold Palmer design featuring two 18-hole championship courses, the Palmer course in Oahu is home to the PGA Tour Turtle Bay Championship, which is the first field event of the PGA Champions Tour.
- Waialae Country Club – Situated in the Hawaiian capital of Honolulu, this landscaped championship golf course was established almost a century ago. Wide fairways lined with coconut trees and 83 strategically placed bunkers present a challenge to any golfer whether new or experienced.
- Mauna Lani Resort – Home of the prestige Hawaii State Open, this resort formerly hosted the yearly Senior Skins game. Its hole no. 15 is one of the most photographed over-the-water holes anywhere in the world. Boasting both north and south courses, the north course is preferred by many.
- Ocean Course at Hokuala – This has a reputation for being one of the world’s most aesthetically beautiful courses, it weaves its way patiently through a mango and guava tree forest before finishing at a 40-acre fresh water lagoon.
- King Kamehameha Golf Club – Maui’s only private 18-hole golf club, this course is located 750 meters above sea level on the mountain slopes of West Maui and offers some of the most breathtaking views in the region.
- Royal Ka’anapali Golf Course – Also close to the West Maui mountains, the Royal Ka’anapali was designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. and has been maintained by landscape architect Arthur Jack Snyder. Incorporating wide fairways, rolling greens and driving range, it is considered a fine learning environment for new players.
- Puakea Golf Course – The newest eighteen hole golf course on Kauai, Puakea is set in the tropical landscape which was used as a set for the film Jurassic Park.
- Ko Olina Golf Club – One of the top 75 resort courses in the US according to the authoritative Golf Digest magazine, Ko Olina Golf Club was built in 1990 by noted golf architect Ted Robinson. Famed for the design of its club house as well as for its facilities and of course its golf, it also boasts an award-winning golf shop.
Paradise is Part of the Golfing Experience
For those who take their golf seriously, a well-designed course at a well-run club are absolute basic necessities. But once those boxes have been ticked, one should never underestimate the importance of aesthetics. Bearing in mind that sport for pleasure is very much about relaxation, what’s not to like about beautiful ocean views, glorious sun and the siren call of the beach club?
The best Hawaii golf courses hold their own by comparison with other top clubs all across the world. Golfers by nature enjoy the natural environment, and all the more so when it is steeped in the breathtaking scenery of a Pacific paradise.
It is not by chance that golf in Hawaii has attracted the interest and participation of such sporting legends as Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer.