"This is the most magnificent, balmy atmosphere in the world."
– Mark Twain_Ê_Ê_Ê
In 1898, Samuel Mills Damon, a wealthy Hawaiian banker, built Hawaii's first official 18-hole golf course. Even though it was on his estate, Damon didn't charge any greens fees. A nice gesture, but the free rounds didn't last long. Three years into its operation, Damon's son made the course semiprivate and, because of the warm, tropical climate, lopped off nine of its holes. Playing 18, it seems, was just too hot to handle.
Today, the course is still around (known as Moanalua Golf Club in Honolulu, it retains its semiprivate, nine-hole status), but the weather hasn't gotten any cooler. Thankfully, those itchy woolen suits have long been abandoned for clothes that "wick," so weather that was once considered too hot is now–how do you put it?–just right.
So too is the golf. When you consider that Hawaii's six major islands boast more than 90 golf courses (many of which rank atop numerous "Best of" lists), it's easy to see why the 50th state is one of the world's most popular golf destinations. Most courses feature ocean views and obstacles specific to this tropical archipelago: lava outcroppings, jungle ravines and, of course, the world's largest water hazard, the Pacific Ocean.
That being said, from the many photos of and the extensive television coverage the Aloha State receives, it would be easy to mistake its golf as merely tranquil, leisurely and aesthetically pleasing. To that impression we add these words: "trade winds." While most courses enjoy picture-postcard views, strong trade winds frequently turn serene moments into testy ones. (Don't worry, we've provided tips on how to handle those "breezes.") But that's what makes playing golf in paradise so exciting. Now if only every round was free again.
|_Ê Hawaii THE "BIG ISLAND"||_Ê||_Ê|
|Mauna Kea Golf Course
7,124 Yards, Par 72 | Architect: Robert Trent Jones, Sr.
Greens Fees: $110-$210 | (808) 882-7222 | www.princeresortshawaii.com
From abundant views of the Pacific to the snow-capped Mauna Kea volcano, it's easy to see why the 40-year-old course remains one of Hawaii's most popular experiences. Mauna Kea's third hole is so famous, you can buy framed photos of it.
| Mauna Lani Resort Golf Course
6,812 Yards, Par 72 (North Course) | Architects: Homer Flint and Raymond Cain
6,938 Yards, Par 72 (South Course) | Architects: Nelson/Wright/Haworth
Greens Fees: $70-$205 | (808) 885-6655 | www.maunalani.com
Built on a lava bed, the North Course has a reputation for being slightly more difficult than its sister to the south. No. 17 will attract shutterbugs. The par-3 is tucked away inside a natural lava amphitheater.
| Waikoloa Golf Course
6,560 Yards, Par 70 (Beach Course) | Architect: Robert Trent Jones Jr.
7,074 Yards, Par 72 (Kings' Course) | Architects: Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish
Greens Fees: $130-$185 | (877) WAIKOLOA | www.waikoloabeachresort.com
Robert Trent Jones Jr. once said that Waikoloa's Beach Course was the most "beautiful and unusual course I ever designed." The course was carved from a lava flow and hugs the Kohala coastline. The challenging Kings' Course features a trademark Tom Weiskopf design element. On both sets of nine, he tempts you to drive a par-4.
|_Ê Kauai THE "GARDEN ISLAND"||_Ê||_Ê|
|Princeville Golf Course (Prince Course)
7,309 Yards, Par 72 | Architect: Robert Trent Jones, Jr.
Greens Fees: $85-$175 | (800) 826-4400 | www.princeville.com
The Prince Course is one of the world's hardest tests. Carved out of some of the most rugged terrain on Kauai's coast, it challenges golfers right from the opening hole. Players are frequently forced to lay up short of wide ravines on their drives and play long irons or fairway woods into well-guarded greens.
| Poipu Bay Resort Golf Course
6,959 Yards, Par 72 | Architect: Robert Trent Jones, Jr.
Greens Fees: $60-$185 | (800) 858-6300 | www.poipubaygolf.com
When you reach 15, you head home–and downwind. Elevated high above the ocean with waves crashing below and kitesurfers launching themselves into the stratosphere, your drives will double in length.
|Puakea Golf Course
6,954 Yards, Par 72 | Architect: Robin Nelson
Greens Fees: $25-$125 | (866) 773-5554 | www.puakeagolf.com
AOL founder and Hawaii native Steve Case earns kudos for turning an incomplete 10-hole course into one of Kauai's finest experiences. The inland Puakea has the feel of a more traditional course, with views of the mountains and jungle available at every turn.
|_Ê Maui THE "VALLEY ISLAND"
| Kaanapali Golf Course
6,693 Yards, Par 71 (North) | Architect: Robert Trent Jones, Sr.
6,555 Yards, Par 71 (South) | Architect: Arthur Jack Snyder
Greens Fees: $65-$180 | (866) 454-GOLF | www.kaanapali-golf.com
Robin Nelson, Hawaii's most prolific golf course architect, recently renovated Kaanapali's South Course, resurfacing the greens. The $13-million, two-year project included adding strategically placed bunkers and contouring fairways. While the South is open for play, the North's renovation will be completed this November.
|Kapalua Golf Course
6,600 Yards, Par 72 (Bay) | Architects: Palmer/Duane
6,378 Yards, Par 70 (Village) | Architect: Arnold Palmer
7,411 Yards, Par 73 (Plantation) | Architects: Ben Crenshaw/Bill Coore
Greens Fees: $67-$295 | (877) KAPALUA | www.kapaluamaui.com/golf
At 663 yards, the Plantation Course's 18th hole is the longest hole played at any PGA Tour event (Mercedes Championship). The Bay Course's 5th hole asks golfers to carry Oneloa Bay on their tee shot to a green surrounded by black lava cliffs. The easiest of the three Kapalua Courses is the Village, which heads inland and provides views of the West Maui Mountains.
|Wailea Golf Club
6,797 Yards, Par 72 (Blue) | Architect: Arthur Jack Snyder
6,407 Yards, Par 72 (Emerald) | Architect: Robert Trent Jones, Jr.
6,653 Yards, Par 72 (Gold) | Architect: Robert Trent Jones, Jr.
Greens Fees: $135-$190 | (888) 328-6284 | www.golfbc.com
The most challenging track, the Gold Course is known as a thinking player's course. Look for lava rock outcroppings and dramatic elevation changes. The Blue Course isn't just aesthetically pleasing with its hibiscus blooming along the fairways, it also sports ocean views and has a reputation for being a more forgiving experience.
|Oahu THE "GATHERING PLACE"||_Ê|
|Hawaii Prince Golf Club
7,255 Yards, Par 72 | Architects: Arnold Palmer and Ed Seay
Greens Fees: $50-$140 | (888) 9-PRINCE | www.princeresortshawaii.com
Perhaps one of the most unique and malleable experiences in Hawaii, this 27-hole facility invites golfers to combine nines to create their own course. With abundant water on its holes, lush fairways and vistas of the Waianae Mountains, it's as memorable for its setting as it is for its concept.
| Turtle Bay Resort Golf Club
7,199 Yards, Par 72 (Palmer) | Architect: Arnold Palmer
6,535 Yards, Par 72 (Fazio) | Architect: George Fazio
Greens Fees: $35-$175 | (808) 293-6000 | www.turtlebayresort.com
Two nines with distinct personalities make the Palmer Course one of the most memorable experiences on the islands. Its front nine calls to mind links-style courses while the backside carves its way through a jungle of ironwood pine and a bird sanctuary. Its sister course, designed by George Fazio, features generous fairways.
|_Ê Lanai THE "PINEAPPLE ISLAND"||_Ê|
|The Challenge at Manele
7,039 Yards, Par 72 | Architect: Jack Nicklaus
Greens Fees: $75-$185 | (808) 565-2000 | www.fourseasons.com/manelebay/golf.html
There are only a handful of courses in the world that can claim to offer ocean views on every hole. The Challenge, built on lava outcroppings, is one of them, including three that border a cliff.
| The Experience at Koele
7,014 Yards, Par 72 | Architects: Greg Norman and Ted Robinson
Greens Fees: $75-$185 | (808) 565-2000 | www.fourseasons.com/manelebay/golf.html
At 2,000 feet above sea level, The Experience at Koele offers a cooler, inland alternative to The Challenge. Its front nine is routed through ravines of pine, koa and eucalyptus trees. The 17th features a 250-foot elevated tee box.
Rain: The most important thing is to keep your clubs dry, especially your grips. Also, when it rains, greens soften and slow down–a great chance to be aggressive!
Grain: A green's grain grows toward the setting sun, a quality that can dramatically impact your putting speed. Hit it harder when going into the grain and softer when it's with you.
Wind: To keep it low, widen your stance, swing smoother and play the ball back in your stance. When downwind, tee it high and let it fly.
_Ê_Ê_Ê _Ê _Ê_Ê_Ê
How To Speak Hawaiian
aloha: "hello" and "goodbye"
mahalo: "thank you"
lei: a flower garland
poi: a thin paste made from taro, Hawaii's national food
American, United, Aloha and Hawaiian Air provide service from the mainland to Hawaii's six major islands. Hawaiian and Island Air offer extensive interisland service.
Out Of Bounds
Swim with dolphins and turtles or watch whales on a Wildside Specialty Tour. Morning and evening trips sail from Waianae Boat Harbor in Oahu. $95/person plus tax. Ask about group discounts. (808) 306-7273, www.sailhawaii.com/wildside.html.
Oahu's famous North Shore. During the winter months, massive–and we mean really massive–waves roll in from Alaska and bring with them highlight-reel swells. Banzai Pipeline at Ehukai Beach Park or Waimea Bay provide killer views.
The Big Island's Volcanoes National Park comprises 333,000 acres and rises from the sea to the 13,677-foot summit of Mauna Loa, the Earth's most active volcano. $10 per vehicle, $5 for pedestrians or bicyclists. (808) 985-6000, www.nps.gov/havo.
Experience Hawaii by air. Blue Hawaiian Helicopter Tours fly over Kauai, Maui and the Big Island. $119-$382 per person. (800) 745-BLUE, www.bluehawaiian.com.