Poipu Bay Golf Course is just one of many options for oceanside golf in Hawaii
There are two dozen golf courses in the remote island chain of Hawaii that will make you forget you didnt break 100.
The sweeping beauty of the mountain vistas, the death-defying ocean cliffs jagged from centuries-old battles with Big Blue far below and the emerald rain forests featured on the hit TV-show Lost await anyone with a bag of clubs and enough time to swing them.
Sure, youre going to leave your share of golf balls on the lava rocks of the Big Island, in the steep ravines on Maui or Kauai and along those picturesque beach holes featured in magazines and brochures alike.
But who cares?
Those ragged scrawls on the scorecard can be blamed on all the digital shots youre beaming back to your jealous buddies trapped in the frigid air of the Midwest. Seeing you in Bermuda shorts and flowered aloha shirts, rescue club in hand, standing on the par-3 seventh at the Prince Course is worth every painstaking step of planning you took for your dream golf vacation.
Theres nothing quite like playing the Prince Course in north Kauai one day, then taking a ride through Jurassic Park on the way south to Poipu Bay the next. Scorecard? You dont need no stinking scorecard. You just saw humpback whales breaching off the par-3 11th at the Plantation Course at Kapalua. This isnt some municipal course in Jersey. This is golf mecca located thousands of miles away in the central Pacific.
You have enough air miles to make the flight, the boss gave you two weeks vacation and your significant other is willing to go with you to these exotic locations, just as long as you drive the cart.
So where to begin?
The first thing you have to do is be willing to island-hop once you touch down in Honolulu on the island of Oahu. Most of the people live on this rock known as the gathering place by the ancient Hawaiians. The other main islands with golf courses are Maui, Kauai, the Big Island, Lanai and Molokai.
The trick here is deciding which islands to visit and what golf courses to play. Even if you had a month and an unlimited pile of cash, youd be hard-pressed to play the top 25 courses in the islands. Heck, Oahu, Maui, Kauai and the Big Island alone would keep a professional busy, much less a weekend hacker.
These are all great places to play and are spread across the island to give you the unique views of the big city and the country vistas enjoyed by Hawaiian royalty centuries past. And they arent even the name courses, some popularized by major professional events.
Those belong to Ko Olina Resort located on the west coast of Oahu where the LPGA once called home and the Arnold Palmer Course at Turtle Bay where this years SBS Open will be played minus defending champion Annika Sorenstam. This North Shore location is 40 miles from downtown Honolulu and requires a good 90-minute drive from Waikiki.
If you come in the winter, the famed waves of the North Shore are only 15 minutes away from the Turtle Bay Resort, home of the Palmer and Fazio designs. There arent a lot of ocean holes on either course, but theyre fun and challenging. The Champions Tour has also held events here, as well as U.S. Open qualifiers, so you get the idea that par isnt always part of the plan.
Up the way from Ko Olina, which is located just outside Kapolei, is what many believe are the most beautiful 18 holes on Oahu ' the West Course of the Makaha Resort and Golf Club. This is one of those courses where your final score is secondary to your immediate surroundings.
A good 45 miles from Honolulu and a 70-minute drive on a clear day, Makaha feels like another world. You can get this setting on the neighbor islands and the difficult Koolau Golf Club on the Windward Side, but thats about it for Oahu. If you do decide to put Koolau on your list, bring plenty of golf balls. This striking layout is tough, although local golfer and PGA Tour veteran Dean Wilson holds the course record with a blistering 62.
After youve stayed on Oahu a few days, enjoying the nightlife of Waikiki and historical Pearl Harbor, its time to do a little island-hopping. We recommend Maui for the first-time visitor, Kauai on the next sojourn and maybe even the Big Island or Lanai on the trip after that. You cant lose with any choice.
Maui is the second-largest island in the chain, both in size and population. While Oahu is about 60 miles long and 12 miles wide, Maui is big with two distinct mountain ranges. On one side, you have the West Maui mountains, home to Kaanapali and Kapalua where four wonderful courses can be found.
The east side belongs to the Haleakala volcano that reaches 10,023 feet. On one slope, in the small community of Wailea, just down the road from Kihei, are five more courses that will keep you busy if you let them. Among this cluster of layouts is the Gold Course at Wailea Golf Club, former home to the Senior Skins Game. At the right time of day, the sunlight bathes these 18 holes in pink and orange hues that cant be fully appreciated until seen firsthand.
A 90-minute drive to the west and you find yourself in a true tropical setting at the Kapalua Resort, home to the Ritz Carlton and too many villas to count. Here you will find the Plantation Course where the PGA Tour begins each season with the winners-only Mercedes-Benz Championship.
Just down the road about 10 minutes away are the two Kaanapali courses. The Kai Course is home to Big Break Kaanapali and the Royal Kaanapali is the current home of the Senior Skins where Greg Norman is expected to make a rare appearance. Both of these courses are near several resorts, as well as the beach-side community of Lahaina where quality restaurants and shops await the discerning traveler.
If you fly in to Maui via Kahului, make sure you play The Dunes at Maui Lani (North Course) on your way in or out of town. Many believe these are the most unique 18 holes of all the islands. Its links-style design in a tropical location is pleasing to the senses.
Its not a bad idea to stay an extra day or two and take the ferry over to Lanai where two of the most beautiful courses in the world await. They are The Experience at Koele and The Challenge at Manele, both home to Four Seasons resorts. When Bill Gates was married, he reserved the entire island for the weekend. Enough said.
Should your choice be the Big Island on one end of the chain or Kauai on the other, plenty of scenic golf awaits at both locations. Kauai is a small island to the north with eight incredible courses at your disposal, including the Makai and Prince designs to the north and Poipu Bay and Kiahuna Golf Club to the south.
Kauai is called the Garden Isle and its hard to argue that description. The farthest north of the main islands, expect plenty of rain, especially in the winter, hence rain forests. There is very little nightlife, but the beaches are to die for and a trip to Hanakapiai Falls or Waimea Canyon a must.
The Big Island offers a much dryer climate, particularly in the lava fields of South Kona where you will find some of the most beautiful resorts in the world. The South Course at Mauna Lani Resort and the 18-hole layout at Hualalai Golf Club, home to the season-opening tournament on the Champions Tour, will leave you longing for more. Youll find just that at the Mauna Kea Beach Golf Course and Waikoloas Beach Course where the ocean holes rivals those on Kauai.
These places will pamper you, so much so, you might not wander down to the coastal community of Kailua-Kona, but you should on your way to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to witness how the Earth was formed. Kilauea remains an active volcano and produces what the locals call vog. When the wind is from the south, it can rival Los Angeles on a bad day, so be prepared. If the prevailing tradewinds are blowing, youll be fine.
Make sure when you come to the 50th state, you adjust to the local lifestyle, check your road rage at the counter and enjoy what Hawaii has to offer. The golf is the most beautiful and challenging in America. And best of all, your money is good here in this tropical paradise.
Paul Arnett is the sports editor of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. He covers professional golf during the Aloha Season in Hawaii.
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