The Big Island offers the driest climate, particularly in the lava fields of South Kona where you will find some of the most beautiful resorts in the world. From the resort courses to the hidden gems, we've left no volcanic stone un-turned to give you the top 5 golf courses on the Big Island.
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Mauna Lani Resort (South Course)
The former home of the Senior Skins game, this challenging golf course is built around the natural beauty of when the lava flow hits the sea. There are mountain and ocean views in every direction, providing the visitor a full range of the Big Island experience along the South Kona Coast. Designed by Robin Nelson in 1981, the resort course is near Kamuela and is a favorite for those who can drive and putt for dough. The resort itself loves to pamper its guests, giving in to their every need. The biggest town, Kailua-Kona, is 30-something miles away, but does provide a nice coastal community to visit if you get cabin fever.
Hualalai Golf Club
The Champions Tour doesn’t want to begin its season any place else, recently signing a new deal to keep the winners-only tournament in the lava rocks of the Kona Coast. This Jack Nicklaus-designed course can be had if the winds stay low, mainly because of the immaculate greens, the senior circuit calls, “the best on tour.” That’s a good thing, because if you can’t keep it in the fairway here, you are in the rocks and that’s basically unplayable. When calling it a day at the Five Diamond Four Seasons Resort, plan to be spoiled. This place is so secluded, singer Janet Jackson is one of the neighbors.
Hapuna Golf Course
A decade ago, they called this Arnold Palmer-designed course one for the future. With the help of Ed Seay, Palmer did his best not to disturb the natural landscape in building a course that goes from the seashore to the mountain. At its peak, Hapuna rises 700 feet above the ocean, providing golfers some of the more spectacular views on the Big Island. Once done, the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel provides the necessary amenities with the Mauna Kea volcano as a backdrop. Being sensitive to the environment was Palmer’s goal, showing the way for many courses worldwide since to think green.
Mauna Kea Beach Golf Course
Built in 1964 by Robert Trent Jones Sr., this South Kohala Coast course is another gem in the lava rocks. There are 120 bunkers on this course that has dramatic differences in elevation. The panoramic views of the Pacific and nearby mountain ranges leave you staring in wonder as you take in the natural beauty of this young island. This is the first resort course on the Big Island and took some serious imagination to build 18 holes in a lava field. The Mauna Kea Resort is there to provide for the rest of your needs. The nearby beaches are among the most beautiful in the island chain.
Waikoloa (Beach Course)
Another resort layout born in the lava fields of south Kona, this 1980 design by Robert Trent Jones Jr. boasts the most spectacular par 5 in Hawaii. The 12th hole provides an ocean view Bill Gates wouldn’t mind having. You can often see humpback whales breaching off the coast, and like many of the courses on this stretch of beach, there is plenty of history and mystique to go around. Once done, there’s shopping and eating galore at a modest mall located on the resort. Just to get one look at Anaechoomalu Bay during sunset is worth the price of admission.
Paul Arnett is the sports editor of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. He covers professional golf during the Aloha Season in Hawaii.