Keeping up with the Joneses at Mauna Kea Golf Course on the Big Island

By Travel ArticlesJanuary 25, 2012, 5:00 am

KOHALA COAST, Hawaii -- It's difficult to believe that before 1965, golf didn't exist on the Big Island of Hawaii. It's also hard to fathom that the first course built here -- Mauna Kea Golf Course on the Kona side of the island -- is arguably still the best.

Of course, Mauna Kea didn't maintain its lofty status by remaining pat. While other outstanding courses -- such as Mauna Lani South and the Jack Nicklaus Course at Hualalai Golf Club -- were taking their place among the elite on Hawaii, Mauna Kea had begun to wear down. That's the natural progression of all things, especially golf courses. So one of the original designer's sons, Rees Jones, did what he does best. He restored this 1965 Robert Trent Jones Sr. classic to perfection and added a few modern touches.

History puts Mauna Kea over the top

But having a difficult, well maintained golf course isn't anything unique. Putting those finishing touches on top of something such as Mauna Kea, however, makes it stand above most of the field.

Back in the early 1960s, the elder Jones told then-owner Nelson Rockefeller that he could build a golf course on the fields of lava by the sea at the base of one of the world's tallest mountains. Not only could he build a great course, but regarding the third hole, Jones said, 'Mr. Rockefeller, if you allow me to build a golf course here, this will be the most beautiful hole in the world.'

Beauty, of course, is in the eyes of the beholder, but you would be hard-pressed to find anything prettier than Mauna Kea's third. Perhaps equal -- but 'more spectacular' could only be argued as a personal choice. Now stretched to 270 yards from the back tee, this hole spans over a significant piece of the deep blue Pacific, across black rock and onto a green protected by deep bunkers and sucker pin positions. It's beautiful and dangerous, pretty much how it was on Dec. 8, 1964.

That was the date that the Big Three -- Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player -- christened Mauna Kea and golf on the Big Island. They each stood there on that tee and did what the great players of their era did -- they parred the hole.

Nicklaus wound up winning and Head Professional Johnny Eusebio recounted how the Golden Bear turned near disaster into birdie on the short, par-4 sixth.

'It looked like he shanked a 5-iron off the tee into the fifth fairway,' Eusebio said. 'Then he managed to hit a 5-iron onto the green and make the putt for birdie.'

Mauna Kea also played host to the Shell Wonderful World of Golf in 1969, with a match between Dan Sikes, Al Geiberger and Peter Alliss.

'That's the thing about this golf course,' Eusebio said. 'It has an iconic feel to it.'

Restored with integrity

For the rest of us, par is like birdie on No. 3. Most are just relieved to not be hitting three from the drop area. Bogey isn't a bad score.

In fact, bogey is acceptable for most players on most of the holes. With deep fairway and greenside bunkers, difficult approaches and a little bit of wind, Mauna Kea is as difficult as it is beautiful.

At 7,370 yards, you almost have to be a PGA Tour player to tackle Mauna Kea from the tips. Fortunately, there are four other sets of tees to give the recreational golfer a little hope and a little fun.

Even before the younger Jones took to restoring the course, Mauna Kea was formidable. The holes that run along the ocean and the holes that soar some 300 feet above Kohala Coastline all have one thing in common: they aren't easy. You're as likely to get an uneven lie as an even one and chances are you're be calcuting a club or two in one direction or another depending on the uphill or downhill nature of the shot and the strenghth and direction of the wind.

The third may be the signature hole, but the 11th is arguably just as beautiful with a green that not only backs up against the sea but affords a view of one of the most beautiful and secluded beaches in Hawaii, right behind the Mauna Kea Beach Resort hotel.

Rees Jones came along and didn't change the holes for the most part. He replanted the course with Tifeagle Bermudagrass on the greens and Tifway 419 hybrid Bermudagrass on the tees, fairways and roughs. A new irrigation system, the number of bunker increased to 99 and the overall yardage was expanded by about 200 yards from the tips, and multiple tees will challenge all levels of players.

Mauna Kea Golf Course: The verdict

After the recent restoration and subsequent tender loving care, Mauna Kea Golf Course is arguably the best course on the island. The course has everything: beauty, location, flawless conditioning and plenty of challenge.

There are also top-notch practice facilities, lesson opportunities and terrific dining at Number 3 Restaurant located on the end of the clubhouse overlooking the golf course and the ocean.

This is one course you don't want to pass up on a trip to the Big Island.

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"


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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.