Lay of the land: Get to know Hawaii's Big Island

By Travel ArticlesFebruary 17, 2012, 4:53 pm

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii -- How do you like your Big Island golf? If you're like most visitors to Hawaii's largest island, a dash of Pacific blue and black rock, combined with some Kona coffee, a few volcanoes and an exclusive resort is just the ticket. It's not the only way to devour Big Island golf, but it's a pretty good recipe.

Like most of Hawaii, a golf vacation on the Big Island won't be cheap, but it doesn't have to be out-of-sight expensive either. Still, there are some must-play golf courses, some must-do activities and some must-eat dining. In the end, a Big Island golf vacation can be as good as you want it to be, but here are a few pointers.

Big Island has two airports

Depending on where you are flying from and where you want to stay on the island, you have two commercial airport options. The majority of the golf resorts -- especially the high-end ones -- are on the Kona side of the Island, which means the Kona airport is the most convenient choice. It's also the airport that offers the most direct flights, especially to and from destinations on the mainland that aren't on the West Coast.

But flying into Kona also tends to be more expensive. It's not uncommon to find significantly cheaper fares flying into Hilo on the opposite side of the island (east). In fact, they can often be 50 percent cheaper. Why? Because the Hilo side is the rainy side, and while the resorts on the western side are only 40 miles away as the crow flies, you have to take routes around the island's mountains -- and those roads are slow going, so you can plan on at least three hours of driving.

Still, if you're willing to do a little sightseeing and take in the culture of Hilo, the Big Island's biggest city, it can actually be rewarding. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is also located on the Hilo side of the island, and the park is a must-see for any first-time visitor. Plus, there is golf on that side, such as Volcano Golf Course, a fun little gem that offers a pretty good lunch in the clubhouse. (You can't go wrong with the catch of the day.)

The hotels in Hilo aren't quite up to standards with the resorts on the Kona side, but they are decent and reasonable. One good option, just minutes from the airport, is the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel. The hotel offers nice water views and comfortable rooms. And for breakfast the next morning before you head to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, check out Ken's House of Pancakes, which serves everything from traditional Hawaiian fare to large-portioned American diner breakfasts. The homemade coconut syrup is unforgettable.

Big Island golf options

Once you get to the Kona side of the island, you'll want to play all the memorable golf courses. Mauna Kea Golf Course, which is part of the Mauna Kea Resort, is a must-play with its signature par 3s on the ocean and impeccable conditions. Designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. (and recently restored by Rees Jones), this championship course stretches nearly 7,400 yards and will test every part of your game.

Mauna Kea's sister course, however, shouldn't be overlooked. Hapuna Golf Course, an Arnold Palmer-Ed Seay design, is every bit as scenic as Mauna Kea and can be played for much less (often less than $100). The course sits high above the ocean, which is viewable from just about every hole, plus every hole is memorable.

Another high-end golf option is the Jack Nicklaus Course at Hualalai Golf Club in Kaupulehu-Kona, which is where the Champions Tour opens its season each year. You'll also want to check out Mauna Lani Resort, especially the South Course, which also has incredible holes on the Pacific Ocean. When you get to Kona Country Club, don't be confused by the names of the two courses: the Mountain Course has more ocean views and is more interesting. And Big Island Country Club, a recently renovated Perry Dye course located 2,000 feet above sea level, offers the island's only bentgrass greens and cooler temperatures, as well as lots of native wildlife and spectacular views.

Great golf resorts and more

On the Big Island, though, golf is only half the fun. The resorts, especially if you are taking a significant other, complete the wow factor. Some resorts, like the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, for example, have their own private beaches, spas and outstanding dining.

The Sheraton Keauhou Bay Resort now offers golf packages to Kona Country Club and Big Island Country Club, but you'll also want to take advantage of the other activities right next to the hotel. For instance, you can book a snorkeling cruise through Fairwind, which will take you to Captain Cook's monument and Kealakekua Bay. If you're lucky, you might even get to swim alongside some dolphins.

There are also the Marriott and Hiltons at the Waikoloa Beach Resort, the Four Seasons at Hualalai and a few other smaller hotel options on the Kona side of the island, or you could rent a condo. One particularly attractive option is the Mauna Lani Point Villas, some priced as much as $2 million and overlooking the most scenic parts of the South Course at Mauna Lani Resort. They are a great option for foursomes or families. These luxury accommodations can sleep four or more people and offer full kitchens and dining rooms.

And as far as other activities are concerned, take your pick. From zip lining to helicopter tour to hiking, the Big Island has it all. And you'd be well advised to hit the world-famous Kona coffee farms as well. You'll want to get a pound or two to take back, but don't try to be cheap: Make sure it's 100 percent (not blended) and get it from the farms, where they will be gladly let you sample different types.

Getty Images

Confident Lincicome lurking after 54 holes at Founders

By Randy SmithMarch 18, 2018, 2:45 am

PHOENIX – Brittany Lincicome is farther back than she wanted to be going into Sunday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she’s in a good place.

She’s keeping the momentum of her season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas Classic victory going this year.

Her confidence is high.

“Last year, I won in the Bahamas, but then I didn't do anything after that,” Lincicome said. “I don't even know if I had a top 10 after my win in the Bahamas. Obviously, this year, I want to be more consistent.”

Lincicome followed up her victory in the Bahamas this year with a tie for seventh in her next start at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And now she’s right back on another leaderboard with the year’s first major championship just two weeks away. She is, by the way, a two-time winner at the ANA Inspiration.

Missy Pederson, Lincicome’s caddie, is helping her player keep that momentum going with more focus on honing in the scoring clubs.

“One of our major goals is being more consistent,” Pederson said. “She’s so talented, a once in a generation talent. I’m just trying to help out in how to best approach every golf course.”

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Pederson has helped Lincicome identify the clubs they’re likely to attack most with on the particular course they are playing that week, to spend more time working with those clubs in practice. It’s building confidence.

“I know the more greens we hit, and the more chances we give ourselves, the more our chances are to be in contention,” Pederson said. “Britt is not big into stats or details, so I have to figure out how to best consolidate that information, to get us exactly where we need to be.”

Lincicome’s growing comfort with clubs she can attack with is helping her confidence through a round.

“I’ve most noticed consistency in her mental game, being able to handle some of the hiccups that happen over the course of a round,” Pederson said. “Whereas before, something might get under her skin, where she might say, `That’s what always happens,’ now, it’s, `All right, I know I’m good enough to get this back.’ I try to get her in positions to hit the clubs we are really hitting well right now.”

That’s leading to a lot more birdies, fewer bogeys and more appearances on leaderboards in the start to this year.

Getty Images

Returning Park grabs 54-hole Founders lead

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 2:09 am

PHOENIX – In the long shadows falling across Wildfire Golf Club late Saturday afternoon, Inbee Park conceded she was tempted to walk away from the game last year.

While healing a bad back, she was tempted to put her clubs away for good and look for a second chapter for her life.

But then . . .

“Looking at the girls playing on TV, you think you want to be out there” Park said. “Really, I couldn't make my mind up when I was taking that break, but as soon as I'm back here, I just feel like this is where I belong.”

In just her second start after seven months away from the LPGA, Park is playing like she never left.

She’s atop a leaderboard at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, looking like that’s exactly where she belongs.

With a 9-under-par 63 Saturday, Park seized the lead going into the final round.

At 14 under overall, she’s one shot ahead of Mariajo Uribe (67), two ahead of Ariya Jutanugarn (68) and three ahead of 54-year-old World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies (63) and Chella Choi (66).

Park’s back with a hot putter.

That’s not good news for the rest of the tour. Nobody can demoralize a field with a flat stick like Park. She’s one of the best putters the women’s game has ever seen, and on the front nine Saturday she looked as good as she ever has.

“The front nine was scary,” said her caddie, Brad Beecher, who was on Park’s bag for her long run at world No. 1, her run of three consecutive major championship victories in 2013 and her gold medal victory at the Olympics two years ago.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The front nine was great . . . like 2013,” Park said.

Park started her round on fire, going birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie. She was 6 under through five holes. She holed a wedge from 98 yards at the third hole, making the turn having taken just 10 putts. Yeah, she said, she was thinking about shooting 59.

“But I'm still really happy with my round today,” she said.

Park isn’t getting ahead of herself, even with this lead. She said her game isn’t quite where she wants it with the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first major championship, just two weeks away, but a victory Sunday should go a long way toward getting her there.

Park is only 29. LPGA pros haven’t forgotten what it was like when she was dominating, when she won 14 times between 2013 and ’15.

They haven’t forgotten how she can come back from long layoffs with an uncanny ability to pick up right where she left off.

Park won the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in her first start back after missing two months because of a ligament injury in her left thumb. She took eight months off after Rio and came back to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship last year in just her second start. She left the tour again in the summer with an aching back.

“I feel like Inbee could take off a whole year or two years and come back and win every week,” said Brittany Lincicome, who is four shots behind Park. “Her game is just so consistent. She doesn't do anything flashy, but her putting is flashy.

“She literally walks them in. It's incredible, like you know it's going in when she hits it. It's not the most orthodox looking stroke, but she can repeat it.”

Park may not play as full a schedule as she has in the past, Beecher said, but he believes she can thrive with limited starts.

“I think it helps her get that fight back, to get that hunger back,” Beecher said. “She knows she can play 15 events a year and still compete. There aren’t a lot of players who can do that.”

Park enjoyed her time away last year, and how it re-energized her.

“When I was taking the long break, I was just thinking, `I can do this life as well,’” Park said. “But I'm glad I came back out here. Obviously, days like today, that's the reason I'm playing golf.”

Getty Images

Joh on St. Patrick's ace: Go broke buying green beers

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:57 am

PHOENIX – Tiffany Joh was thrilled making a run into contention to win her first LPGA title Saturday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she comically cracked that her hole-in-one might have been ill-timed.

It came on St. Patrick’s Day.

“This is like the worst holiday to be making a hole-in-one on,” Joh said. “You'll go broke buying everyone green beers.”

Joh aced the fifth hole with a 5-iron from 166 yards on her way to an 8-under-par 64. It left her four shots behind the leader, Inbee Park (63).

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

One of the more colorful players on tour, Joh said she made the most of her hole-in-one celebration with playing partner Jane Park.

“First I ran and tackled Jane, then I high-fived like every single person walking to the green,” Joh said.

Joh may be the LPGA’s resident comedian, but she faced a serious challenge on tour last year.  Fourteen months ago, she had surgery to remove a malignant melanoma. She won the LPGA’s Heather Farr Perseverance Award for the way she handled her comeback.

Getty Images

Davies, 54, still thinks she can win, dreams of HOF

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:22 am

PHOENIX – Laura Davies limped around Wildfire Golf Club Saturday with an ache radiating from her left Achilles up into her calf muscle at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

“Every step is just misery,” Davies said after. “It’s just getting older. Don’t get old.”

She’s 54, but she played the third round as if she were 32 again.

That’s how old she was when she was the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year and won two major championships.

With every sweet swing Saturday, Davies peeled back the years, turning back the clock.

Rolling in a 6-foot birdie at the 17th, Davies moved into a tie for the lead with Inbee Park, a lead that wouldn’t last long with so many players still on the course when she finished. Still, with a 9-under-par 63, Davies moved into contention to try to become the oldest winner in LPGA history.

Davies has won 20 LPGA titles, 45 Ladies European Tour titles, but she hasn’t won an LPGA event in 17 years, since taking the Wegmans Rochester International.

Can she can surpass the mark Beth Daniel set winning at 46?

“I still think I can win,” Davies said. “This just backs that up for me. Other people, I don’t know, they’re always asking me now when I’m going to retire. I always say I’m still playing good golf, and now here’s the proof of it.”

Davies knows it will take a special day with the kind of final-round pressure building that she hasn’t experienced in awhile.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The pressure will be a lot more tomorrow,” she said. “We'll see, won’t sleep that well tonight. The good news is that I’ll probably be four or five behind by the end of the day, so the pressure won’t be there as much.”

Davies acknowledged confidence is harder to garner, as disappointments and missed cuts pile up, but she’s holding on to her belief she can still win.

“I said to my caddie, `Jeez, I haven't been on top of the leaderboard for a long time,’” Davies said. “That's nice, obviously, but you’ve got to stay there. That's the biggest challenge.”

About that aching left leg, Davies was asked if it could prevent her from challenging on Sunday.

“I’ll crawl around if I have to,” she said.

Saturday’s 63 was Davies’ lowest round in an LPGA event since she shot 63 at the Wendy’s Championship a dozen years ago.

While Davies is a World Golf Hall of Famer, she has been sitting just outside the qualification standard needed to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame for a long time. She needs 27 points, but she has been stuck on 25 since her last victory in ’01. A regular tour title is worth one point, a major championship is worth two points.

Davies said she still dreams about qualifying.

“You never know,” she said.