Back to the future: Oahu golf courses look to revive the glory days

By Jason DeeganMarch 5, 2013, 5:05 pm

HONOLULU, Hawaii -- There are glimpses of golf greatness on Oahu.

The 17th green on the Palmer course at Turtle Bay Resort sits 100 feet from the ocean, overlooking the crashing waves. The 15th tee at Ko’olau Golf Club delivers a panoramic view of the mountains and a tropical rain forest. To get to the 12th tee at Ko Olina Golf Club, players drive their carts under a manmade waterfall and rock landscaping.

Oahu boasts the most golf courses of any Hawaiian island. Yet it still is widely dismissed as a second-tier golf destination in Hawaii, long removed from its heydays of the 1970s and 1980s when it was king. Today, its top courses lack the star power and ocean views of those on its sister islands. There’s no Top 100 track that serves as a beacon to attract players like Maui's Plantation Course at Kapalua or Kauai's Prince Course at Princeville. There are no true ocean holes, either. And many of the courses aren’t consistently in great shape.

Mark Bowlby, an Idaho resident, spent two weeks in January playing golf on the Big Island and Oahu. Bowlby, who has visited the islands 15 times, said the difference between each golf scene was striking. He fell in love with the new-and-improved Mauna Kea Golf Course on the Big Island. “I felt that the courses I played on Oahu were a little weak relative to other islands,” he said.

Mind you, a fantastic golf getaway can still be had on Oahu. It’s only considered “weak” when compared to the world-class competition nearby. There are three luxury golf resorts and plenty of Hawaiian culture and natural beauty to explore on Oahu.

Much of its potential remains untapped, though. Pacific Links International Chief Executive Officer Bruce Simmonds said golf on Oahu has “huge potential.”

His company has purchased five courses on the island in the past three years.

“The last 30 years the standards of maintenance and design and the quality of courses (on Oahu) has taken a hit,” he said. “There have been quite a few built and not well maintained. … We think we can bring more sophistication to the industry there. A lot of the course presentation and service isn’t what it is on Maui. We are looking to change that.”

Oahu’s Resort Scene

Ko Olina

Ko Olina boasts JW Marriott resort and 18 sunny holes of LPGA-caliber golf. 

Oahu’s best golf resorts are all so uniquely different.

Turtle Bay Resort works in harmony with the gorgeous North Shore and its signature natural resource, the ocean waves. Guests can take a surf lesson at the Hans Hedemann Surf School of Oahu or sit safely on the sidelines, watching more experienced people tackle the challenge.

The well-conditioned Palmer Course, a former LPGA TOUR and Champions Tour host, plays resort friendly with a few tough approach shots over water sprinkled in for effect. The George Fazio course serves up a few more glimpses of the ocean with fewer shot-making demands. Under new owners, the resort just completed a major renovation of its lobby and Surfer, The Bar. Makeovers of the guest rooms and restaurants are on tap.

Ko Olina, a resort community on the dry and sunny leeward side of the island, translates in Hawaiian to “place of joy.” Adjacent to four secluded ocean coves, the JW Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa certainly follows that mantra. The hotel’s unique design showcases a collection of saltwater ponds filled with reef sharks and stingrays. All 387 guest rooms and suites were refreshed in 2011. A visit to the Ihilani Spa, refurbished in 2010, for a traditional Hawaiian lomi lomi massage or a seawater soak in jetted tub will set the world right again. Across the street, the Ko Olina Golf Club began hosting LPGA events in the 1990s, including the 2012 and 2013 LOTTE Championship. Architect Ted Robinson created a pretty palette for golf. Afterwards, splurge on dinner at Roy’s Ko Olina Restaurant next to the clubhouse or walk to Paradise Cove for an interactive Hawaiian luau.

Golfers looking for more action should stay at the Hawaii Prince Hotel Waikiki to revel in the hustle and bustle of Honolulu. All of the rooms and suites in its two towers face the Pacific Ocean and the Ala Wai Yacht Harbor, as does a rooftop pool and hot tub on the fifth floor. Free shuttles run to the Waikiki beach and shopping district and to the playable Hawaii Prince Golf Club, a 27-hole Arnold Palmer/Ed Seay design 40 minutes away in Ewa Beach. The hotel's Prince Court restaurant serves a popular seafood buffet for dinner.

Improving Oahu’s golf scene

Makaha Valley

Oahu's Makaha Valley Country Club has new ownership and renovations coming from Greg Norman's design firm. 

Pacific Links International, a Canadian company formed in 2009, bet big on Oahu by purchasing the Royal Hawaiian Golf Club, Kapolei Golf Club, Olomana Golf Links and the West and East courses at Makaha Valley Country Club. It hired Greg Norman Golf Course Design to renovate both the Royal Hawaiian Golf Club and the Makaha West course. The company even sponsored its first Champions Tour event, the Pacific Links Hawaii Championship, at Kapolei in September of 2012 as a coming out party for the brand.

The knock on Royal Hawaiian, formerly called Luana Hills Country Club, was always a layout too quirky to be enjoyable. Its intoxicating jungle setting reminiscent of Jurassic Park was just too unforgiving. Norman’s renovation to make the original Pete/Perry Dye more playable has revamped several holes on the front nine, especially to start the round. Simmonds said the extensive back nine changes should be completed this summer.

Norman’s work at Makaha West will take more time. The course, currently closed, could open in 2015, Simmonds said. This is the first time the neighboring West and East courses – both William F. Bell routings - have been under the same ownership since their openings in the 1960s. The East course, a par-71 of 6,369 yards, continues to operate as a value-oriented place to play. “The changes (on the West course) will be dramatic,” Simmonds said.

Like a lot of locals, Michelle Wie learned the game at the 6,326-yard Olomana Golf Links in Waimanalo. Infrastructure upgrades, while necessary, will have to wait.

Oahu’s other top courses

In many ways, the Ko’olau Golf Club symbolizes golf on the island. It could be oh-so-good, but it’s not quite there. Like the Royal Hawaiian and Olomana, being located on the windward side of the Ko’olau mountain range has its drawbacks. It rains more here, which can often yield wet playing conditions. Ko’olau, ranked No. 25 on Golf Digest’s list of America’s Toughest Courses, would be well-served by a Royal Hawaiian-type makeover that enhances playability. American Golf, which manages the course for its unique owner, the First Presbyterian Church of Honolulu, has done an admirable job of taking out some bunkers and cutting back the jungle in recent years. On a clear day with dry conditions, there are few better golf playgrounds in the islands. Just be prepared to lose a few balls.

The Ewa Beach Golf Club, a 6,711-yard design by Robin Nelson, has none of those conditioning issues. It’s situated in one of the Oahu’s driest climates near the Hawaii Prince Golf Club. A Kiawe forest pinches the first nine holes before water hazards overwhelm the more open back nine.

Ewa Beach, too, symbolizes golf on Oahu. It’s underrated and finally becoming better appreciated..The same should be said of the entire golf scene on this special and diverse island. Oahu golf is still incredibly good, albeit not great … yet.

South Korean LPGA stars lead KLPGA team

By Randall MellNovember 24, 2017, 10:32 pm

South Korea’s LPGA team of all-stars took the early lead Friday on the Korean LPGA Tour in a team event featuring twice as much star power as this year’s Solheim Cup did.

Eight of the world’s top 20 players are teeing it up in the ING Life Champions Trophy/ Inbee Park Invitational in Gyeongju. There were only four players among the top 20 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings when the United States defeated Europe in Des Moines, Iowa.

Park led the LPGA team to a 3 ½-to-2 ½ lead on the first day.

Park, who has been recuperating from a back injury for most of the second half of this season, teamed with Jeongeun Lee5 to defeat Hye Jin Choi and Ji Hyun Kim, 5 and 4, in the lead-off four-ball match.

So Yeon Ryu and Park, former world No. 1s and LPGA Rolex Player of the Year Award winners, will be the marquee pairing on Saturday. They will lead off foursomes against Ji Young Kim and Min Sun Kim.

Nine of the 11 South Koreans who won LPGA events this year are competing. Sung Hyun Park and I.K. Kim are the only two who aren’t.

The fourball results:

LPGA’s Inbee Park/ Jeongeun Lee5 def. Hye Jin Choi/Ji Hyun Kim, 5 and 4.

LPGA’s Mirim Lee/Amy Yang def.  Ji Hyun Oh/Min Sun Kim, 3 and 1.

LPGA’s M.J. Hur/Mi Hyang Lee halved Ji Hyun Kim/Ji Young Kim.

KLPGA’s Ha Na Jang/Sun Woo Bae def. Sei Young Kim/Hyo Joo Kim, 5 and 4.

LPGA’s Na Yeon Choi/Jenny Shin halved Jin Young Ko/Da Yeon Lee

LPGA’s In Gee Chun/Eun Hee Ji halved Jeongeun Lee6/Char Young Kim.

NOTE: The KPGA uses numerals after a player’s name to distinguish players with the exact same name.


Cut Line: Lyle faces third bout with cancer

By Rex HoggardNovember 24, 2017, 5:40 pm

In this week’s holiday edition, Cut Line is thankful for the PGA Tour’s continued progress on many fronts and the anticipation that only a Tiger Woods return can generate.

Made Cut

The Fighter. That was the headline of a story Cut Line wrote about Jarrod Lyle following his second bout with cancer a few years ago, so it’s both sad and surreal to see the affable Australian now bracing for a third fight with leukemia.

Lyle is working as an analyst for Channel 7’s coverage of this week’s Emirates Australian Open prior to undergoing another stem cell transplant in December.

“I’ve got a big month coming,” Lyle said. “I’m back into hospital for some really heavy-duty treatment that’s really going to determine how things pan out for me.”

Twice before things have panned out for Lyle. Let’s hope karma has one more fight remaining.

Changing times. Last season the PGA Tour introduced a policy to add to the strength of fields, a measure that had long eluded officials and by most accounts was a success.

This season the circuit has chosen to tackle another long-standing thorn, ridiculously long pro-am rounds. While there seems little the Tour can do to speed up play during pro-am rounds, a new plan called a 9&9 format will at least liven things up for everyone involved.

Essentially, a tournament hosting a pro-am with four amateurs can request the new format, where one professional plays the first nine holes and is replaced by another pro for the second nine.

Professionals will have the option to request 18-hole pro-am rounds, giving players who limit practice rounds to just pro-am days a chance to prepare, but otherwise it allows Tour types to shorten what is an admittedly long day while the amateurs get a chance to meet and play with two pros.

The new measure does nothing about pace of play, but it does freshen up a format that at times can seem tired, and that’s progress.

Tweet of the week: @Love3d (Davis Love III‏) “Thanks to Dr. Flanagan (Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center) for the new hip and great care! Can’t wait to get back to (the PGA Tour).”

Love offered the particularly graphic tweet following hip replacement surgery on Tuesday, a procedure that he admitted he’d delayed because he was “chicken.”

The surgery went well and Love is on pace to return to the Tour sometime next spring. As for the possibility of over-sharing on social media, we’ll leave that to the crowd.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Distance control. The Wall Street Journal provided the octagon for the opening blows of a clash that has been looming for a long time.

First, USGA executive director Mike Davis told The Journal that the answer to continued distance gains may be a restricted-flight golf ball with an a la carte rule that would allow different organizations, from the Tour all the way down to private clubs, deciding which ball to use.

“You can’t say you don’t care about distance, because guess what? These courses are expanding and are predicted to continue to expand,” Davis said. “The impact it has had has been horrible.”

A day later, Wally Uihlein, CEO of Acushnet, which includes the Titleist brand, fired back in a letter to The Journal, questioning among other things how distance gains are putting a financial burden on courses.

“The only people that seem to be grappling with advances in technology and physical fitness are the short-sighted golf course developers and the supporting golf course architectural community who built too many golf courses where the notion of a 'championship golf course' was brought on line primarily to sell real estate,” Uihlein wrote.

For anyone paying attention the last few years, this day was inevitable and the likely start of what will be a drawn out and heated process, but Cut Line’s just not sure anyone wins when it’s over.

Tiger, take II. Tiger Woods’ return to competition next week at the Hero World Challenge was always going to generate plenty of speculation, but that hyperbole reached entirely new levels this week as players began giving personal accounts of the new and improved 14-time major champion.

“I did talk to him, and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years,’” Day said as he prepared for the Australian Open. “If he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.”

Rickie Fowler added to the frenzy when he was asked this month if the rumors that Woods is driving the ball by him, by 20 to 30 yards by some reports, are true?

“Oh, yeah,” he told “Way by.”

Add to all this a recent line that surfaced in Las Vegas that Woods is now listed at 20-1 to win a major in 2018, and it seems now may be a good time for a restraint.

Golf is better with Woods, always has been and always will be, but it may be best to allow Tiger time to find out where his body and game are before we declare him back.

Missed Cut

Searching for answers. Twelve months ago, Hideki Matsuyama was virtually unstoppable and, regardless of what the Official World Golf Ranking said, arguably the best player on the planet.

Now a year removed from that lofty position, which featured the Japanese star finishing either first or second in six of his seven starts as the New Year came and went, Matsuyama has faded back to fifth in the world and on Sunday finished fifth, some 10 strokes behind winner Brooks Koepka, at the Dunlop Phoenix.

“That hurt,” Matsuyama told the Japan Times. “I don’t know whether it’s a lack of practice or whether I lack the strength to keep playing well. It seems there are many issues to address.”

Since his last victory at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Matsuyama has just two top-10 finishes on Tour and he ended his 2016-17 season with a particularly poor performance at the Presidents Cup.

While Matsuyama’s take seems extreme considering his season, there are certainly answers that need answering.

Trump playing 'quickly' with Tiger, DJ

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 24, 2017, 1:33 pm

Updated at 11:14 a.m. ET

An Instagram user known as hwalks posted photos to her account that included images of Tiger Woods, President Trump and Dustin Johnson Friday at Trump National, as well as video of Woods' swing.

Here are some other social media posts that have surfaced:

Original story:

Tiger Woods is scheduled to make his return to competition next week at his Hero World Challenge. But first, a (quick) round with the President.

President Donald Trump tweeted on Friday that he was going to play at Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Fla., alongside Woods and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson.

Woods and President Trump previously played last December. Trump, who, according to has played 75 rounds since taking over the presidency, has also played over the last year with Rory McIlroy, Ernie Els and Hideki Matsuyama.

Chawrasia leads major champs in Hong Kong

By Associated PressNovember 24, 2017, 1:19 pm

HONG KONG – S.S.P. Chawrasia extended his lead at the Hong Kong Open to two strokes Friday after a 4-under 66 in the second round.

Chawrasia, who had led by one at the Hong Kong Golf Club, is at 9-under 131 overall and took as much as a five-stroke lead at one point.

''Yesterday I was putting very well, and today, also I make some up and downs. I saved a couple of short putts. That's why I think I'm leading by two shots most probably,'' the Indian said. ''The next two days, I'm just looking forward.''

Full-field scores from the UBS Hong Kong Open

Thomas Aiken (64) is second, followed by Alexander Bjork (66), Joakim Lagergren (66), Poom Saksansin (68) and Julian Suri (67) at 5 under 135.

Aiken's round was the lowest of the tournament.

''It is tough out there. The greens are really firm. You've got to hit the fairway,'' Aiken said. ''If you get above the holes, putts can get away from you.''

Justin Rose (69) had six birdies, but three bogeys and a double-bogey at the par 3 12th kept him at 3 under for the tournament.

Masters champion Sergio Garcia (71), playing for the first time in Hong Kong, was at even par, as was defending champion Sam Brazel (71) and 2014 champion Scott Hend (67).

''I have to play better,'' Garcia said. ''The way I felt like I played, it's difficult. This kind of course, you need to play well to shoot a good score.''