Trip Dispatch: Kona-Kohala Coast shines on Hawaii's Big Island

By Jason DeeganFebruary 20, 2014, 9:35 pm

KOHALA COAST, Hawai’i - Mother Nature got creative with her Crayolas when she colored the golf courses of Hawai’i Island.

Besides the usual hues of greens, browns and white found on most courses, the black backdrop of the centuries old lava rock and the bright aqua of the ocean create a kaleidoscope of natural beauty.

"The color contrast of the black lava, white sand and ocean blue on our courses is spectacular,” says Josh Silliman, the Director of Golf at Mauna Kea Resort. “There’s nothing like it. It’s very appealing."

Hawai’i Island, called the "Big Island" by mainlanders, celebrates 50 years of lava golf this year. Five decades ago in December of 1964, Golf’s holy trinity at the time – Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player – played together at the grand opening of the Mauna Kea Golf Course, a Robert Trent Jones Sr. design that signaled the birth of one of the world’s best oceanfront golf destinations.

Mauna Kea, ranked 31st among “America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses” by Golf Digest in 2013-14, has been joined by a handful of sought-after resort courses along the dry, desert-like Kona-Kohala Coast. Iconic ocean holes – like no. 3 at Mauna Kea, no. 15 on the Francis H. I'i Brown South Course at Mauna Lani Resort and no. 17 on the Jack Nicklaus course at the Hualālai Golf Club – introduce players to the salt spray, and if they’re lucky, a whale breaching in their backswings. The luxuries of Maui and the jungles of Kauai tend hog the spotlight, and yet, this spectacular stretch of shoreline might be Hawaii’s purest golf paradise. It rains less than 10 inches annually, a virtual guarantee for those chasing good weather.

"The Big Island, to me, is the best kept secret in Hawaii, not just in terms of golf, but also the landscape,” says John Sanford, a Florida-based golf course architect who recently completed work at the Kona Country Club. "If you travel around the island, it is such a diverse landscape, especially with the volcanoes. It is my favorite island without a doubt."

Exciting excursions - I experienced kayaking and snorkeling with Kona Boys, ziplining with KapohoKine Adventures out of Hilo, whale-watching with Hawaii Ocean Sports and hiking in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park while staying at the cool Kilauea Lodge - will take any Big Island vacation to a whole new level.

Golf on the Big Island of Hawaii


Vegetation is abundant on the The Kings Course at Waikoloa Beach Resort. (Jason Deegan/GolfAdvisor)

The first resort development you'll encounter driving north from Kona International Airport on Highway 19 is the celebrated Four Seasons Resort Hualalai at historic Ka'upulehu. This property sells luxury and a sense of community to go along with two 18-hole golf courses. Resort guests and members can play the Nicklaus Course, which hosts the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai on the Champions Tour each January. The layout has some of the island's widest fairways and flattest greens before unveling a trio of finishing holes playing along the surf. Hualalai's Weiskopf Course, meanwhile, is only available to members.

Up the road is Waikoloa Beach Resort, a mecca of shops, restaurants, a Hilton, the Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa where I stayed and courses designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. and Tom Weiskopf/Jay Morrish. The 533-room Marriott sits on 15 acres facing the Anaeho'omalu Bay and the intriguing ancient fish ponds near its narrow beach.

I found the Kings’ course to be a solid track with a couple nice Weiskopf-inspired short par 4s, although I wish I had played the RTJ Jr.’s Beach course simply for the ocean view on no. 7.


The par-3 3rd hole at the Francis H. I'i Brown South Course at Mauna Lani. (Jason Deegan/GolfAdvisor)

Thankfully, there’s ocean golf galore at the Mauni Lani Resort. The Francis H. I'i Brown South and North Courses at Mauna Lani could be mistaken for twins with opposing personalities. The South course’s fairways are so friendly that I’ve heard golfers say they lack definition. The same can’t be said of the North course, which roams inland through an older lava flow and a confining Kiawe forest. While it lacks the magical ocean holes of the South, the North course is favored by golfers who want a challenge.

"Architecturally, they are night and day," says Colin Pears, a golfer visiting from Reno, Nev., who favors the North.

Me? I’d play the South’s ocean holes - nos. 7, 13 and 15 - over and over until I died of sunburn. The South course hosted the Senior Skins Game (last staged in 2011 as the Wendy's Champions Skins Game at Ka'anapali on Maui) from 1990-2000.

Stay and Play on the Big Island

Both the nearby Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows where I stayed and the Fairmont Orchid, Hawaii, are palaces right on the beach. Palm trees, jungle plants and ponds stocked with sharks, turtles and other sea creatures impress at the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel. Private lanais make all 343 rooms feel bigger. Mauna Lani's private oceanfront bungalows were completely renovated and  all the guestrooms and suites were refreshed in 2013, along with the pool. A new oceanfront hottub added this month provides a perfect place to lounge at sunset. The Bay Terrace restaurant offers a killer breakfast buffet at sunrise. For dinner, go for the Kona lobster and delicate braised short rib at the Brown’s Beach House Restaurant at the Fairmont.

Mauna Kea, just up the road, still looks great thanks to a renovation by Rees Jones in 2008. Its sister course, the Hapuna Golf Course by Arnold Palmer and Ed Seay, delivered the week’s biggest surprise. This often-overlooked, less-expensive round offers plenty of fun. It sits high in the hills above the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel with some great panoramic views and improved turf conditions.

The 350-room Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel, built in 1994, and the elegant 252-room Mauna Kea Beach Hotel underwent room renovations in 2013 and other enhancements that have both properties sparkling. Mauna Kea, developed by Laurance S. Rockefeller in 1965, showcases the Kauna‘oa Beach, a breathtaking white-sand cove that ranks as the island’s best beach. Dinner at Manta is a splurge worth experiencing.

New golf developments on the Big Island

Construction related to golf continues along the coast. The Kona Country Club should open its revitalized Ocean Course this summer, according to Sanford, with greens rebuilt to their original size, refurbished bunkers, more level fairways, new cart paths and a modern irrigation system. Sanford said a similar renovation will occur on the Mountain course once the Ocean opens.

Last year’s May opening of Kohanaiki, a seaside Rees Jones design just south of the airport, enhances an already impressive array of exclusive private clubs on the island. Limited tee times on Mondays are available for locals with a valid Hawaiian license willing to shell out $275 for a tee time. Construction on a 62,000-square-foot clubhouse will begin in March.


Kohanaiki is a new, exclusive addition to the courses on the Big Island's Kona coast. (Jason Deegan/GolfAdvisor)

Rahm, Koepka both jump in OWGR after wins

By Will GrayNovember 20, 2017, 1:19 pm

Jon Rahm and Brooks Koepka both made moves inside the top 10 of the Official World Golf Rankings following wins in Dubai and Japan, respectively.

Rahm captured the European Tour season finale, winning the DP World Tour Championship by a shot. It was his third worldwide victory of 2017 and it allowed the Spaniard to overtake Hideki Matsuyama at world No. 4. It also establishes a new career high in the rankings for Rahm, who started the year ranked No. 137.

Koepka cruised to a nine-shot victory while successfully defending his title at the Japan Tour's Dunlop Phoenix. The victory was his first since winning the U.S. Open and it helped Koepka jump three spots to No. 7 in the latest rankings. Reigning PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Xander Schauffele, who finished second behind Koepka in Japan, went from 30th to 24th.

After earning his maiden PGA Tour victory at the RSM Classic, Austin Cook vaulted from No. 302 to No. 144 in the world. Runner-up J.J. Spaun jumped 48 spots to No. 116, while a hole-out with his final approach helped Brian Gay rise 73 spots to No. 191 after finishing alone in third at Sea Island.

Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1, followed by Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas with Rahm and Matsuyama now rounding out the top five. Justin Rose remains at No. 6, followed by Koepka, Rickie Fowler and Henrik Stenson. Rory McIlroy slid two spots to No. 10 and is now in danger of falling out of the top 10 for the first time since May 2014.

With his return to competition now less than two weeks away, Tiger Woods fell four more spots to No. 1193 in the latest rankings.

Love to undergo hip replacement surgery

By Rex HoggardNovember 20, 2017, 1:08 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Two days removed from arguably the most hectic week of his year, Davis Love III will undergo replacement surgery on his left hip.

Love, who hosted and played in last week’s RSM Classic, said he tried to avoid the surgery, but the pain became too much and he will undergo the procedure on Tuesday at the Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center in Birmingham, Ala.

“I had a hip problem the last few years, and I had a hip resurfacing trying to avoid hip surgery because I’m a chicken, but after playing [the CIMB Classic and Sanderson Farms Championship] I realized it was an uphill battle,” Love said.

RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

Love said doctors have told him recovery from the procedure will take between three to four months, but he should be able to start work on his chipping and putting within a few weeks.

Love, who missed the cut at the RSM Classic, said earlier in the week that his goal is to become the oldest PGA Tour winner and that the only way to achieve that was by having the surgery.

“Now I’m excited that I’ve crossed that bridge,” said Love, who will turn 54 next April. “Once I get over that I can go right back to the Tour. I won after a spine fusion [2015 Wyndham Championship] and now I’d like to win with a new hip. That’s the reason I’m doing it so I can get back to golf and keep up.”

LPGA awards: Ryu, S.H. Park tie for POY

By Randall MellNovember 20, 2017, 1:56 am

NAPLES, Fla. – In the end, the CME Group Tour Championship played out a lot like the entire 2017 season did.

Parity reigned.

Nobody dominated the game’s big season-ending awards, though Lexi Thompson and Sung Hyun Park came close.

Thompson walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for low scoring average. If she had made that last 2-foot putt at the 72nd hole Sunday, she might also have walked away with the Rolex Player of the Year Award and the Rolex world No. 1 ranking.

Park shared the Rolex Player of the Year Award with So Yeon Ryu. By doing so, Park joined Nancy Lopez as the only players in LPGA history to win the Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year titles in the same season. Lopez did it in 1978. Park also won the LPGA money-winning title.

Here’s a summary of the big prizes:

Rolex Player of the Year
Ryu and Park both ended up with 162 points in the points-based competition. Park started the week five points behind Ryu but made the up the difference with the five points she won for tying for sixth.

It marks the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

Ryu and Park join Inbee Park as the only South Koreans to win the award. Park won it in 2013.

Vare Trophy
Thompson won the award with a scoring average of 69.114. Sung Hyun Park finished second at 69.247. Park needed to finish at least nine shots ahead of Thompson at the CME Group Tour Championship to win the trophy.

There were a record 12 players with scoring averages under 70.0 this year, besting the previous record of five, set last year.

CME Globe $1 million prize
Thompson entered the week first in the CME points reset, but it played out as a two-woman race on the final day. Park needed to finish ahead of Thompson in the CME Group Tour Championship to overtake her for the big money haul. Thompson tied for second in the tournament while Park tied for sixth.

By winning the CME Group Tour Championship, Jutanugarn had a shot at the $1 million, but she needed Park to finish the tournament eighth or worse and Thompson to finish ninth or worse.

LPGA money-winning title
Park claimed the title with $2,335,883 in earnings. Ryu was second, with $1,981,593 in earnings.

The tour saw a tour-record 17 players win $1 million or more this season, two more than did so last year.

Ryu came into the week as the only player who could pass Park for the title, but Ryu needed to win to do so.

Rolex world No. 1 ranking
The top ranking was up for grabs at CME, with No. 1 Feng, No. 2 Sung Hyun Park and No. 3 So Yeon Ryu all within three hundredths of a ranking point. Even No. 4 Lexi Thompson had a chance to grab the top spot if she won, but in the end nobody could overtake Feng. Her reign will extend to a second straight week.

Rolex Rookie of the Year
Park ran away with the award with her U.S. Women’s Open and Canadian Pacific Women’s Open victories among her 11 top-10 finishes. She had the award locked up long before she arrived for the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

Ko ends first winless season with T-16 at CME

By Randall MellNovember 20, 2017, 1:07 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Lydia Ko carved a hybrid 3-iron to 15 feet and ended the most intensely scrutinized year of her young career with a birdie Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

“Nice to finish the season on a high note,” Ko said after posting a 3-under-par 69, good for a tie for 16th. “Obviously, not a top-10 finish, but I played really solid. I feel like I finished the season off pretty strong.”

Ko posted two second-place finishes, a third-place finish and a tie for fifth in her last eight starts.

“Ever since Indy [in early September], I played really good and put myself in good positions,” Ko said. “I felt like the confidence factor was definitely higher than during the middle of the year. I had some opportunities, looks for wins.”

Sunday marked the end of Ko’s first winless season since she began playing LPGA events at 15 years old.

Let the record show, she left with a smile, eager to travel to South Korea to spend the next month with family after playing a charity event in Bradenton, Fla., on Monday.

CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship

Much was made of Ko beginning the year with sweeping changes, with new equipment (PXG), a new coach (Gary Gilchrist) and a new caddie (Peter Godfrey).

In the final summary, it wasn’t a Ko-like year, not by the crazy high standards she has set.

She saw her run of 85 consecutive weeks at No. 1 end in June. She arrived in Naples holding on to the No. 8 ranking. She ends the year 13th on the LPGA money list with $1,177,450 in earnings. It’s the first time she hasn’t finished among the top three in money in her four full years on tour. She did log 11 top-10 finishes overall, three second-place finishes.

How did she evaluate her season?

“I feel like it was a better year than everyone else thinks, like `Lydia is in a slump,’” Ko said. “I feel like I played solid.

“It's a season that, obviously, I learned a lot from ... the mental aspect of saying, `Hey, get over the bads and kind of move on.’”

Ko said she learned a lot watching Stacy Lewis deal with her run of second-place finishes after winning so much.

“Winning a championship is a huge deal, but, sometimes, it's overrated when you haven't won,” Ko said. “Like, you're still playing well, but just haven't won. I kind of feel like it's been that kind of year.

“I think everybody has little ups and downs.”