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)

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LAAC returning to Casa de Campo in 2019

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 8:23 pm

The Latin America Amateur Championship will return to Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic in 2019 (Jan. 17-20), event organizers announced Saturday in Chile, where this year’s championship is underway.

The LAAC champion receives an invitation to play the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club every spring.

The champion is also exempt into The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event for which he is eligible to compete. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.

The LAAC was founded by the Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.

The championship got its start in 2015 with Chile’s Matias Dominguez winning at Pilar Golf in Argentina. In 2016, Casa de Campo hosted, with Costa Rica’s Paul Chaplet winning. At 16, he became the first player from Central America to compete in the Masters. In 2017, Chile’s Toto Gana won the title at  Club de Golf de Panama.

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Beef's beer goggles: Less drinks = more wins

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 6:07 pm

An offseason spent soul searching is apparently paying quick dividends for Andrew “Beef” Johnston, who is in contention to win Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Johnston acknowledged he was “burning the candle at both ends” last year, playing both the PGA Tour and the European Tour, but he told reporters Saturday that it wasn’t too much golf that hindered his efforts.

It was too much “socializing.”

“I'm a social person,” Johnston said. “If you go out with friends, or you get invited to something, I'll have a beer, please. But I probably had a few too many beers, I would say, to be honest. And it reflected in my golf, and I was disappointed looking back at it. I want to turn that around and have a good season.”

Johnston posted a 6-under-par 66 Saturday, moving into a tie for sixth, three shots off the lead. He said he arrived in Abu Dhabi a week early to prepare for his first start of the new year. It’s paying off with a Sunday chance to win his second European Tour title.

“Last year was crazy, and like getting distracted, and things like that,” Johnston said. “You don't know it's happened until you've finished the season. You’re off doing things and you're burning the candle at both ends. When I got back from last season, sort of had time to reflect on it, I sort of said to myself, 'You've got to keep quiet and keep disciplined and get on with your work.’”

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Johnston finished 189th last year in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings. He was 116th in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai.

Johnston’s fun-loving personality, his scruffy beard and his big-bodied shape quickly made him one of the most popular and entertaining players in the game when he earned his PGA Tour card before the 2016-17 season. Golf Digest called him a “quirky outlier,” and while he has had fun with that persona, Johnston is also intent on continuing to prove he belongs among the game’s best players.

His plan for doing that?

“Just put the work in,” he said. “I didn’t put enough work in last year. It’s simple. It showed. So, just get down, knuckle down and practice hard.”

Rory McIlroy at the 2018 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Getty Images

McIlroy making big statement in first start of 2018

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 3:40 pm

Rory McIlroy marched the fairways of Abu Dhabi Golf Club Saturday with that fighter pilot stride of his, with that confident little bob in his step that you see when he is in command of his full arsenal of shots.

So much for easing into the new year.

So much for working off rust and treating these first few months of 2018 as a warmup for the Masters and his bid to complete the career Grand Slam.

McIlroy, 28, is poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

With back-to-back birdies to close his round, McIlroy put up a 7-under-par 65, leaving him just one shot off the lead going into the final round.

“It’s good,” McIlroy said. “I probably scored a bit better today, short game was needed as well, but I hit the ball very well, so all in all it was another great round and confidence builder, not just for this week but obviously for the rest of the season as well.”

McIlroy can make a strong statement with a win Sunday.

If he claims the title in his first start of the year, he sends a message about leaving all the woes of 2017 behind him. He sends a message about his fitness after a nagging rib injury plagued him all of last year. He sends a message about his readiness to reassert himself as the game’s best player in a world suddenly teeming with towering young talent.

After his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro, McIlroy is eager to show himself, as well as everyone else, that he is ready to challenge for major championships and the world No. 1 title again.

“It feels like awhile since I’ve won,” McIlroy said. “I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

A victory would be all the more meaningful because the week started with McIlroy paired with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and reigning European Tour Player of the Year Tommy Fleetwood.

McIlroy acknowledged the meaning of that going into Saturday’s round.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent healthy,” he said. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and one of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

It’s worth repeating what 2008 Masters champ Trevor Immelman said last month about pairings and the alpha-dog nature of the world’s best players. He was talking about Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge, when Immelman said pairings matter, even in off season events.

“When you are the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Immelman said. “They want to show this guy, `This is what I got.’”

A victory with Johnson in the field just two weeks after Johnson won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in an eight-shot rout will get the attention of all the elite players.

A victory also sets this up as a January for the ages, making it the kind of big-bang start the game has struggled to create in the shadow of the NFL playoffs.

Johnson put on a tour-de-force performance winning in Hawaii and the confident young Spaniard Jon Rahm is just a shot off the lead this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour. Sergio Garcia is just two off the lead going into the final round of the Singapore Open. Tiger Woods makes his return to the PGA Tour at Torrey Pines next week.

To be sure, McIlroy has a lot of work to do Sunday.

Yet another rising young talent, Thomas Pieters, shares the lead with Ross Fisher. Fleetwood is just two shots back and Johnson five back.

McIlroy has such a good history at Abu Dhabi. Over the last seven years, he has finished second four times and third twice. Still, even a strong finish that falls short of winning bodes well for McIlroy in his first start of the year.

“I have never won my first start back out,” McIlroy said.

A strong start, whether he wins or not, sets McIlroy up well for the ambitious schedule he plans for 2018. He’s also scheduled to play the Dubai Desert Classic next with the possibility he’ll play 30 times this year, two more events than he’s ever played in a year.

“I’m just really getting my golf head back on,” McIlroy said. “I’ve been really pleased with that.”

A victory Sunday will make all our heads spin a little b it with the exciting possibilities the game offers this year.

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Garcia 2 back in weather-delayed Singapore Open

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 3:06 pm

SINGAPORE - Danthai Boonma and Chapchai Nirat built a two-stroke lead over a chasing pack that includes Sergio Garcia and Ryo Ishikawa midway through the third round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open on Saturday.

The Thai golfers were locked together at 9 under when play was suspended at the Sentosa Golf Club for the third day in a row because of lightning strikes in the area.

Masters champion Garcia and former teen prodigy Ishikawa were among seven players leading the chase at 7 under on a heavily congested leaderboard.

Garcia, one of 78 players who returned to the course just after dawn to complete their second rounds, was on the 10th hole of his third round when the warning siren was sounded to abruptly end play for the day.

''Let's see if we can finish the round, that will be nice,'' he said. ''But I think if I can play 4-under I should have a chance.''

The Spanish golfer credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his first major championship title at Augusta National because of the stifling humidity of southeast Asia and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore in 2017, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the subsequent week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later. He is feeling confident of his chances of success this weekend.

''I felt like I hit the ball OK,'' Garcia said. ''My putting and all went great but my speed hasn't been great on this green so let's see if I can be a little more aggressive on the rounds this weekend.''

Ishikawa moved into a share of the lead at the halfway stage after firing a second round of 5-under 66 that featured eight birdies. He birdied the first two holes of his third round to grab the outright lead but slipped back with a double-bogey at the tricky third hole for the third day in a row. He dropped another shot at the par-5 sixth when he drove into a fairway bunker.

''It was a short night but I had a good sleep and just putted well,'' Ishikawa said. The ''greens are a little quicker than yesterday but I still figured (out) that speed.

Ishikawa was thrust into the spotlight more than a decade ago. In 2007, he became the youngest player to win on any of the major tours in the world. He was a 15-year-old amateur when he won the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup.

He turned pro at 16, first played in the Masters when he was 17 and the Presidents Cup when he was 18. He shot 58 in the final round to win The Crowns in Japan when he was 19.

Now 26, Ishikawa has struggled with injuries and form in recent years. He lost his PGA Tour card and hasn't played in any of the majors since 2015. He has won 15 times as a professional, but has never won outside his homeland of Japan.

Chapchai was able to sleep in and put his feet up on Saturday morning after he completed his second round on Friday.

He bogeyed the third but reeled off three birdies in his next four holes to reach 9-under with the back nine still to play.

Danthai was tied for 12th at the halfway stage but charged into a share of the lead with seven birdies in the first 15 holes of his penultimate round.