No. 17 at the Arnold Palmer Course at Turtle Bay Resort (Mike Bailey)
When it comes to golf in Hawaii you can’t go wrong with any of the four main islands – Maui, Oahu, Kauai and the Big Island. In fact, each island has such great golf that you could argue any one of them is best of the bunch. As the 2011 PGA Tour season shifts to Oahu for the Sony Open, we make a case for 'The Gathering Place.'
So you're planning a golf trip to Hawaii, but you've only got the time or the funds for one island. Which one do you choose?
The argument can be made for any one of the major islands of Hawaii, but here's a suggestion that may surprise you: Pick Oahu, especially if it's your first time to Hawaii.
The reasons are compelling. No other island has as many golf courses or as much variety. But perhaps the biggest reason to choose Oahu is the variety of things to do, which revolve around the bustling city of Honolulu and Waikiki Beach.
'From snorkeling on Hanauma Bay to visiting the (USS) Arizona at Pearl Harbor, there are so many more activities on Oahu vs. the other islands,' said Kevin Carll, head golf professional at Waialae Country Club, host of the PGA Tour's Sony Open.
What makes Oahu different is that even though there are plenty of golf resorts on the island, there are also plenty of good daily-fee courses, which are often far less expensive than the resort courses on the other islands. This gives the golf vacationer the best of both worlds. You can choose to stay at a resort like Turtle Bay on the North Shore or the Makaha Resort & Golf Club, or you can make Honolulu your base and drive to different parts of the island to play golf. The advantage to the latter is that you have the outstanding nightlife and dining of Honolulu, which backs up to one of the best beaches in the world: Waikiki.
Accommodations near Waikiki run the gamut, from high-rise luxury hotels like the Hawaii Prince (which also has 27 holes of Arnold Palmer-designed golf off property) to more budget-minded digs like the Park Shore Waikiki, a modest hotel with a great location in the heart of the city with views of Diamond Head and the beach. At your disposal are hundreds of restaurants, clubs and shops, including the incredible outdoor Ala Moana Mall, which has the most expensive retail space per square foot of any shopping venue in the United States.
'There's anything and everything, all within walking distance,' Carll said.
For golf, though, you'll have to rent a car or spend a lot of money on cab fare if you're staying in Honolulu. Of course, if you stay at Turtle Bay Resort, golf and recreation are in your backyard. The resort's backdrop is one of the great surfing spots in the world. The views rivals any resort in the entire state, and Turtle Bay boasts two excellent golf courses. The Palmer Course, ranked among the best in the state and host of the Hawaii State Open, only has one true ocean hole. But the rest of the course, which meanders through wetlands and tall ironwood trees, is a great test away from the ocean. The other course at Turtle Bay, the George Fazio Course, has several holes on the Pacific and makes for an enjoyable and slightly easier golf experience.
There's also the Makaha Resort and Golf Club on the west coast of Oahu in Waianae. William Bell designed this 7,077-yard par 72 in a valley that once served as the playground of Hawaiian royalty.
Perhaps one of the most difficult golf courses in Hawaii is Ko'olau Golf Club, which has a slope rating of 152. Designed by Dick Nugent in 1992, the course is laid out in the middle of a rain forest at the feet of the Ko'olau Mountain Range. Here you'll see waterfalls and plenty vegetation to gobble up wayward shots. Similarly, on the east side of the island, Luana Hills Golf Club, once a private Japanese club, is also treacherous. This Pete Dye design was carved out of the mountain jungle, and despite its relative lack of length, is difficult because of the unforgiving nature of the misses.
On the Ewa Plain is Ewa Beach Golf Club, a plush paspalum golf course designed by prolific Hawaii designer Robin Nelson. The locals sure know about this little gem, which is carved out of a kiawe forest and dotted with plenty of lakes and bunkers. It's well worth the 30-minute drive from Honolulu. The same holds true for Royal Kunia Country Club on the end of the Ft. Weaver Road corridor. Royal Kunia is another Nelson design that has plenty of good holes and even better views of Pearl Harbor, Honolulu and the surrounding mountains.
You'll also want to check out Ko'Olina Golf Club, a fun Ted Robinson layout that features waterfalls, fountains and plenty of interesting holes. Located across from the J.W. Marriott Ihilani Resort and Spa, Ko Olina was Michelle Wie's home course as well as a host site for the LPGA and Champions Tours.
Additionally, if you have some connections, be sure to check out the military courses on the island, which are surprisingly good, especially the Bell-designed Navy-Marine Course. And private club members should get a referral to play Waialae Country Club, a Seth Raynor and Charles Banks design. This classic golf course is one of Oahu's best with design characteristics borrowed from some of the best venues in the world laid out in one of the best settings in the world.