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Big Island's Hapuna Golf Course more than holds its own with nearby Mauna Kea

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KAMUELA, Hawaii -- Any idea that Hapuna Golf Course is just the other venue at Mauna Kea resort on the Big Island is quickly dismissed once you start playing it.

It may not be as hard as its big-brother course -- Mauna Kea Golf Course, which is on the other side of the Queen Kaahumanu Highway -- but it's almost as pretty. And it's probably more fun, too, because it's not as difficult.

Not that the Arnold Palmer/Ed Seay-designed Hapuna is a pushover.

Although it's some 400 yards shorter than Mauna Kea Golf Course, it's still 6,875 yards with plenty of challenge off the tee and an ever-present breeze that can sometimes become quite formidable.

Still, once you find the fairways on this rolling spread that features more than 700 feet of elevation, the approaches and the greens are easier. And that translates into scoring opportunities and fun.

Plus, you can expect significant green-fee savings over Mauna Kea. And considering that the same superintendent now oversees both courses -- meaning course conditions at Hapuna are on par with Mauna Kea -- that's a pretty good deal.

'I think Hapuna is very underrated,' said Mauna Kea Head Golf Professional Johnny Eusebio. 'The thing about Hapuna is that even though it's not on the ocean, you can see the ocean from any tee or green.'

Views abound at Hapuna

Considered one of the most environmentally sensitive golf courses in Hawaii -- you'll see plenty of wildlife and a few domestic sheep -- Hapuna overlooks the Kohala Coast, the Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa volcanoes, and the Kohala Mountains.

The holes meander through mesquite and black lava beds, providing a striking contrast between green grass and surrounding native areas. And for the most part, the holes are isolated from each other, giving each playing group a sense of isolation.

You could take your pick of signature holes. You get a sense right away that they're all pretty interesting and scenic.

The third, for example, is a downhill par 5 that doglegs left around a lake.

The par-4 sixth not only features an ocean view but an unusual bunker left of the green that's sure to catch your attention.

The 11th is in another good par 5, this time making a turn uphill to the right to a green perched above the tee.

And the downhill 15th, with a row of palms glistening in the distance, provides another panoramic view of the sea in the distance.

Hapuna's finishing stretch is as good as it gets: The 17th and 18th are terrific par 4s, with the last hole playing 462 yards from the tips. The nice part is that from the front set of four tee boxes, 18 is just 338 yards, meaning the course truly is set up for all levels of players.

And the practice facilities -- with an extensive short-game area and range, as well as the clubhouse, which offers terrific dining -- are both top-notch.

Hapuna Golf Course: The verdict

This is one golf course you shouldn't skip if you make a trip to the Big Island. It's reasonably priced, super interesting and features one great view after another. While it's not right on the ocean, there are plenty of ocean views because of the elevated tees. It's also in terrific shape.

It's also very playable for all levels of players, although some of the tee shots can appear a little bit intimidating. All in all, it's a great changeup from its big sibling, Mauna Kea Golf Course.