Best golf in Hawaii The Big Island

By Mike BaileyJanuary 24, 2011, 8:14 pm
mauna kea golf
                 The stunning par-3 third at Mauna Kea can play as long as 272 yards. (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. The Big Island, with its varying climates and topography, offers the widest array of golf courses in Hawaii.
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If you're thinking about a Hawaii golf vacation, it never hurts to think big.

As in, the Big Island of Hawaii.

It's twice as big as all the other islands combined, and it's also the newest, which makes for some interesting topography. Black lava beaches against the deep blue Pacific provide dramatic contrasts. Add the manicured green turf of some of the best golf courses in Hawaii, and well, you get the picture.

Volcano mountains, such as Mauna Kea at 14,000 feet, cast their shadows over much of the island, dividing air masses and creating nearly a dozen micro climates. Mauna Kea even has snow on its peaks in the winter time.

The Big Island is always changing. Visitors can check out Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and even make their way down to Kalapana on the east side of the park to watch the lava flow into the ocean. Witnessing creation live is especially impressive at night.

'The great thing about the Big Island are the great outdoor options after golf,' said Johnny Eusebio, golf operations manager for the Waikoloa Beach Resort on Kohala Coast. 'Volcanoes, beaches, fishing, and other water sports are all on this island. The Big Island has 11 of the 13 climates and as a result there are many types of courses from coastal golf, great elevations in terrain, tree-lined courses, and courses surrounded by lava. I feel every course here on the Big Island presents a unique experience. They all give you a different feel.'

Speaking of climates, the Big Island arguably has the best golf weather in the world, especially on the Kohala Coast on the northwest side of the island. This is where you'll find many of the Big Island's top resorts and courses. For example, during the week of the Sony Open on Oahu, when flooding rain hit most of the state and postponed the first round of the tournament, Mauna Kea was open for play with hardly a drop of rain. The area only gets about 6 inches a year, although the Hilo area, on the east side of the island, has been known to get up to 300 inches of precipitation annually.

'It's probably the driest place in Hawaii,' said Josh Silliman, director of golf at Mauna Kea, of the Kohala Coast. 'We had some clouds (during the Sony Open), and it might have scared some people away, but for the most part, the rain stayed north of us.'

When asked for another reason golfers should pick the Big Island, Silliman said, half-joking, half serious: 'Mauna Kea.'

Silliman was just being truthful. Mauna Kea Golf Course, ranked No. 19 on Golf Magazine's 'Top 100 courses You Can Play' list, is an exceptional Robert Trent Jones Sr. design that opened in 1964 and features one of the most picturesque par 3s in the world. The third hole (pictured above), which can be set as long as 272 yards from a new tee, plays over rocks and ocean to a peninsula green.

Recently renovated by Rees Jones, the 7,370-yard golf course has never looked better.

'Rees came in and made it even tougher,' Silliman said. 'It's a championship golf course on a resort property, which is kind of unique.'

But Mauna Kea isn't the only good game in the area. The nearby Mauna Lani Resort has two terrific layouts. The Francis H. I'i Brown South Course at Mauna Lani has an iconic hole as well, the 15th, a show-stopping par 3 that jets into the deep blue ocean and catches the attention of golfers.

But while the South Course, with its impressive coastline holes seems to get much of the attention, Mauna Lani's North Course is no slouch either. Both courses are designed by Homer Flint, R. F. Cain and Robin Nelson, and those who play the North Course regularly say it's on par or better than the South with a few ocean views of its own and some terrifically designed holes. Besides Mauna Kea and Mauna Lani, golfers also might want to consider the Kings Course and Beach Course at Waikoloa Beach Resort.

Other worthwhile golf experiences in the area include Waikoloa Village Golf Club, Mauna Kea's sister course, Hapuna, and the Jack Nicklaus-designed Hualalai Golf Course at the Four Seasons Resort. The Hualalai course, which winds along black lava fields perched above the Pacific, hosts the Champions Tour Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai.

A little farther south down the coast is Kona Country Club, which has two excellent contrasting golf courses. Kona's Ocean Course, as its name would imply, is a classic William Bell layout that opened in 1964 and plays alongside the Pacific. The Ali'i Mountain Course, laid out on land that was once a playground to Hawaiian royalty, climbs into the foothills, offering elevation changes as well as overhead views of the coastline below.

Golfers might also want to consider the Dick Nugent-designed Makalei Hawaii Country Club in Kailua Kona, Opened in 1992, the course measures 7,091 yards from the tips and is one of the few Hawaii golf courses to feature bentgrass greens.

Or for some golf a little more off the beaten path, try Sea Mountain Golf Course on the south side of the island, Hilo Municipal G.C. on the east side or Waimea Country Club, a low-key public course with affordable rates and excellent conditions located on the north side.

For more information, check out's guide to Big Island golf.
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Two-time champ Bubba fires 63 at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 22, 2018, 7:20 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Amid a resurgent season that has already included a pair of wins, it only makes sense that Bubba Watson is back in contention at the Travelers Championship.

TPC River Highlands has been one of Watson’s favorite haunts over the years; it’s a layout where the southpaw’s creative approach is often rewarded. This is where he burst into tears after earning his first PGA Tour victory in 2010, and this is where he beat Paul Casey in a playoff to again lift the trophy in 2015.

He’ll once again have a late weekend tee time after firing a 7-under 63 during the second round, tying the low score of the week and moving to within three shots of Brian Harman’s 10-under total.

“Little bit less wind, little more confidence on the ball-striking, and I made putts,” Watson said. “The key is making putts. When you start making putts, that’s where you’re going to score a decent number.”

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Watson was well down the standings after opening with an even-par 70, a round that included three bogeys in a four-hole stretch on the back nine to negate progress he had made earlier in the day. But he ran into no such struggles the second time around, adding six birdies to an eagle on the par-5 13th hole when he hit his approach shot from 229 yards to within 18 inches of the hole.

The difference, according to Watson, was between the ears.

“Yesterday I was just thinking about some negative stuff instead of focusing on my target and focusing on the shot at hand,” Watson said. “I was focusing on hitting to the bunker, or focusing on, ‘Water is over here, so hit it over here.’ Just things like that, just things that you can’t do around the golf course.”

Watson was also a runner-up in 2012 here in addition to his two wins, and he has racked up nearly $3.5 million in earnings in 11 prior appearances. Once again thinking the right thoughts on one of his favorite tracks, he’s potentially 36 holes away from his third win since February.

“Obviously around here I feel pretty comfortable,” Watson said. “I can hit some shots around here, and I’ve made it work throughout some of the years.”

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Only putting is holding McIlroy back

By Will GrayJune 22, 2018, 6:48 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Through two rounds of the Travelers Championship, the tee shots are towering and the approaches are accurate for Rory McIlroy. Now he just needs the putter to heat up.

McIlroy started to show signs of life during the second round last week at Shinnecock Hills before missing the cut, and after putting in some extra work honing his swing over the weekend, his tee-to-green game is worth boasting about at the halfway point at TPC River Highlands.

McIlroy has missed only five greens in regulation through two rounds, barely breaking a sweat en route to rounds of 64 and 69 that left him at 7 under. He’s within striking distance heading into the weekend, three shots behind Brian Harman, but might be topping the standings with a more cooperative putter.

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“I felt like I left a few out there,” McIlroy said. “I felt like I had a lot of good putts that just didn’t go in. I started them on line, did everything I needed to do, and it’s just one of those days where they were sliding by the edges.”

McIlroy took 32 putts to complete his second round, including a three-putt on No. 7 for his only bogey of the day and another three-putt on No. 13 that turned an eagle opportunity into a par. Already with a win under his belt this year at the Arnold Palmer Invitational when he knocked in putts from all directions during a final-round 64, McIlroy feels confident that he might be only a few rolls away from having another shot to contend in his second career trip to the Hartford-area stop.

“I think if I can put the ball in the fairway and hit my irons as good as I have been over the first couple of days, I’ll give myself a lot of chances for birdies,” McIlroy said. “It’s just about converting them and taking the opportunities when they present themselves.”

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Rosaforte Report: Toski lively, singing and ready to go home

By Tim RosaforteJune 22, 2018, 6:41 pm

Bob Toski sounded pretty good for a man near death last week. When we spoke on Friday, the 91-year-old teaching legend and former PGA Tour leading money winner was alive and feeling well. Especially when he was talking about giving lessons, swinging a golf club again, and going down to the piano bar at Arturo’s near his home in Boca Raton, Fla., to sing his favorite song, “Sentimental Journey."

“It’s been quite a journey,” Toski said in total bliss. “But I’m going home tomorrow.”

Going back 10 days, to June 12, Toski suffered a severe heart attack that had him on life support, in critical condition, at a hospital not far from the South Florida golf community where he’s pro emeritus at St. Andrews.

He opened 15 minutes on the phone on Friday by asking how much he owed me for the publicity he got during the U.S. Open. Typical Toski. His heart may have skipped a beat, but he hadn’t.

At no more than 120 pounds, still larger than life.

Bob Toski from his hospital bed in South Florida

“This is the mouse,” he said when asked to confirm it really was him on the phone. “The Mighty Mouse.”

We were laughing now, but there was a moment one night during “Live From the U.S. Open” when I got a message from the Boca hospital which sounded grim (hospital staff used a defibrillator on him six times during his stay). That’s when one of the friends by his side texted me and said it would be just like “Tosk” to sit up straight and ask everybody what was going on.

Essentially, that’s what happened. And now here he was on the phone, cracking off one-liners, talking about Brooks Koepka’s win at Shinnecock, giving his take on the USGA and course setup, asking how much I’d been playing, and giving his love to everybody at “The Channel.”

He invited me down for a lesson at St. Andrews and dinner at Arturos. “In a month’s time,” he said, “I’ll be ready to go.”

He sounded ready right now, singing a line from his favorite song, from his hospital bed in the happiest of voices, “Gotta set my heart at ease.”

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Spieth fades with 3-over 73: 'It's just golf'

By Will GrayJune 22, 2018, 6:10 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – After finding nothing but positives for his first five trips around the course, Jordan Spieth finally suffered a setback at TPC River Highlands.

Spieth won the Travelers Championship last year in his tournament debut, and he quickly bounced back from a missed cut at Shinnecock Hills by firing a 7-under 63 in the opening round this week to take a share of the lead. Out early during the second round with a chance to move even further into red figures amid calm conditions, he instead went the other way.

Undone by a triple bogey on the par-5 13th hole, Spieth was 5 over for his first 14 holes and needed an eagle on the par-5 sixth hole for the second straight day simply to salvage a 3-over 73. The score knocked him back to 4 under for the week and six shots behind Brian Harman.

Despite finding three fewer fairways, three fewer greens in regulation and taking five more putts than he did in the opening round, Spieth still put a positive spin on a lackluster result.

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“I actually felt like I had better control of my golf swing than I did yesterday. I really struggled with my swing yesterday and I kind of got some good breaks,” Spieth said. “It’s just golf. It’s kind of like yesterday I got three or four shots extra out of the round, and today I lost three or four based on how I felt.”

Spieth was happy with his opening-round effort, but even after finishing late in the day he still went straight to the driving range that lines the ninth fairway at TPC River Highlands – not exactly standard behavior after grabbing a share of the lead.

“So it’s not like things are on,” he said. “Sometimes it can get disguised by rounds, but it’s not far off. It really is close.”

Spieth has lamented a lack of quality chances to win this year, which he has previously described as being within six shots of the lead heading into the final round. He’ll have some work to do to meet that mark this weekend in defense of his title, as his round hit a snag on No. 13, his fourth hole of the morning, when he pulled his tee shot out of bounds and then hit his subsequent approach into the water.

“For whatever reason, it’s a large fairway but it’s always just killed me,” Spieth said. “I don’t know what it is about the hole, but that hole I get on the tee and for whatever reason I struggle. … I just hit a bad shot at the wrong time there.”