Lay of the land: Get to know Hawaii's Big Island

By Travel ArticlesFebruary 17, 2012, 4:53 pm

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii -- How do you like your Big Island golf? If you're like most visitors to Hawaii's largest island, a dash of Pacific blue and black rock, combined with some Kona coffee, a few volcanoes and an exclusive resort is just the ticket. It's not the only way to devour Big Island golf, but it's a pretty good recipe.

Like most of Hawaii, a golf vacation on the Big Island won't be cheap, but it doesn't have to be out-of-sight expensive either. Still, there are some must-play golf courses, some must-do activities and some must-eat dining. In the end, a Big Island golf vacation can be as good as you want it to be, but here are a few pointers.

Big Island has two airports

Depending on where you are flying from and where you want to stay on the island, you have two commercial airport options. The majority of the golf resorts -- especially the high-end ones -- are on the Kona side of the Island, which means the Kona airport is the most convenient choice. It's also the airport that offers the most direct flights, especially to and from destinations on the mainland that aren't on the West Coast.

But flying into Kona also tends to be more expensive. It's not uncommon to find significantly cheaper fares flying into Hilo on the opposite side of the island (east). In fact, they can often be 50 percent cheaper. Why? Because the Hilo side is the rainy side, and while the resorts on the western side are only 40 miles away as the crow flies, you have to take routes around the island's mountains -- and those roads are slow going, so you can plan on at least three hours of driving.

Still, if you're willing to do a little sightseeing and take in the culture of Hilo, the Big Island's biggest city, it can actually be rewarding. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is also located on the Hilo side of the island, and the park is a must-see for any first-time visitor. Plus, there is golf on that side, such as Volcano Golf Course, a fun little gem that offers a pretty good lunch in the clubhouse. (You can't go wrong with the catch of the day.)

The hotels in Hilo aren't quite up to standards with the resorts on the Kona side, but they are decent and reasonable. One good option, just minutes from the airport, is the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel. The hotel offers nice water views and comfortable rooms. And for breakfast the next morning before you head to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, check out Ken's House of Pancakes, which serves everything from traditional Hawaiian fare to large-portioned American diner breakfasts. The homemade coconut syrup is unforgettable.

Big Island golf options

Once you get to the Kona side of the island, you'll want to play all the memorable golf courses. Mauna Kea Golf Course, which is part of the Mauna Kea Resort, is a must-play with its signature par 3s on the ocean and impeccable conditions. Designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. (and recently restored by Rees Jones), this championship course stretches nearly 7,400 yards and will test every part of your game.

Mauna Kea's sister course, however, shouldn't be overlooked. Hapuna Golf Course, an Arnold Palmer-Ed Seay design, is every bit as scenic as Mauna Kea and can be played for much less (often less than $100). The course sits high above the ocean, which is viewable from just about every hole, plus every hole is memorable.

Another high-end golf option is the Jack Nicklaus Course at Hualalai Golf Club in Kaupulehu-Kona, which is where the Champions Tour opens its season each year. You'll also want to check out Mauna Lani Resort, especially the South Course, which also has incredible holes on the Pacific Ocean. When you get to Kona Country Club, don't be confused by the names of the two courses: the Mountain Course has more ocean views and is more interesting. And Big Island Country Club, a recently renovated Perry Dye course located 2,000 feet above sea level, offers the island's only bentgrass greens and cooler temperatures, as well as lots of native wildlife and spectacular views.

Great golf resorts and more

On the Big Island, though, golf is only half the fun. The resorts, especially if you are taking a significant other, complete the wow factor. Some resorts, like the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, for example, have their own private beaches, spas and outstanding dining.

The Sheraton Keauhou Bay Resort now offers golf packages to Kona Country Club and Big Island Country Club, but you'll also want to take advantage of the other activities right next to the hotel. For instance, you can book a snorkeling cruise through Fairwind, which will take you to Captain Cook's monument and Kealakekua Bay. If you're lucky, you might even get to swim alongside some dolphins.

There are also the Marriott and Hiltons at the Waikoloa Beach Resort, the Four Seasons at Hualalai and a few other smaller hotel options on the Kona side of the island, or you could rent a condo. One particularly attractive option is the Mauna Lani Point Villas, some priced as much as $2 million and overlooking the most scenic parts of the South Course at Mauna Lani Resort. They are a great option for foursomes or families. These luxury accommodations can sleep four or more people and offer full kitchens and dining rooms.

And as far as other activities are concerned, take your pick. From zip lining to helicopter tour to hiking, the Big Island has it all. And you'd be well advised to hit the world-famous Kona coffee farms as well. You'll want to get a pound or two to take back, but don't try to be cheap: Make sure it's 100 percent (not blended) and get it from the farms, where they will be gladly let you sample different types.

Jackson Van Paris at the 2018 U.S. Amateur (USGA/Chris Keane) Getty Images

Van Paris' historic week at U.S. Am ends in Rd. of 32

By Ryan LavnerAugust 16, 2018, 7:41 pm

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Standing to the left of the 16th green Thursday, Jackson Van Paris clasped his hands behind his head and grimaced as Mason Overstreet ended his historic week at Pebble Beach.

It was little consolation to him afterward, of course, but earlier this week Van Paris, 14, became the second-youngest competitor to win a match at the U.S. Amateur.  

The only player younger? Bob Jones. In 1916.

Good company.

“I learned that I can hang with all these players,” said Van Paris, who lost to Overstreet, 3 and 2, in the Round of 32. “I can play with these guys. I played with two of the best players in the field and hung with them for the majority of the matches.”

After qualifying for match play, Van Paris took Australian Dylan Perry – the 30th-ranked amateur in the world – the distance and then holed a chip shot on the final green to prevail, 1 up. His second-round opponent was no slouch, either: Overstreet, a junior at Arkansas, was the 2017 NCAA individual runner-up.

Overstreet is 6-foot-1 and sturdily built, and he took advantage of his lengthy by pounding it past the tall and skinny Van Paris. On the ninth hole, Overstreet caught the downslope in the fairway and had only a wedge into the green. With his body still developing, Van Paris maxes out at 270 yards off the tee. About 60 yards behind his opponent, he hit 5-iron into a firm green that had about a 10-foot circle to get it close. Overstreet made birdie, took a 2-up lead, went 3 under for his first 12 holes in windier conditions and easily won the match.

“Mason played great, and he’s a really good player,” Van Paris said, “but I felt like it was nothing I couldn’t handle.”

Those in junior golf circles know all about Van Paris, a rising sophomore who lives about five minutes from Pinehurst No. 2 and is already one of the top prospects in the Class of 2021. A two-time AJGA winner, he’s verbally committed to play college golf at Vanderbilt, alongside his friend Gordon Sargent, the beginning of what he hopes is a dream team during his four years in school.

The Commodores’ affable coach, Scott Limbaugh, the facilities and the team’s recent success were key factors in his early decision, but so were the academics. “I’d rather get a 99 on a test than top 10 in a tournament,” he said.

U.S. Amateur: Articles, photos and videos

Tuesday was the first day of school at O’Neal High School, a college prep school in Southern Pines. Before his match, the students and teachers sent him a photo of them holding up a “Let’s Go, Jackson! Go Low!” sign in front of the school. Once Van Paris knocked out his first-round opponent, he was flooded with texts, emails and Snapchats. One note in particular stood out: The head of the school joked that Van Paris’ absences the rest of the week were unexcused.

Asked what he’ll tell his classmates when he returns to school, Van Paris said: “That I went to the coolest place in the U.S, played the coolest golf course in the country, played the biggest amateur tournament in the world and got 17th.”

His experience at the U.S. Amateur – where he competed against players who were at least four years older – was nothing new for Van Paris. He’s been playing up since he was 6.

“He’s always wanted to play against the best players he could find,” said Van Paris’ father, Todd. “But now that he’s old enough to play against his peers, it’s been a different dynamic – he’s not the underdog, he’s the favorite. It’s going to be an interesting transition.”

Todd Van Paris said that his son has grown about six inches and added about 40 yards over the past year. He’ll only pack on more muscle over the next few years, shortening the distance gap between him and players like Overstreet.

Van Paris’ goal Wednesday was to win both of his matches and reach the quarterfinals. Then he’d be fully exempt into next year’s U.S. Amateur … at Pinehurst No. 2, just down the street from his parents’ house.

“I know that he’s proud of what he’s accomplished this week,” Todd Van Paris said, “but I guarantee you that he thought he could win the tournament. He really thought he could do it. That’s what makes him special.”

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After opening up, Lexi shoots 'comfortable' 68

By Randall MellAugust 16, 2018, 6:27 pm

Lexi Thompson looked at ease, smiling and laughing in a solid start in her return to the tour Thursday at the Indy Women in Tech Championship, where she felt the benefit of her month-long break.

“It was very relaxing out there,” Thompson said. “I felt very comfortable where my game was at. I just tried to go out and let my game show and not put too much pressure on myself.”

Thompson, 23, the defending champ, opened with a 4-under-par 68, four shots behind Angel Yin, the early leader. Thompson skipped the Ricoh Women’s British Open two weeks ago to take a “mental break” and address emotional struggles that built up through last year’s highs and lows.

In a news conference Wednesday, Thompson was candid sharing the challenges she has faced as a prodigy who has poured so much of herself into the game, and how she has recently sought the help of therapists in building a life that isn’t all about golf.

Full-field scores from Indy Women in Tech Championship

“I’m not just a robot out here,” Thompson said in heartfelt fashion in her news conference. “I need to have a life.”

Thompson said she took almost two weeks off without touching a club after her last start at the Marathon Classic.

After Thursday’s round, Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz asked her about her decision to share her struggle.

“It was very hard for me to take the break, because I didn’t want to show that weakness, but at the same time it takes a lot of strength to acknowledge you need that kind of break, and to take time for yourself,” Thompson said. “Especially when you are in the spotlight like this, it can get hard, to just live your life for you, and figure out what makes you happy.”

Thompson is the highest ranked American in the world at No. 5 in the Rolex rankings. She was the Golf Writers Association of America female Player of the Year last season and also claimed the LPGA’s Vare Trophy for low scoring average, but it was still the toughest year of her career. She watched her mother battle cancer and dealt with the death of a grandmother. She also endured tough competitive blows, losing the ANA Inspiration after being hit with a controversial four-shot penalty in the final round. At year’s end, she lost out on a chance to ascend to world No. 1 and win the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year award after missing a short putt on the final hole in the season finale.

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Snedeker joins 59 club at Wyndham

By Will GrayAugust 16, 2018, 4:19 pm

Brandt Snedeker opened the Wyndham Championship with an 11-under 59, becoming just the ninth player in PGA Tour history to card a sub-60 score in a tournament round.

Snedeker offered an excited fist pump after rolling in a 20-footer for birdie on the ninth hole at Sedgefield Country Club, his 18th hole of the day. It was Snedeker's 10th birdie on the round to go along with a hole-out eagle from 176 yards on No. 6 and gave him the first 59 on Tour since Adam Hadwin at last year's CareerBuilder Challenge.

Snedeker's round eclipsed the tournament and course record of 60 at Sedgefield, most recently shot by Si Woo Kim en route to victory two years ago. Amazingly, the round could have been even better: he opened with a bogey on No. 10 and missed a 6-footer for birdie on his 17th hole of the day.

Full-field scores from Wyndham Championship

Wyndham Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Snedeker was still 1 over on the round before reeling off four straight birdies on Nos. 13-16, but he truly caught fire on the front nine where he shot an 8-under 27 that included five birdie putts from inside 6 feet.

Jim Furyk, who also shot 59, holds the 18-hole scoring record on Tour with a 58 in the final round of the 2016 Travelers Championship.

Snedeker told reporters this week that he was suffering from "kind of paralysis by analysis" at last week's PGA Championship, but he began to simplify things over the weekend when he shot 69-69 at Bellerive to tie for 42nd. Those changes paid off even moreso Thursday in Greensboro, where Snedeker earned his first career Tour win back in 2007 at nearby Forest Oaks.

"Felt like I kind of found something there for a few days and was able to put the ball where I wanted to and make some putts," Snedeker said. "And all of a sudden everything starts feeling a little bit better. So excited about that this week because the greens are so good."

Snedeker was hampered by injury at the end of 2017 and got off to a slow start this season. But his form has started to pick up over the summer, as he has recorded three top-10 finishes over his last seven starts highlighted by a T-3 finish last month at The Greenbrier. He entered the week 80th in the season-long points race and is in search of his first win since the 2016 Farmers Insurance Open.

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Woods' caddie paid heckler $25 to go away

By Will GrayAugust 16, 2018, 4:05 pm

Tiger Woods is known for his ability to tune out hecklers while in the midst of a competitive round, but every now and then a fan is able to get under his skin - or, at least, his caddie's.

Joe LaCava has been on the bag for Woods since 2011, and on a recent appearance on ESPN's "Golic and Wingo" he shared a story of personally dispatching of an especially persistent heckler after dipping into his wallet earlier this month at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

According to LaCava, the fan was vocal throughout Woods' final round at Firestone Country Club, where he eventually tied for 31st. On the 14th hole, LaCava asked him to go watch another group, and the man agreed - under the condition that LaCava pony up with some cash.

"So he calls me a couple of names, and I go back and forth with the guy. And I said, 'Why don't you just leave?'" LaCava said. "And he goes, 'Well, if you give me $25 for the ticket that I bought today, I'll leave.' And I said, 'Here you go, here's $25.'"

But the apparent resolution was brief, as the heckler pocketed the cash but remained near the rope line. At that point, the exchange between LaCava and the fan became a bit more heated.

"I said, 'Look, pal, $25 is $25. You've got to head the other way,'" LaCava said. "So he starts to head the other way, goes 20 yards down the line, and he calls me a certain other swear word. So I run 20 yards back the other way. We’re going face-to-face with this guy and all of a sudden Tiger is looking for a yardage and I’m in it with this guy 20 yards down the line.”

Eventually an on-course police officer intervened, and the cash-grabbing fan was ultimately ejected. According to LaCava, Woods remained unaffected by the situation that played out a few yards away from him.

"He didn't have a problem," LaCava said. "And actually, I got a standing ovation for kicking the guy out of there."