The South Course at Mauna Lani Resort on Hawaii's Big Island: More than just a signature hole

By Travel ArticlesFebruary 17, 2012, 5:00 am

KOHALA COAST, Hawaii -- When you get to the 15th hole on the South Course at Mauna Lani Resort on the Big Island, it's not uncommon to find a group or two waiting at the tee. It's not because the hole is overly difficult; it's because it's overly beautiful.

It's not enough just to hit a tee shot over the ocean at this magnificent par 3; you have to savor it. And that means bring your camera, or at least your camera phone.

'Would you mind taking our picture,' a couple from Alabama asked after they both hit the green with their tee shots.

It's a scene that repeats itself over and over on the South Course at Mauna Lani, but the signature hole is hardly the only highlight on this Hawaii favorite, a par 72 that measures more than 6,900 yards from the tips. There are other ocean holes as well, and the inland holes are fairly memorable, too. One thing all the holes have in common is the stark contrast between well manicured green turf and black lava rock.

Mauna Lani's history

The land on which Mauna Lani sits has only been around for a few hundred years. More specifically, the course is built on a 16th century lava flow, so the rocks that surround the fairways are very porous, very rough -- not a good spot to hit a golf ball.

In fact, if you do hit one into the lava between fairways or near the coast, it's not advisable to try to find your ball. You risk spraining an ankle. Besides, most of the golf balls hit in there tend to sink into the crevices anyway.

Fortunately, the fairways are plenty generous, so if you hit if pretty straight, you'll be in business to attack the large greens.

The South Course, which opened in 1981, is one of two championship courses at the Mauna Lani Resort. They are a collaboration among architects Homer Flint, R.F. Cain and prolific Hawaii designer Robin Nelson.

The full name of the course, the Francis H I'i Brown South Course, still honors the man who acquired and developed the property back in the 1930s. Though Brown didn't build the courses, it's fitting since he was an extraordinary golfer and sportsman. At one time, Brown was the amateur champion of Hawaii, Japan and California. The property was sold to Mauna Lani Resort Inc., in 1972, and Brown's nephew, Kenny Brown, remains chairman of the Mauna Lani Resort and descendant guardian.

The South Course was also the home to the Senior Skins Game from 1990-2000, hosting such golf legends as Raymond Floyd, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Chi Chi Rodriquez, Gary Player, Hale Irwin and Jim Colbert.

Mauna Lani: A Big Island favorite

Today, Mauna Lani still remains one of Hawaii's favorite courses. Looking out from the massive clubhouse, there's a vast putting green and the first tee of the South Course, which eases golfers into the round with a fairly tame par 5 and a good birdie opportunity.

What becomes evident right away is how you have to steer clear of the rocks, because not only do they surround many of the fairways and greens, but there are also outcroppings in the fairway.

The good news is that you don’t have to wait until the 15th to see the ocean. It comes up rather quickly on the front nine, and by the time you get to the seventh, a 214-yard par 3 from the tips, you might be wondering what all the fuss over 15 is about. The seventh is certainly harder than 15 and pretty spectacular in its own right with plenty of water and black lava to cover.

Truth is that all the par 3s are pretty good on the South Course at Mauna Lani. The 12th also carries water, a pond, and the third also plays more than 200 yards.

Before you get to the 15th, though, comes another memorable ocean hole, the 380-yard par-4 13th. It, too, backs up against the ocean, and from the green you get a great view of the 15th tee.

Then there's the 15th, one of the most photographed holes in the world. It has a large green, and depending on the pin placement, it can be difference of two or three clubs.

South Course at Mauna Lani Resort: The verdict

The kind of views you get at the South Course at Mauna Lani Resort don't come cheap, so you can expect to pay more than $200 for green fees most days. It's all relative, however, as no trip to the Big Island, especially if it's your only trip, would be complete without playing the South Course.

Practice facilities at Mauna Lani are also first rate with a large putting green, short game area and expansive grass range. The clubhouse also features a well-stocked golf shop and a good restaurant for lunch with views that overlook the practice green and much of the course. All in all, it's a memorable golf experience.

Getty Images

Inside Attica: Interviewing Valentino Dixon

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 20, 2018, 2:00 am

By RYAN GRIFFITHS

Some stories stick with you longer than others. First time you get to do a feature. First time you meet a sports legend (it was Allen Iverson for me). Seeing a championship isn’t bad, either. Been there, done that. Lawnmower museum on the east coast of England, tsunami survivors in California, re-connecting Al Geiberger with his lost 59 tape, all good, but no story or environment has stuck with me like going to Attica Correctional Facility in 2013 to tell the story of Valentino Dixon.

For starters, I’d never been searched before setting up for an interview. Not just me, everyone - all three cameramen, Jimmy Roberts, the guy escorting us in who worked there. Everyone. Attica trusts no one. Can’t blame them after 1971, when inmates protesting living conditions took members of the prison staff hostage. The ensuing police response left 29 inmates and 10 hostages dead.

Attica has a "shank wall," a collection of homemade weapons seized from inmates and displayed like baseball cards in a plastic case on the wall outside the guards' lunchroom. Prison interior decorating at its finest. Nice touch.

We went to do a story on an inmate who was introduced to the world in a Golf Digest article by Max Adler in 2012. "The golf artist who had never stepped foot on a golf course - Valentino Dixon.: He was in for murder. Second degree. You know, your standard golf story.


Wrongfully imprisoned man freed after nearly three decades


Dixon, a former aspiring artist before getting caught up in the Buffalo drug-dealing scene, started sketching photos from Golf Digest for the warden. I’ve never been to prison, but from what I have gathered from watching The Shawshank Redemption some 8,000 times, getting in the warden’s good graces is a smart habit to pick up if you’re doing serious time.

Dixon's art was insanely good. Even more so because he did it all with colored pencils. No paintbrushes allowed (see shank wall above). Jimmy, the crew and I stopped for a good 10-15 minutes to marvel at his creations before continuing with the interview.

We spent a solid 40 minutes talking to the man who supposedly killed a man 20-something years prior. In that time, he pleaded his innocence to us over and over again. He spoke like a man who had rehearsed every angle of his story over and over and over again. I give him credit - there were no holes in his story. I consider myself a pretty good judge of character, and he didn’t look like a killer, didn’t sound like one. either. But what did I know? I’d never met one - that I know of. And if you were stuck in prison for 20-plus years and all of a sudden had a camera in front of you and a platform to plead your innocence, wouldn’t you do your best to try to get out of there?

Since the guards wouldn’t allow any food, the crew and I stopped at the first deli we saw on the ride back into Buffalo. After we were done eating, we all looked at each other, knowing what we all were thinking: "Do you think he did it?”

Didn’t matter what we thought, we were just there to tell the story. On Wednesday, however, people whose opinions mattered made a decision and allowed someone who loves the game of golf, but has never stepped foot on a golf course, to do just that if he so chooses. That's a story that will stick with him for the rest of his life.

Getty Images

Wrongfully convicted inmate who turned to golf artistry freed

By Associated PressSeptember 20, 2018, 12:35 am

BUFFALO, N.Y. – A New York prison artist who never played golf but became known for drawings of lush courses he could only imagine was set free Wednesday after authorities agreed that another man committed the murder that put him behind bars for nearly three decades.

Valentino Dixon walked out of Erie County Court into bright sunshine and hugs from his mother, daughter and a crowd of other relatives and friends, ready for a meal at Red Lobster and vowing to fight on behalf of others who are wrongly convicted.

"I love y'all," Dixon shouted after trading the green prison uniform he wore in court for jeans and a T-shirt. "It feels great."

Earlier Wednesday, a judge agreed to set aside Dixon's conviction in the 1991 shooting death of 17-year-old Torriano Jackson on a Buffalo street corner and accepted a guilty plea from another man who had confessed to the killing two days after it happened.

"There was a fight. Shots were fired. I grabbed the gun from under the bench, switched it to automatic, all the bullets shot out. Unfortunately, Torriano ended up dying," Lamarr Scott, who has been in prison for 25 years for an unrelated attempted murder, told the court. "I dropped the gun and ran and it was over and done with."

Scott said he had gotten the gun, a Tec-9 semi-automatic, from Dixon and the two men had driven together to the crowded corner where the fighting broke out. Scott was given a sentence of 8 1/3 to 25 years in prison, concurrent with his current term.

Judge Susan Eagan let stand a count of criminal possession of a weapon against Dixon, and its 5- to 15-year sentence, which she said he had satisfied.


Inside Attica: Interviewing Valentino Dixon


"You are eligible for release today," the judge said, igniting applause and shouts from courtroom supporters.

"Mr. Dixon is not an innocent man. Don't be misguided in that at all," Erie County District Attorney John Flynn told reporters after the hearing. He described Dixon as "an up-and-coming drug dealer in the city of Buffalo" at the time of the shooting and said Scott was Dixon's bodyguard.

"Mr. Dixon is innocent of the shooting and of the murder for what he was found guilty of," he said, "but Mr. Dixon brought the gun to the fight. It was Mr. Dixon's gun."

While behind bars, Dixon rekindled his childhood passion for drawing, often spending 10 hours a day creating vivid colored pencil landscapes, including of golf courses, while imagining freedom. Articles in Golf Digest and elsewhere have drawn public attention to Dixon's case. NBC Sports' Jimmy Roberts spotlighted Dixon in a 2013 segment for his "In Play" series on Golf Channel.

“I’ve worked in this business for close to 40 years, and this is the most consequential thing I’ve ever been a part of," Roberts said after learning of Dixon's release. "I’m a sports reporter, but we helped get a man out of prison. I’m humbled and dumbstruck.”

Georgetown University students made a documentary as part of a prison reform course last spring. The class worked with Dixon's attorney, Donald Thompson, to have the conviction overturned.

"It went so far beyond reasonable doubt that it's pretty outrageous that he would have been convicted and it would have been upheld," said Marc Howard, director of the university's Prisons and Justice Initiative. Howard taught the course with childhood friend, Marty Tankleff, who also spent years wrongfully imprisoned.

Dixon said he will keep drawing, while working on behalf of other prisoners.

"If you don't have any money in this system, it's hard to get justice because the system is not equipped or designed to give a poor person a fair trial," he said. "So we have a lot of work ahead of us."

His daughter, Valentina Dixon, was a baby when her father went to prison. She brought her 14-month-old twins, Ava and Levi, to court from their Columbus, Ohio, home.

"We're definitely going to go shopping and go explore life," she said. "I can't wait to get him a cellphone and teach him how to Snapchat."

Dixon's mother, Barbara Dixon, said she was in shock after relying on her faith while fighting for his release.

"We're going to Red Lobster," she said when asked what was next. "And everybody's invited."

Getty Images

Thomas donating to hurricane relief at East Lake

By Jason CrookSeptember 19, 2018, 9:20 pm

Much like in years past, Justin Thomas is using his golf game to help with relief of a natural disaster.

The world No. 4 announced on Twitter Wednesday that he’d be donating $1,000 per birdie and $5,000 per eagle at the Tour Championship to a charity benefiting the victims of Hurricane Florence, which ravaged the Carolinas last week.

At a fan's suggestion, Thomas, who has averaged 4.35 birdies per round this season, also pledged to donate $10,000 for a hole-in-one.

Hurricane Florence made landfall on Friday just south of Wrightsville Beach, N.C., and has left much of the area flooded and without power. At least 37 people have died in storm-related incidents.

Getty Images

Rose realizes his No. 1 ranking is precarious

By Rex HoggardSeptember 19, 2018, 8:18 pm

ATLANTA – Asked how he would like to be identified when he was finished playing golf, Justin Rose didn’t hesitate – “major champion, Olympic gold medalist, world No. 1.”

He’s had only a week to enjoy the last accomplishment, but the Englishman is aware of what it means to his career to have finally moved into the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking.

“It's a moment in your career that you always remember and cherish,” said Rose, who overtook Dustin Johnson with his runner-up finish two weeks ago at the BMW Championship.


Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos


Rose said he took some time last weekend with family and friends to relish the accomplishment and will play his first event this week at the Tour Championship as the world’s best, but he also understands how tenuous his position atop the ranking is at the moment.

“I accept it's really tight up top. It could easily switch this week,” he said. “I just feel that if I go to [No.] 2 or 3 this week, if Dustin and Brooks [Koepka] both play well, I have an opportunity the week after and British Masters, and going to China and Turkey, there's going to be opportunities to get back there.”

Johnson, Koepka and Justin Thomas could unseat Rose atop the ranking this week depending on their finishes at the Tour Championship.