Big Island of Hawai’i is a paradise for golfers

Updated: December 3, 2013

By Steve Turcotte, Inside Golf Editor

You know that you are flying into something special just by looking out the window of the airplane as you land at the Kona International Airport on Hawai’i, the Big Island. From those brief seconds upon landing, you see golf courses, lava fields, mountains, ocean waves and long endless miles of roads.

Welcome to the Island of Hawai’i, a paradise that has just about everything you would want in a golf vacation. Terrific resort golf courses? Check. Some great public courses? Check. Plenty of beaches to enjoy the Pacific Ocean and its surfing and snorkeling? Check and check. The chance to tee off in the shadow of one of the tallest mountains – Mauna Kea. Outdoor experiences like zip lining, bike riding, hiking and more. Check, check and check. And, the chance to see active volcanoes? Serious check.

Other islands like O’ahu, Maui and Kaua’i might get more headlines, but Hawai’i Island is a place where you get everything the islands have to offer – and less crowds. OK, there is one week where the crowds are big – and for good reason. The annual Ironman Triathlon is held in October every year and brings the top athletes to the island along with big crowds. But is certainly an event worth watching as the athletes swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles and run a 26.2 mile marathon all in the same day. And amazingly, the winner does it in around eight hours.

For golf, Hawai’i Island is the home to some of the top courses you will find anywhere. From resorts like Mauna Kea, Waikoloa, Mauna Lani and Hualālai to public tracks like Makalei, there is no shortage of golf.

hualalaiIt all started in 1964 when Mauna Kea was designed by Robert Trent Jones Senior and opened for play. In fact, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player came over for an exhibition. Rumor has it during the round on the par-3 third hole, the three stood at the 272-yard tee box with the Pacific Ocean in front of them that Player told the other two he couldn’t carry his ball that far. There is a plaque on the tee box commemorating the exhibition that day. Right next door sits Hapuna Golf Course.

Many of the resorts sit along the ocean and offer terrific views. Waikoloa Beach Resort has two courses to offer, the Beach and the Kings’ Course. The Kings’ Course is embraced by natural lava formations so keeping the ball in the fairway is key. The Waikoloa Beach Resort is more than just golf as well. There are two shopping villages and two resorts – a Marriott and a Hilton. The Hilton is so set on 62 acres and is so spacious that you can opt to take a tram or boat to get from one side of the resort to the other.

Mauna Lani Resort is nestled between Waikoloa Beach Resort and Mauna Kea Resort and has two courses on site. Its signature 15th hole on the South Course is one of the most photographed holes in the world. In the winter, you might see humpback whales.

Hualālai Resort’s Jack Nicklaus designed course is also the home of the Champions Tour in January.

Inland, golf is still a treat. Makalei Golf Club, up the hill from the Kona Airport, just might be one of the hilliest golf courses around. In fact, the cart drive from the clubhouse to the driving range takes you up 750 feet. And wildlife abound, including peacocks and wild boars. Another course inland is the Big Island Country Club, which features wide fairways and water on half of the holes.

Hawai’i Island is the biggest island in the chain. And it’s also an island that offers the chance to make the circuit driving around the island to see what it has to offer.

From the north is the town of Kohaha, which is the home for the original statue of King Kamehameha, who ruled Hawai’i in the 1800s. As you make your way along the winding two-lane road, you run into places like ‘Akaka Falls before you go through the town of Hilo, the largest city on the island. The Big Island is a place that generates its own weather. Hilo might get 200 inches of rain a year while the Kohala side of the island might get just 10 inches of rain each year.

kamemamaOff the main roads, are some terrific beaches, including a black sand beach. Further down the road is Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. If you want to see an active volcano then this is your stop and Kīlauea will have everything you need to see. There are plenty of ways to see the volcanoes from land, sea and air.

The trip around the Hawai’i Island is about 300 miles. And there is plenty to see and do. In fact all but two of the earth’s climate zones – from tropical rainforest to subarctic tundra – can be found here. The island is about as large as the state of Connecticut. And there is an even a chance to see some snow as Mauna Kea and Maunaloa, both towering 13,000 feet over the island, often have snow on their tops in the winter months.

There’s never a shortage of things to do. In fact, you might realize at the end of a vacation that you need more time. Or, if you are like me, you realize you need to head back sooner than later.

For more information see www.gohawaii/hawaii-island.