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Golf Hawaii’s Big Island
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 Hawaii, 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 Hawaii, also called the Big Island, a paradise that has just about everything you would want in a golf vacation. Terrific resort golf courses? The chance to tee off in the shadow of one of the tallest mountains – Mauna Kea?
Other islands like Oahu, Maui and Kauai might get more headlines, but Hawaii 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 it 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, Hawaii 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.
It all started in 1964 when Mauna Kea was designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. 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 which features a dramatic course with plenty of holes up the hill and more down the hill toward the Pacific Ocean.
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. The Marriott features a spectacular setting along the beach.
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.
Kona Country Club is another gem, having been closed for two years for an irrigation project but is now opened and featuring some long par-3 holes and some terrific views along the ocean.
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. And Waikoloa Golf Village sits at elevation and offers a Robert Trent Jones Jr. course with some scenic views of the ocean.
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 Hāwī, which is the home for the original statue of King Kamehameha, who ruled Hawaii in the 1800’s. 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.
Off 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. Recently, the volcano has been bubbling lava and sending it into the ocean, causing large steam clouds to form where it runs into the water.
The trip around the Hawaii 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 Mauna Loa, both towering 13,000 feet over the island, often have snow on their tops in the winter months. There are a number of observatories on top of Mauna Kea and you can drive your car all the way to the top of the mountain.
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. Especially when Mother Nature throw such bad weather our way in the winter months.
For more information see www.gohawaii/hawaii-island.
Mauna Kea Beach Hotel
What started as a vast lava field more than 50 years ago has turned into one of the top resorts in the world thanks to visionary developer Laurance S. Rockefeller and a beach that is ranked among the best anywhere. Welcome to Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, a place where VIP treatment begins the minute you walk in the door. From check-in to the courtesy tropical drink and Hawaiian Lei to check-out, Mauna Kea Beach Hotel gives guests the feeling they have been to one of the top resorts, which is exactly what it is.
Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, located on the island of Hawaii, sits on Kauna’oa Bay, which also serves as an almost private beach for the hotel. It has been ranked as the top beach in the United States and fifth-best in the world.
The Mauna Kea Golf Course is just outside the front lobby and is considered one of the top courses in the country. The Robert Trent Jones Sr.-designed course was carved out of the lava field and the third hole, a par-3 over the ocean, is one of the top holes in Hawaii and often cited as one of the most picturesque holes among golf courses worldwide.
Mauna Kea Beach Hotel has something for everyone. There are four restaurants. Eleven ocean-side tennis courts. Beach activities from paddle boarding to snorkeling to kayaking. At night a spotlight is turned on and Manta Rays are attracted to the area and can been seen from a special viewing area.
Sunset views from oceanfront rooms at Mauna Kea Beach Hotel are picture perfect every night and with just 252 rooms, Mauna Kea Beach Hotel nicely hugs the beach landscape.
For more information on Mauna Kea’s timeless magic, visit MaunaKeaBeachHotel.com
Waikoloa Beach Resort
If you are looking for a place with quality golf and terrific places to stay, look no further than the Waikoloa Beach Resort, located north of Kona on the Big Island.
There are two courses to choose from, the King’s and Beach courses, plus there are over 3,000 room options, varying from upscale hotels, to seven condos and vacation home properties. The Hilton property and Marriott property are on the Resort site. The Hilton Hotel features swimming pools and a chance to swim in a dolphins lagoon, and you can take a tram or boat to your room after check in. The Marriott Hotel is located on the beautiful Anaehoomalu Bay where one can enjoy sunsets and wander through the ancient Kuualii and Kahapapa Fishponds. Waikoloa Beach Resort is a vast property, that encompasses 1,350 acres. It has more than 30 dining options, two shopping centers, two golf courses, two resort hotels with plenty of entertainment and outdoor activities. The resort has landed in the top 10 as a “Top U.S. Destination for Vacation Rental Stays” according to Trip Advisor. What makes the resort special is The Queens’ MarketPlace and Kings’s Shops, both complete with a variety of shops and restaurants.
The golf courses are both spectacular, the King’s Course (Robert Trent Jones Jr.) and Beach Course (Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morris) both feature shots through the lava and many holes with ocean and dramatic views. Packages are as low as $218. For more see www.waikoloabeachresort.com.