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Golf in Kona, Hawaii

by | Jul 3, 2017

View from the back tee of Mauna Kea’s 3rd hole at 225 yards

















I hadn’t been to the Big Island in almost 15 years so it was time to get there.  We decided on a short 4 day break which would be dominated by golf.  We played three courses and had significant differences between the 3 venues.

The courses we played were Waikoloa Beach, Mauna Kea and Mauna Lani.  Heading to Hawaii the week before the 4th of July seems to be a really good idea since most of the courses only had a tee sheet that was 50% or less full.  This was really good news and it would give us the opportunity for a typical 4 hr. round with no hassle of slow play and waiting etc.  I didn’t take my regular set of clubs with me and had a travel set completely packed and ready to go replete with balls, accessories and even rain gear (not required here).  I did pack my new Titleist driver but left the newer Nakashima driver in the home bag.  As usual, I made a few mistakes and didn’t have a 3 wood in the bag as the 3 wood I thought was in the bag was actually an old Taylor Made 5 wood.  None of this should make any difference or provide any excuse for poor play.  All of our tee times were at 10AM and yet every day, we had a different set of weather conditions.

I would rate the courses as follows:

Mauna Kea–A    Mauna Lani (South)–B-   Waikoloa Beach–C

Mauna Kea

I hadn’t played there in many years and I know I’m a better player now than I was then.  Everything about Mauna Kea was first rate as I believe the facility was remodeled since I had been there.  The staff was cordial and helpful and the range and practice area was well laid out.  What I like about Mauna Kea is that you can hit all the clubs in your bag during a round and there is a premium on placing the ball in the right positions to go at the greens.  I was a bit unsettled before I arrived since this was Day 2 and I didn’t play well on Day 1.  I was a bit worried that my play on Day 1 would carry over to Day 2 but fortunately that didn’t happen.  I hit every shot this day and hit every fairway.  The par 3 third hole is the signature hole of the course.  It’s almost as intimidating as the 16th at Cypress Point since you have to carry the ocean over 200 yards to the green as the hole plays at 215 yards.   Unlike professionals who can hit a 5 or 6 iron to hold this type of shot, I had to hit a driver and just about carried it over into a little rough in the front of the green.  The course was in immaculate condition and they were the best greens we played.  There is no lava on this course and we were also fortunate to have very little wind that day.

Mauna Lani

Mauna Lani has two courses-north and south, and had just hosted a qualifier for the USGA Girls Amateur.  It offered a less professional atmosphere than Mauna Kea and the staff in the Pro Shop seemed like they were doing us a favor to play there.  They weren’t arrogant or unfriendly but indifference seemed to be the dominant characteristic.  Having played all over the world, I really tend to notice these little things.  I spent over $250 in the Pro Shop at Mauna Kea as the quality of the merchandise there was first rate and the staff was helpful.  I would spend zero at Mauna Lani.   This was Day 3 and our last round of the trip.  It would be memorable in that we had winds of 30 mph most of the day with some holes gusting to 40 to 50 mph.  We had a number of holes downwind on the front nine and enjoyed hitting wedges and nine irons into the greens from 150 yards out but we also had an equal number of holes against the wind as well.  On the 10th hole, a 520 yard, par 5, I hit driver, 4 iron, 4 iron, 8 iron to make the green and grab a bogey.  On that hole, the wind blew 40 mph or more and the ball wouldn’t stay on the tee.  It reminded me of one of my rounds at Turnberry, Scotland where the wind on the 8th hole was so strong that we almost drove the ball 375 yards.  On the next hole, a par 3 of 150 yards, we couldn’t reach the hole with a driver.  Mauna Lani’s design is well done with a lot of lava in play but it is not obtrusive and it really shouldn’t come into play.  On this day, a poorly hit shot airborne could make it into the lava–once a ball is in the lava, it is there to stay forever as you could severely injure yourself trying to retrieve it, even if it was visible.  I played well this day again, missing a few shots this time but overall breaking 80 was satisfying.

Waikoloa Beach

The course is actually the easiest of the 3 courses and the low handicap player should shoot in the 60’s here.  This facility has all the earmarks of a municipal course despite a green fee of $150.  The course was not in great shape and the greens were horrible.  The greens reminded me of Mission Hills in China where the greens were so slow, I started using a 7 iron to putt them.  I didn’t resort to that tactic today but I didn’t make any putts either.  Lava is everywhere and comes into play on most of the holes which is fine but it doesn’t do much for the scenery of the course.  I liked the 2nd hole, a par 3 of 185 yards over a man-made lake that was visually striking.  My 5 iron kicked off the bank just over the pond back into the pond so I managed a smooth double bogey there.  I struggled most of the day mostly due to poor tee shots that went straight but lacked enough height to maximize distance as the fairways were a bit hairy.  I pondered how they called this the Beach course since there is only one hole (7th) with a view of the ocean.  It was the hottest day we played with very little wind.  This is not a venue I would recommend and I won’t be going back to this one. I know you tend to like courses that you play well on which is only natural but this course was too easy to play poorly-an 85 was a big disappointment and kind of impacted my confidence.  Fortunately, I would eradicate this at Mauna Kea the next day.





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