Hawaii isn't exactly known as a buddy's trip destination among golfers.
It's a long haul from the U.S. mainland and flight costs alone are enough to dissuade most golfers from lumping in Hawaii with places like Myrtle Beach, Pebble Beach, Pinehurst, Bandon Dunes and, well, much of Florida. The Aloha State is more frequently a spot for family vacations, honeymoons, romantic getaways, destination weddings or corporate getaways.
But there is a plethora of spectacular golf in Hawaii, from resort courses and high-end private clubs to picturesque and lush public layouts. It shouldn't come as too much of a surprise given the pervasive beauty in Hawaii, which is home to waterfalls, volcanoes, rainbows, multi-hued beaches, soaring cliffs and landscape that ranges from vibrantly-green tropical jungles to stark expanses of lava rock.
With so much to see and do in Hawaii, it's not always easy to prioritize golf. But golfers visiting the 50th state will be well-served when they find time to fit in some time on the links.
Following is a list of five of the best public or resort golf courses on Oahu, Hawaii's most populous island and home to Honolulu, Pearl Harbor, Diamond Head and Waikiki Beach.
So strike a balance with family responsibilities — there are endless activities to keep kids or spouses entertained if they don't golf — and snag an early-morning or late-day tee time to ensure it doesn't eat into too much of the sunlight hours. Okay, golf on a honeymoon and romantic getaway might be a little tougher to work in, especially if your significant other prefers beach sand to bunker sand. But you won't be disappointed if you add one of these Oahu courses to your island itinerary.
KO OLINA GOLF CLUB
Ko Olina Golf Club is situated in the 642-acre Ko Olina Resort & Marina, Oahu's premier ocean front resort community. The championship course, which is home to a LPGA Tour event, sits on the sunny west coast of the island, about a 45-minute drive from Honolulu and Waikiki (depending on traffic). The challenging and immaculate layout, designed by architect Ted Robinson, features eye-catching water features, multi-tiered greens, and generous landing areas. It's been ranked among the top 75 resort courses in the country by Golf Digest and if you're looking for a great 19th hole, it features an award-winning restaurant from chef Roy Yamaguchi.
TURTLE BAY – PALMER COURSE
The stunning Turtle Bay Resort offers 36 holes of championship golf, but the Palmer Course is the gem of Oahu's North Shore. Although legendary surf spots like Pipeline and Sunset Beach are just up the road, you won't find many oceanfront looks on this Arnold Palmer layout that's about 45 minutes north of Honolulu. And Arnie designed it that way, weaving holes masterfully around natural wetlands and through dense Hawaiian jungle that helps offer some needed protection from the ever-present wind. When you do play your way to the ocean, though, it's a true "Wow" moment.
KO'OLAU GOLF CLUB
When it opened in 1992, Ko'Olau was considered the most difficult golf course in the U.S., with tight corridors through encroaching jungle and long forced carries over deep ravines. The joke at one point was that the course record was 63… lost balls. The course, set at the base of the 2,000-foot emerald green cliffs of the Ko'Olau Mountain Range, has been softened a bit over the years. The jungle has been hacked back to create more margin for error and some penal bunkers got filled in; that said, it still has a robust 153 slope rating from the back tees. The property is now owned by the First Presbyterian Church of Honolulu, which seems like an unlikely pairing, and course conditions aren't quite what they once were. But for a memorable round, including views that will make you feel like you're playing golf in Jurassic Park, it's definitely worth making the 30-minute drive from Honolulu.
ROYAL HAWAIIAN GOLF CLUB
A Pete and Perry Dye design carved out of a Hawaiian rain forest, Royal Hawaiian was once a private Japanese club known as Luana Hills and recently underwent an 18-hole renovation. Nestled at the foot of the Ko'Olau Mountains about 25 minutes from Honolulu, the course is both tranquil and treacherous, with scenic holes lined by ancient trees more than 100 feet tall. Like most Dye designs, missed shots are punished — even more so here with the tumbling terrain, forced carries, and precipitous fall offs. The back nine builds to an exciting finish, winding its way through leafy, tropical corridors with dramatic elevation changes. Like Ko'Olau, bring a few extra balls along and consider moving up one tee box.
HAWAII PRINCE GOLF CLUB
Arnold Palmer partnered with Ed Seay on this 27-hole layout that stretches across 270 acres on Oahu's sunny Ewa Plain, a half-hour or so from downtown Honolulu. The strikingly green fairways are guarded by 90 white sand bunkers and 10 strategically placed lakes while offering excellent views of the rain-carved Waianae Mountains. The greens are fast and expect to play a variety of shots here, in other words, plenty of sidehill, downhill, and uphill lies. The most challenging combination is the B-C layout, which plays at 7,255 yards and a 134 slope rating from the back tees, while the least difficult combination is C-A.
Waialae Country Club is another sumptuous layout on Oahu although it's private, unlike the others above.
If you can wrangle an invitation or a referral from the pro at your own club, do try to tee it up at the Seth Raynor design that's home to the PGA Tour's Sony Open in Hawaii and renowned for the palm trees behind the 18th green that are angled in the shape of a 'W'. Lushly landscaped and cooled by gentle trade winds, Waialae features wide fairways lined with strands of coconut, monkey pod, and kiawe trees.
Ready to kick off 2016 here in Hawaii @SonyOpenHawaii ! @projock and I ready to do this!! pic.twitter.com/xqNe9dhg1v
— Ryan Palmer (@RyanPalmerPGA) January 13, 2016
The pros love this player-friendly layout that's just on the other side of Diamond Head State Monument from Honolulu. So will you, if you're able to score a tee time.
WHERE TO STAY
If you're not renting a house on the North Shore, the answer is simple: the Turtle Bay Resort.
The property is on one of the most dramatic stretches of coastline on Oahu and has pumped in $54 million worth of upgrades — rooms, restaurants and all public areas — over the past five years. There are 410 ocean-view guest rooms at the hotel, 42 beach cottages and 30 condominium ocean villas with a private courtyard and pool.
Set on 850 acres on the North Shore, it boasts an incredible array of on-site activities and is just minutes from the famous surf breaks, historic Haleiwa town, Waimea Valley and the Polynesian Cultural Center.
Read more about everything Turtle Bay has to offer here or visit the property's website here.
If you're staying in Honolulu, there are endless options.
Be sure to check out the newly-renovated Ilikai Hotel & Luxury Suites set on an ideal oceanfront location at the edge of Waikiki.
It's an iconic property — the location of the opening shot of the original Hawaii Five-O series with Jack Lord standing on the penthouse balcony overlooking Waikiki Beach — and has undergone dramatic upgrades to its 1,050 total rooms. The spacious condos come with fully equipped kitchens and large balconies with sweeping views of Honolulu.
Visit the Ilikai's website here to find more information about the property.
The Ilikai is nine miles from Honolulu International Airport and provides easy access to the downtown area and Waikiki Beach, just two blocks from the Hawaii Convention Center and Ala Moana Shopping Center. It's also a terrific jumping off spot for popular locations like the Pearl Harbor Memorial, Diamond Head, Hanauma Bay and the Honolulu Zoo, not to mention the best golf on Oahu.
So make sure to tee it up.
You'll say "mahalo" later.