MAUNA KEA GOLF COURSE
Mauna Kea Resort, Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, 62-100 Mauna Kea Beach Drive, Kohala Coast; 808-882-5400. Yardage: 7,114. Par: 72. Slope: 143. Architect: Robert Trent Jones Sr. Green fees: $110 resort guests; $195 public. T&L GOLF Rating:****½
Mauna Kea, the grande dame of Big Island layouts, is one of the great resort courses in the world. Built on old lava flows covered by desert grasses and kiawe trees, it's a straightforward, tough-but-fair gem from Robert Trent Jones Sr.'s heyday, with stunning vistas of the water and surrounding mountains from almost every hole. To my mind, holes three through eleven are the perfect nine. Three is the world-famous par three across a little bay--one of the first and still the best of such holes in Hawaii--and eleven is a long par three to a green above the sea. In between are as great a set of rolling, slipping and sliding fairways as you'll find anywhere and large, crowned greens that make each hole the easy bogey but tough par that Jones envisioned--easy bogey, that is, for the short-game wizard who can convince himself that a putt really will break toward the ocean, though the eye says it has to move the other way. Don't expect to shoot your handicap the first few times around.
HUALALAI GOLF CLUB
The Four Seasons Resort at Hualalai, 100 Ka'upulehu Drive, Ka'upulehu-Kona; 808-325-8480. Yardage: 7,117. Par: 72. Slope: 131. Architect: Jack Nicklaus. Green fee: $160 resort guests only.T&L GOLF Rating:****
This is about as mellow as Jack gets. The fairways are generous in the extreme, and the greens (in most cases) are accessible to the run-up shot. This Hualalai lava is relatively new--exactly two hundred years old--and therefore starkly barren and in-your-face. As with many new layouts, Hualalai could be criticized for being overdesigned, but the more radical terrain here probably does call for radical measures, and Nicklaus complies with dramatic teescapes and greenscapes, the terrific amphitheater on number two and the fairway alley through the tall lava on number seven. It's fairly flat overall, but lava flows do flow, and the golf course eddies and weaves right along with the dark stuff. Only one hole, the par-three seventeenth, reaches the ocean, but from only one hole, number twelve, do you fail to see the sea. It's a brilliant design with great shot values--and absolutely immaculate. (I imagine the same will be true of the new Weiskopf course under way. Those two guys are still competing.)
MAUNA LANI, NORTH AND SOUTH COURSES
Mauna Lani Resort, Makaiwa Place, Kohala Coast; 808-885-6655. North Course Yardage: 6,913. Par: 72. Slope: 136. South Course Yardage: 6,938. Par: 72. Slope: 133. Architects: Ray Cain, Robin Nelson and Rodney Wright. Green fees: $115 Bay and Bungalow, and Orchid guests; $200 public. T&L GOLF Rating:***½ for each
Pictures of the thirty-six holes at Mauna Lani are what made Big Island golf famous. The first eighteen were built twenty years ago, the second ten years ago, with the two then mixed together to yield the North and South courses. In any event, the eye readily discerns that the newer eighteen holes, designed by Robin Nelson and Rodney Wright, are a bit more sophisticated, the green complexes a bit more intricate and dangerous, the lava features a bit more dramatic. However, the two most famous holes are from the older eighteen: the par-three seventeenth on the North course, a striking amphitheater with a huge boulder of lava in the middle of the bunker fronting the green; and number fifteen on the South, Mauna Lani's extravagant challenge to number three at Mauna Kea: all ocean, all wind, all carry, all the time, and almost all the tee shots (four out of five, I'm told) not strong enough. Holes don't get more dramatic than this.
HAPUNA GOLF COURSE
Mauna Kea Resort, Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel, 62-100 Kauna'oa Drive, Kohala Coast; 808-880-3000. Yardage: 6,875. Par: 72. Slope: 134. Architects: Arnold Palmer and Ed Seay. Green fees: $110 resort guests; $195 public. T&L GOLF Rating:***½
Arnold Palmer and Ed Seay's Hapuna layout, associated with the hotel of that name, is part of the Mauna Kea Resort. Upslope from its sister course, and therefore not technically seaside, Hapuna is more open than Mauna Kea, with fewer kiawe trees, and looks and feels more like a traditional desert course. Very little lava was moved around here, but very little had to be to achieve a surfeit of dramatic, clever golf holes and incredible vistas. In short, Hapuna has everything but that almost indefinable sense of place and wholeness that so characterizes the Mauna Kea. Developers are also building like mad everywhere you look, which never helps.
WAIKOLOA BEACH COURSE
Waikoloa Beach Resort, 1020 Keana Place, Waikoloa; 808-886-6060. Yardage: 6,566. Par: 70. Slope: 133. Architect: Robert Trent Jones Jr. Green fees: $105 Hilton and Outrigger guests; $195 public. T&L GOLF Rating:***
WAIKOLOA KINGS' COURSE
Waikoloa Beach Resort, 600 Waikoloa Beach Drive, Waikoloa; 808-886-7888. Yardage: 7,074. Par: 72. Slope: 133. Architects: Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish. Green fees: $105 Hilton and Outrigger guests; $195 public. T&L GOLF Rating:***½
These two are a bit less renowned than others on the Kohala Coast, and this is unfair. On the Beach course, I'm a big fan of the lava amphitheaters at three and four; the fascinating petroglyph field bordering the sixth, seventh and eighth holes; and the par-five twelfth, which concludes at the sea. On this hole one day last March, as I sized up a birdie putt, a humpback whale breached just offshore, directly beyond my line. Wouldn't you like such a hole on such a course?The layout at Kings' is a Weiskopf-Morrish design featuring, along with the lava, arbitrarily high grasses in the Scottish style. It's a different look indeed, but solid and intelligent, like all of this twosome's layouts, and often on many statewide top-ten lists.