High above the Kohala Coast on the Big Island of Hawaii, not far from spectacular oceanfront resorts such as Mauna Kea and Mauna Lani, sits Waimea Country Club. The understated club is surrounded by ranchland and tucked into the shadow of the Kona Mountains. Most travelers who venture to these parts don’t even think of playing golf. They go to visit historic Parker Ranch, which dates back to the early 1800s and served as a training camp during World War II for Marines bound for Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
The course, designed by Florida-based architect John Sanford, isn’t overly ambitious, and therein lies its appeal. Holes flow naturally over the contours of the land. The routing is relatively open, and it consists of gentle doglegs, judiciously few bunkers and strategically sloped greens, several of which are guarded by eucalyptus trees. “We didn’t do a lot of design work in the office,” says Sanford. “We drew it out, but we did most of the details in the field.”
Inspired by golf trips to the British Isles, the club’s owner, Andy Anderson, recently added some links-style bunkers. “But,” he’s quick to point out, “I’m not trying to make the course really difficult— I want it to be fun.”
Waimea has a homey clubhouse, modest green fees by Hawaii standards and, thanks to its higher elevation, a cooler climate than that found on the coast. Fog often sweeps in off the mountains, giving you the feeling of playing through clouds. The cool weather offers the added benefit of supporting bent-grass greens, which can’t survive at the island’s seaside courses.
Instead of a full restaurant, the club has an informal snack bar where you can sometimes find a particular Hawaiian treat: Spam musubi, an appetizing sushi version of that revered Hawaiian staple. Another authentic island experience.