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Exclusive Hawaiian Courses

Charles Gullung Hawaii

Photo: Charles Gullung

The Hawaiian Islands have been capturing people for centuries, turning travelers into transplants with just a glance. This continues to happen, but with a new wrinkle. Thanks to six recently opened private clubs on two islands, many golf-minded mainlanders are doing more than playing tourist. They’re purchasing homes and joining clubs—often in tandem.

This is a rather dramatic development in the fiftieth state. Until 2003, each of its private golf clubs save one was located on Oahu and had limited nonresident membership. The only private club on the other islands was Maui Country Club, a flat nine-holer with a tiny clubhouse and a modest initiation fee.

Now, however, the new clubs are actively courting nonresident members and offering an array of impressive amenities. Competition for members is hottest on the Big Island, where four private clubs in the Kailua-Kona area have quietly opened in the past four years—so quietly, in fact, that many residents on other islands are unaware of the trend. But they will be soon.

This development appears to be a logical outgrowth of the dazzling 1990s, during which time the number of Hawaiian courses doubled, turning what had been a lovely archipelago with a few good courses into one of the world’s top golf destinations. More and better courses went hand in glove with the construction of luxury hotels on five islands, which coincided with three other crucial factors: the explosion of spa mania, new resort shopping complexes featuring international brands, and the recognition by culinary magazines of the state’s regional cuisine. Throw in topflight performing arts, film festivals and museums and suddenly Hawaii was a place that offered everything the good life requires.

So who’s investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in golf memberships and millions more in second or third homes?Captains of industry, sports superstars, Hollywood and music moguls—there’s no shortage of candidates. And there may be no shortage of options for them either: As these clubs come online, other facilities, both existing and prospective, will be keeping an eye on them and considering going private themselves.

The following is a look at some of the higher-profile developments on the Big Island and Maui.

On the Big Island

Developed by Charles Schwab and Safeway magnate George Roberts and designed by David McLay Kidd of Bandon Dunes fame, Nanea Golf Club is the most exclusive retreat west of San Francisco Golf Club.

"I’ve been instructed by the membership to say that they really do not want any publicity," said the otherwise cordial pro who answered the phone. "They’re not being snobby; this is a private club." Membership is by invitation only. But as a neighborly gesture to the locals, Nanea allows nearby Kealakehe High School’s golf team to practice and play home matches there.

The facility itself is impressive. Nanea’s clubhouse, developed by Group 70 International of Honolulu, was designed to resemble pu’u—cones created by the island’s five volcanoes. As for the course, Kidd has said the founders wanted a walking course similar to the British links they loved yet in the tradition of the top clubs of America. And they wanted a challenge, with no corners cut for the sake of resort hackers.

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