Turtle Bay Resort's Arnold Palmer golf course will earn your respect

By Mike Bailey, Senior Staff Writer

KAHUKU, Hawaii -- If you're looking for lots of Pacific Ocean views and spectacular white sand beaches, the Arnold Palmer Course at Turtle Bay Resort probably isn't you cup of Waialua coffee

Turtle Bay Resort - Palmer golf course - No. 8
The par-3 eighth hole on the Arnold Palmer golf course at Turtle Bay Resort is a short par 3 that's well guarded by bunkers and water, a common theme on the entire course.
Turtle Bay Resort - Palmer golf course - No. 8Turtle Bay Resort's Arnold Palmer GC - No. 5Turtle Bay Resort - Arnold Palmer golf course - No. 9Turtle Bay Resort - Arnold Palmer golf course - No. 17
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Arnold Palmer Course at Turtle Bay Resort

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The Arnold Palmer-designed Palmer Course at Turtle Bay Resort is a championship course that combines Scottish Links with a jungle of forest pine. Don't get too distracted by the surroundings, though - easier said than done. The signature 17th ends on a plateau 100 feet from the Pacific Ocean.

18 Holes | Public/Resort golf course | Par: 72 | 7218 yards | Book online | ... details »

But if you want to test your game, in sometimes difficult conditions, you've come to the right place.

Because Palmer and longtime partner Ed Seay didn't do typical resort golf at Turtle Bay Resort; they built a tournament course. It is no wonder that the golf course, one of two 18-hole layouts at the resort, is the current host of the LPGA's SBS Open and former site of a Champions Tour event.

Located a good 45 minutes from Waikiki Beach, Turtle Bay Resort bumps into the famous North Shore of Oahu, where you'll find some of the most famous surfing spots in the world. In the winter, the waves are gargantuan, but you won't see much surf from the Palmer Course. At least not until you get to the signature 17th, which is the only hole on the ocean.

By the time you get to the par-4 17th, you've had your hands full, especially if you play the golf course from the tips. At 7,218 yards (the LPGA plays it around 6,600 yards), this is one unbelievably tough golf course. It rates 75.4/143 from the black tees, but add a strong wind, and it's a beast.

Locals love the Palmer Course at Turtle Bay Resort

While most golfers who come to Hawaii have heard of Turtle Bay Resort, it can be a little out of the way if you're not staying at the resort. Given that it's a little more difficult to get to and away from the population of Oahu, local golfers flock to Turtle Bay because it's often not crowded and the green fees aren't too steep. (The resort runs special programs designed to encourage local play.)

More than that, though, the Palmer Course is not your typical Hawaii golf course, which is one of the reasons local players like it.

"This looks like a course you might see in Florida or other parts of the mainland," one local player told me. "There's nothing else like it in Hawaii."

The golf course works around the Punaho'olapa Marsh, a 100-acre preserve that is home to many endangered species of Hawaiian birds. But the Palmer Course is really two golf courses in one. The front nine has sort of a links feel; the back nine has plenty of majestic trees, many of them tall ironwoods that can definitely influence your shot making. There is also water on all but one hole, and if the wind is up, be prepared to dunk a few golf balls.

Recently, Turtle Bay Resort was named as the site of the Hawaii State Open. The event will be played on both courses at Turtle Bay, which also includes the older George Fazio Course.

The golf courses complement each other well. Not only does the Fazio Course make up with plenty of ocean views, but it's also easier.

Plenty of tough holes on Turtle Bay's Palmer Course

Where do you start? How about the third, a 543-yard par 5 that usually plays into the teeth of the wind with water all down the left side? Just getting it there in three shots is tough enough, but try to hit it hard, and it's easy to turn it over into the lake that runs down most of the left side.

Oh, and while you don't get to see much of the beach from the Palmer Course, there is plenty of sand. The fifth hole has seven bunkers alone, and one of them is gargantuan. Avoiding them is half the battle on this 414-yard dogleg left par 4.

The par 3s are pretty testy as well. The fourth is 224 yards from the tips with water down the left side protecting the green. The rest of them are nestled against ponds and bunkers, too.

Eleven is a 457-yard dogleg right around water with a creek that runs in front of the green. Even one or two tees up, many players have to negotiate it in three shots to avoid double bogey. The 13th is a 200-yard par 3 with (you guessed it) plenty of water and sand.

And 17, while picturesque, presents in own set of unique problems. First of all, it plays uphill, which can make the 452 yards from the back tee seem more like 492. Then there are no less than nine craggy bunkers surrounding the landing area and extending all the way up to the green. The green is just 100 feet from the ocean. Get through that, and the longest hole on the course, the 577-yard 18th with its five bunkers and large lake, awaits.

The Palmer Course at Turtle Bay Resort: The verdict

Beauty, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder, and some people, oddly enough, walk away somewhat disappointed that there aren't more ocean views on the Palmer Course. Perhaps it's because Oahu is an island in the middle of the Pacific, but I believe most good players will appreciate the course for its strong layout, routing and conditions.

In truth, the Palmer Course at Turtle Bay shows a different side of paradise. The course is well laid-out and presents a number of challenging holes. The ironwood trees, the lagoons, the bunkering all present their own kind of scenery.

The golf course is also one of a growing trend to feature paspalum fairways and greens. Playing conditions are always excellent given that this type of turf thrives in tropical climates.

Practice facilities and lessons at Turtle Bay Resort

As the site of one tour event and the former site of another, it's no surprise that Turtle Bay Resort has an outstanding driving range, practice greens and short-game area. There are actually two different practice areas.

The resort is also the site of Turtle Bay Golf Academy. The school offers group and individual lesson as well as fitness evaluations, playing lessons and golf clinics.

If you're really ambitious, you can spring for Turtle Bay's Golf Immersion Program, which includes breakfast or lunch, personal trainer session, two hours on the range, video analysis and a one-hour golf massage at the Spa Luana at Turtle Bay Resort. Resort guests can also take advantage of a free 10-minute range lessons if they make an appointment.

Mike BaileyMike Bailey, Senior Staff Writer

Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in Houston. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America with an occasional trip to Europe and beyond, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 25 years in the golf industry. Before accepting his current position in 2008, he was on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeBaileyGA and Instagram at @MikeStefanBailey.

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    Va golfer wrote on: Jan 2, 2010