The Big Island: Five must-play golf courses

By Mike Bailey, Senior Staff Writer

KOHALA COAST, Hawaii - It's hard to go wrong playing golf on the Big island of Hawaii, a land as diverse as it is beautiful.

Mauna Kea Golf Course - Hole 3
The signature par-3 third hole at Mauna Kea Golf Course in Kamuela, Hawaii, is a hole you'll never forget.
Mauna Kea Golf Course - Hole 3Waikoloa Beach Kings Golf Course - Hole 3South Course at Mauna Lani Resort - hole 15
If you go

As the largest of the eight Hawaiian Islands, Hawaii has the most climate zones - 11 of the world's 13 to be exact. Which means some parts of the island are more conducive to golf than others.

One of those regions is the Kohala Coast on the west side, parts of which get just a few inches of rain each year (compared to 300 inches in a couple of spots near Hilo), but benefit from rainwater that comes down from the mountains.

The Kohala Coast is where the resorts are, which means it's also where the best golf courses are, for the most part. Here is a list of five must-play, public-access courses on the Big Island:

Mauna Kea Golf Course

Mauna Kea Golf Course tops the list because of its incredible ocean vistas and splendid Robert Trent Jones Sr. design. Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player hit the first shots here in 1963 on the signature hole, the breathtaking par-3 third that plays over an ocean so blue you'll think you're looking at a painting.

The hole can play as long as 272 yards, and the course is some 300 yards longer than it used to be thanks to a renovation by Rees Jones in 2008. More importantly, it got new greens, turf and bunkers, is in terrific shape, and you can still see the ocean from the majority of holes. You also get first-class service along the way, including two comfort stations stocked with complimentary snacks and sodas and an impeccable range and short-game area.

Waikoloa Beach Resort King' Course

The Waikoloa Beach Resort has two excellent courses, but the recommendation here is to play the King's Course if you can only play one. Designed by Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish, the King's is cut out of a lava field, making for a beautiful contrast against the green fairways and greens. But play the Beach Course, too, if you have time, just for the views on the par-5 seventh, which backs up into the Pacific.

South Course at the Mauna Lani Resort

The Francis H. I'i Brown South Course at the Mauna Lani Resort is also a can't miss. Even though the North Course might actually be a better test of golf, a stretch on the South's back nine, punctuated by the par-3 15th, is an experience you don't want to miss. Like the third at Mauna Kea, the Pacific blue cuts in front of the tee box and wraps around the green. The bonus is that you get two good looks at the 15th. The par-4 13th green also overlooks the ocean and provides a great view from behind the 15th tee.

Big Island Country Club

The Big Island Country Club, because it's set at an elevation of more than 2,000 feet, can offer bentgrass greens and cooler temperatures. You'll also get great views of the 14,000-foot Mauna Kea Volcano and the Kona Coastline below. Designer Perry Dye brought water into play on nine holes, including the 17th, which just might remind you of his father's famous island par 3 at TPC Sawgrass.

Kona Country Club

And finally, give Kona Country Club's Ocean Course a try. Designed by renowned architect William Bell, the Ocean Course offers great views of the ocean, especially on signature holes No. 3 and No. 12. The course also used to play host to an LPGA event, and while it doesn't get the hype of some of the high-end resort courses, it isn't as pricey either.

Mike BaileyMike Bailey, Senior Staff Writer

Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in the Houston area. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America, 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 20 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 @Accidentlgolfer.


Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Thanks for the Recommendations

    Kevin Brennan wrote on: Sep 23, 2009

    Mike - Kevin Brennan here - Playing the Beach Course tomororw and King' Course Friday.....Your article helped me decide where to play......Well written......Look forward to hitting the links tomorrow at 8am.....

    Reply