Mauna Kea Golf Course rises above, tops list of Hawaii resorts to make top 50

By Mike Bailey, Senior Staff Writer

Mauna Kea Golf Course at Mauna Kea Hotel comes in at No. 10 on Golf World's Readers' Choice Rankings of the Top 50 Resort Courses in America, one of eight golf courses in Hawaii.

Manua Kea golf course - hole 18
The Robert Trent Jones-designed golf course at the Mauna Kea Hotel is one of the finest in Hawaii, especially following a restoration by Rees Jones.
Manua Kea golf course - hole 18Poipu Bay Golf CourseKapalua Resort - Plantation golf course - No. 18Waikoloa Resort - Beach Course - hole 7Turtle Bay Resort - Palmer Course - No. 5
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There is no truth to the rumor that Mauna Kea, which means "White Mountain," got its name from all the pure white sand bunkers that dot the Mauna Kea Golf Course at the Mauna Kea Hotel.

It is true, however, that if you measured the volcano Mauna Kea from its base, it would be the world's tallest mountain (most of it extends below the ocean surface), which is why at certain times of the year you can see white snow on the peaks of Mauna Kea.

So it would seem fitting, then, that the grand old Robert Trent Jones Sr.-designed Mauna Kea resort golf course is carved from Hawaii's grandest mountain. And it should come as no surprise that the Mauna Kea Hotel's golf course is listed at No. 10 on the 2010 Golf World Readers' Choice Rankings: The Top 50 Resort Courses in America.

The Readers' Choice Awards are based on reader input that was gathered by Golf Digest Publication Research Resource Center through an online poll. Readers rated each golf course or resort in a number of different categories. Mauna Kea is one of the eight Hawaiian golf resorts to make the list, the most for any state. Florida was second with seven.

Besides Mauna Kea, the other Hawaiian golf resorts to make the list are: Princeville Resort at No. 11; Poipu Bay Golf Course at 17; Kapalua Resort at 21, Waikoloa Beach Resort at No. 26; The Challenge at Manele/The Experience at Koele at No. 34; Turtle Bay Resort on the North Shore of Oahu at 43; and Kauai Lagoons Golf Club at 50th.

Mauna Kea Golf Course's perfect white sand bunkers came courtesy of a 2008-2009 restoration by RTJ's son, Rees Jones. (The hotel underwent a $150 renovation as well.) The younger Jones, who has been credited with renovating numerous U.S. Open venues, transformed this original 1964 layout into near perfection. The golf course got new turf, new greens and a state-of-the-art irrigation system among its improvements.

The signature hole at Mauna Kea is the third, a par-3 that now plays some 270 yards from the tips over a piece of the Pacific Ocean crashing into the black lava shoreline below. But there really isn't a boring hole on the golf course and many of them have views of the ocean below.

No. 11: Princeville Resort

Located on the island of Kauai, the Prince Golf Course at Princeville Resort at Hanalei is a stunning and difficult Robert Trent Jones Jr. design with fantastic views (a theme among most good golf courses in Hawaii).

Some consider this links design in a class all by itself. There are plenty of pot bunkers and jungle borders that make the Prince Course supremely challenging. Together, with the 27-hole Makai Course (which underwent a renovation in 2009), Princeville Resort offers a great 45-hole RTJ Jr. experience.

No. 17: Poipu Bay Golf Course

This former home of the PGA Grand Slam of Golf is another excellent Robert Trent Jones Jr. design. Also on the island of Kauai, Poipu Bay Golf Course is perched among the cliffs providing spectacular views that can be somewhat distracting to the golf at hand.

During the winter, humpback whales are a common site off the 17th hole. Wind is always a factor as well, but the overall experience makes Poipu Bay one of Hawaii's most revered golf experiences.

No. 21: Kapalua Resort

Site of the PGA Tour's SBS Championship each January, the Kapalua Resort on the island of Maui Resort features two terrific 18-hole layouts.

Kapalua Resort's Plantation Course is where the previous year's tournament winners tee it up. The 663-yard 18th is the longest hole on the tour, but it plays severely downhill, so many of the pros can reach this par 5 in two.

Somewhat overlooked is Kapalua Resort's Bay Course, which arguably has better views than the Plantation Course and hosts an LPGA Tour event.

No. 26: Waikoloa Beach Resort

With a pair of excellent resort hotels and plenty of golf, Waikoloa Beach Resort is one of the most popular destinations on the Big Island.

The resort is known for the Beach Course, with its signature seventh hole that's perched above the Pacific Ocean. But the better course there is the Kings Course, a terrific Tom Weiskopf-Jay Morrish design. Both courses are enjoyable, but the Kings Course offers more challenge and better holes overall.

No. 34: The Challenge at Manele/The Experience at Koele

Located on the secluded island of Lanai in Lanai City, the Four Seasons Resort has two big-time golf courses.

High above the crashing surf is Jack Nicklaus's The Challenge at Manele, which certainly lives up to its moniker. Constant wind and Nicklaus' exacting design make this a stiff test even for the accomplished player. The bonus is ocean views on all 18 holes.

You can also play into a mountain ravine from 250 feet above the fairway on Greg Norman's The Experience at Koele. With dramatic elevation changes and plenty of pine and eucalyptus trees among its mountainous terrain, it's unique to Hawaii courses.

No. 43: Turtle Bay Resort

Located on the North Shore of Oahu in Kahuku, Turtle Bay Resort has two golf courses, the tougher, tour-tested Arnold Palmer Course and the enjoyable George Fazio Course.

Site of the LPGA's SBS Open from 2005-2009, the Palmer Course is atypical of Hawaiian resort courses. The 17th is the only hole that provides a good view of the Pacific. The rest of them feature plenty of lagoons, trees and bunkers that will force course management and precise shots, somewhat reminiscent of a Florida course. The Fazio Course is much more forgiving and offers a more tropical look with several Pacific views.

No. 50: Kauai Lagoons Golf Club

Located near the Lihue airport on Kauai, the Kauai Lagoons Golf Club features 18 Jack Nicklaus Signature holes.

A dozen of those holes come from the former Kiele Golf Course and six are from the former Maile Course. The remaining holes were under renovation in 2009. The course's fifth and sixth holes traverse through a Mango Forest. The signature 16th plays over the Pacific to a green that sits on lava rock near a famous lighthouse overlooking Nawiliwili Harbor.

Click here to see the complete list.

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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