The islands of Aloha. If you’ve never been to Hawaii or had the chance to play golf there, I feel for you. Not to rub it in, but I’ve spent a decent amount of time on the islands and of course, I’ve played quite a bit of golf.
Golf in the islands is a unique experience to say the least. Not only is the scenery breathtakingly beautiful, you’re required to hit different shots that you’re not accustomed to anywhere else.
As Old Man Winter begins to set in, I find myself yearning for the warm tropical breezes I’ve come to love so much. It’s in that spirit that I decided to conjure up a list of the ten best public golf courses anyone can play. Of course, I asked for the input of our readers as usual.
So, sit back, relax, and see which of these courses sound most appealing to you.
Mauna Kea Golf Course
Perched above the clear blue waters of the Pacific on the Big Island’s western shore, Mauna Kea might be the most highly prized resort in Hawaii.
Built in 1964 by Robert Trent Jones Sr., Mauna Kea’s emerald green fairways are carved out one of the largest lava fields in the world. The contrast is a sight to behold.
Elevated greens feature dramatic undulations and narrow fairways mean you’ll have to carefully navigate the ever-present coastal winds.
If you make par on the third hole, you’ve accomplished something. This is a long, demanding par three with a tee shot that plays over the ocean to a well-guarded green. Truly one of the most beautiful holes in all of golf.
The Blue Course at Wailea Golf Club
One of the finest tracks you can play on the island of Maui is the Blue Course at Wailea Golf Club.
A classic old school design, the Blue Course is ripe with character. Wide fairways give golfers ample room off the tee. While the coral sand bunkers provide an eye-catching contrast, they’re deep and plentiful.
Our readers concur, not only is this course a must play, the resort and its many amenities make it a must stay as well.
Kapolei Golf Club
According to our readers, Kapolei Golf Club is the premier daily fee course on Oahu. Formerly home to the LPGA’s Hawaii Open, many of the game’s greats have strolled these fairways.
Designed by Ted Robinson, this course sits on 190 acres of what was formerly a banana plantation. Today, Kapolei’s lush fairways are accented by hues of floral colored landscaping throughout.
Having received 4.5 stars from Golf Digest, it’s not hard to see why this course has become a favorite of locals and visitors alike.
The South Course at Mauna Lani Resort
If you’ve heard of golf’s “Silly Season,” the Skins Game is the first event that comes to mind. Indeed, the South Course at Mauna Lani was home to the Senior Skins Game from 1990 to 2000. We’re talking about the likes of Nicklaus, Trevino, Palmer, and Player.
While there’s no less than three courses to choose from at this property, our readers concur that the South Course is the best of them all.
With a number of holes right along the coast, the views are going to be your biggest distraction when you play here. Don’t fall into the ocean like I almost did while trying to take a selfie.
The layout is straightforward and challenging at once. There aren’t too many guesses about where you’re supposed to hit it but, you’d best execute if you want to score.
A little on the spendy side but well worth it for the all-encompassing experience.
The Ocean Course at Hokuala
The Ocean Course at Hokuala is the only Jack Nicklaus design on the island of Kauai.
Overlooking the shores of the Pacific in the town of Lihue, this track is one of the most stunning rounds of golf I’ve ever played. Ocean meets land on only a canvas God could create here.
Even though there are 18 signature holes at the Ocean Course, the 16th stands out from the rest. A drivable par four, club selection is critical off the tee. A well struck driver will find a speed spot that runs clear to the green. Should you miss however, you’ll be left with a tricky pitch. Even though the smart play is an iron to lay up, I hit driver of course. The results weren’t good.
There’s a lot more than just great golf at this property. The rooms, dining, and general amenities are otherworldly. Safe to say I’ll be back.
The King’s Course at Waikoloa Beach Golf Club
There are two courses at Waikoloa Beach, but the King’s course is better of the two.
Local’s call this track a “player’s course” meaning that better players can have all the fun they want from the back tees.
A Scottish-style design, this layout features wide fairways, strategically placed bunkers, and lava rock outcroppings that come into play on most every hole.The most memorable hole out here is the 5th. A drivable par four measuring less than 300 yards, you might be tempted to drive the green. Be careful though, the green is elevated, and a gaping bunker eats up shots that come up short. A true opportunity for risk and reward, this is one hole you won’t forget.
Makani Golf Club
One of the best kept secrets on the Big Island is Makani Golf Club.
Having undergone an extensive renovation, the course conditions and amenities are markedly improved.
Nestled high in the mountains above the Kona Coast, this hidden gem is a shot maker’s paradise.
Narrow fairways and small greens mean keeping the ball in play is a must.
During your round, expect to see an abundance of wildlife. I distinctly remember large flocks of turkeys that clearly think they have the right of way.
A fun round and a great value, I’ll be back to Makani Golf Club.
Waikoloa Village Golf Club
The Kona Coast is mostly dotted with high-end resort golf courses. The good news is there’s a great muni in Waikoloa Village.
This course was designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. and is a quintessential parkland layout.
At almost 1,000 feet of elevation, the ball travels a bit farther here than down on the coast. That’s good news for big hitters because the fairways are wide as well. Be careful though, the greens are well protected by large bunkers so precision is a must on approach shots.
When you’re done with your round, be sure to swing by the bar for a bite and a beer. The menu here is simple but traditional golf course food is welcomed after a long round. The service is friendly and the beer ice cold.
One of my favorite tracks in all of Hawaii and great value at that.
Hapuna Golf Course
Located on the edges of the Kohala Coast, Hapuna Golf Course is the centerpiece of the Westin Beach Resort.
A links layout designed by Arnold Palmer and Ed Seay, this course affords plenty of scenery and significant elevation changes. Club selection is key here, especially when the afternoon winds kick up.
I played this course from all the way back and it ate my lunch. My suggestion is to pick a set of tees one shorter than you normally would. I guarantee you’ll have more fun.
Be sure to research stay and play packages here as there’s something for everyone in the family to enjoy.
Kahili Golf Course
Opened in 1991, a round at Kahili Golf Course will let you know why Maui is called the Valley Isle.
Situated in the foothills of the West Maui Mountains, this course’s terrain is as diverse as you’ll find anywhere. My advice is to ride instead of walk.
Playable for golfers of all abilities, Kahili doesn’t require you to be a big hitter. Instead, you’ll need to be precise to find these small greens in regulation.
Known as a local’s favorite, more and more visitors are realizing what a hidden gem Kahili is.
There’s nothing more I dream about during the cold winter months than playing golf in Hawaii. As temperatures plummet and daylight fades, I yearn to be somewhere in the islands.
While that doesn’t happen every year, I’ve been fortunate enough to play a healthy amount of golf in the Aloha state. It sounds like many of our readers have as well.
If ocean breezes, beautiful scenery, and great golf sound like a tasty recipe to you, you need to get to Hawaii. Thanks as always for reading and let us know your thoughts in the comments.