Mauna Kea Golf Course : Unforgettable Island Beauty

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The par 3, signature third hole at Mauna Kea is simply stunning.

Throughout the life of any golfer there are really just a handful of courses which are truly unforgettable. These courses create such fond memories due to their layout and beauty, they easily rise to the top of each golfer’s individual list of great courses. The Mauna Kea Golf Course in Kohala Coast, Hawaii is one of those special places. Its layout and beauty, as it works its way along the Pacific Ocean, are simply breath-taking.

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The Mauna Kea golf course starts out like many courses on Hawaii with a fairway lined by palm trees and sandy bunkers making a big right turn to the first green. Just hit a ball into the wide fairway past a line of trees and it is an uphill approach. The second hole follows a similar pattern except with a dogleg left off the tee. However, on top of the second green, you get a glimpse of what’s to come with the Pacific Ocean playing peekaboo through the Palm trees. Then, you get to the par 3 third hole.

There are plenty of beautiful par 3 holes in the world. Pebble Beach’s famed short, 97-yard seventh hole and the 17th, island hole at TPC Sawgrass quickly come to mind. However, there is another par 3 which rivals them in both beauty and challenge – the third hole at Mauna Kea. Let’s set the scene.

Standing up on the elevated tee box, the entirety of the Pacific Ocean is on display with all its splendor. The waves crash below your feet as you survey the green, sitting across what is seemingly a vast expanse of ocean eagerly awaiting your tee shot. The green, ringed by bunkers, seems to be sitting on a shelf mother nature created for the only purpose of holding the green.

Playing the hole is a mix of anticipation, stress and relaxation. From the resort tees, we played it at 205 yards that day – there are a variety of tee boxes and the hole can play at many lengths. With a nervous swing, we sliced off a 3-iron, running up and away from the green, resting pin high. On the other side of the ocean, quite literally, the green looks benign and much larger than from the tee box. A chip and a putt netted an easy par, yet from the tee, you would be excused for praying for such a low number. One last scan of the ocean before heading off for more reveals a coast line dotted with sun bathers, surfboards and sail boats. It also exposes the only negative thing about the hole – it is over too quickly.

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Heading to the fourth tee box the mood is quickly lightened by yet another beautiful sight. In fact, the entire course is this way. Each hole offers either a view of the ocean, a view of the volcano mountain to the east of the course or the natural beauty which is Hawaii.

Many of the holes feature either an elevated green or a green so below you, it seems to teeter on the very edge of the ocean. Club selection and playing with elevation changes is ideal to a good score. Incredibly, the fairways often had flat lies making approach shots easier to hit. This lack of tough lies is helped by the complete lack of rough on the course. It is one of those courses were you should post a low number, yet you are often so busy checking out the scenery, it is hard to focus.

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The Robert Jones designed course features Tifeagle Bermudagrass greens and hybrid Bermudagrass on the tees, fairways and what little rough there is to find thanks to a replanting by Jones’s sons company, Rees Jones, Inc.

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1While the course is magnificent, interestingly the exterior of the clubhouse is anything but. It is simply a gray, nondescript building which could double as a maintenance shed at many private courses. Inside, it is much better with racks of high-quality apparel surrounded by upscale wood finishes. The staff is friendly and helpful getting your choice of a golf cart or a golf board (think snowboard with wheels) ready for your round of play. Unfortunately, the restaurant was closed during our visit in July.

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In the end, the course lulls you into thinking it is just going to be average with the lackluster exterior of the clubhouse and first two holes being just OK. However, once you cross a road and climb to the top of the tee box on three, the entire experience changes. It becomes one of the country’s most beautiful courses and would, arguably, be ranked as such if it was in the continental U.S.

If you are heading to the big island, the Mauna Kea golf course is simply not an experience to pass up.

Course: Mauna Kea golf course

Location: Kohala Coast, Hawaii

Green Fees: $275/$235 for Prince Resorts hotel guests includes cart

Par: 72

Yardage/Rating and Slope:

  • Championship 7,370 76.6 144
  • Tournament 6,806  73.6 140
  • Resort   6,358 71.4 138
  • Composite 5,798 69.2 133
  • Forward 5,096 66.0 122