Hawaii is known for dramatic landscapes filled with lush rainforests, stark lava outcroppings and beautiful ocean vistas. So, it’s no surprise the state’s golf courses would be equally stunning. With calm island breezes and varied terrain, Hawaii boasts some of the most interesting and challenging courses around for every golfer, from tournament pros to weekend amateurs. Here are a few of the standouts.
The Plantation Course, Montage Kapalua Bay
Consistently praised as one of the best courses in Hawaii, Montage Kapalua Bay’s Plantation Course is both inspiring and beautiful. Designed by renowned golf architects Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore, this par-73 beauty built on the slopes of the West Maui Mountains hosts the Hyundai Tournament of Champions every year. When Patrick Reed journeys down to defend his Hyundai crown in January, expect the likes of Jordan Spieth and Jason Day to join him there. Can you blame them? The enchanting course struts ocean views from just about every hole, varied layouts, wide fairways and dramatic elevation changes to keep the game interesting.
Manele Golf Course, Four Seasons Resort Lana’i
Though much of Four Seasons Resort Lana’i is currently undergoing a multimillion-dollar transformation that won’t be revealed until March 2016, one of its two golf courses is open. Manele Golf Course is situated high above the crashing surf of Hulopo’e Bay. This par-72, 7,039-yard course was designed by golf legend Jack Nicklaus to be both challenging (in-play gorges) and playable (five-tee concept) for all skill levels. Built on lava outcroppings, two holes on this course literally sit on cliffs, therefore requiring you to pitch the ball over the ocean to get to the green. How often can you say you’ve done that?
North Course, Mauna Lani Bay Hotel and Bungalows
The 17th hole at Mauna Lani Bay Hotel and Bungalows’ breathtaking North Course encapsulates the spirit of this course: The signature par-3 hole is tucked into a natural lava amphitheater circling the green. Doesn’t that sound precisely like what you would expect from a golf course on the Kohala coast? That the rolling terrain of this 6,913-yard course is dotted with kiawe trees and herds of wild goats only adds to its mystique.
Poipu Bay Golf Course, Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa
One of the most picturesque layouts in Hawaii, Poipu Bay Golf Course is flanked by verdant mountains and rugged ocean cliffs on Kauai’s sunny south shore. Sitting adjacent to Forbes Travel Guide Recommended Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa, this championship course designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. features seashore paspalum greens that served as the site for the PGA Grand Slam of Golf from 1994 to 2006. While the course — with 85 bunkers, five water hazards and unpredictable trade winds — is plenty challenging, the breathtaking scenery can be its own distraction. Hawaii’s endangered nene geese frequent the links and, in the winter months, you can catch a glimpse of migrating humpback whales.
Hualalai Golf Course, Four Seasons Resort Hualalai
The Hualalai Golf Course, situated in the dramatic lava fields of Kaupulehu, is the first Jack Nicklaus Signature design on Hawaii Island. Five-Star Four Seasons Resort Hualalai’s par-72 spread plays host to the PGA Champions Tour’s Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai event in January. The holes take full advantage of the sparkling ocean views and spectacular shorelines, with the signature 17th featuring a green right near the ocean. As intimidating as some holes might be, the course, much like the rest of the resort, has a sensitive side and it lies with the environment. Hualalai shows this off by incorporating black lava rocks and other surroundings into the experience rather than altering them.