Hawaii is a golfer’s paradise. With year-round sunshine and breathtaking scenery, it’s no surprise that a growing number of golfers — amateurs, professionals and hacks — are lured every year to Hawaii’s courses. The islands boast a variety of golf courses, from military to municipal, from ones situated amid volcanic landscapes to others sitting on coastlines with sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean. And every island has notable ones — the championship course at the Waialae Country Club in Honolulu and the Plantation Course at the Kapalua Resort on Maui have been featured as stops on professional tours.
But there are some hidden gems, courses that may not make the magazine rankings or the PGA short list. They offer challenging holes and well-kept fairways without the crowd, giving you that much more time to take in the scenery. Here are five underrated golf courses in Hawaii:
Imagine teeing off with the majestic Waianae Range mountains surrounding you and the turquoise blue Pacific sprawling on the horizon. That’s the beauty of the Makaha Valley West golf course on Oahu’s rugged western coastline. Its owner, Pacific Links, enlisted the help of legendary pro golfer Greg Norman to remake it into a championship course that will draw the world’s top players — and possibly a tournament or two in 2014. But until then, it’s one of Oahu’s best-kept secrets. The only downside is the drive: The course is located about 40 miles west of Waikiki.
Pearl Country Club, Aiea, Oahu
Opened in 1967, this par-72 course just outside of Honolulu boasts everything you could want: reasonable fees, challenging greens and unmatched views of Pearl Harbor. It’s a short 20-minute drive from Waikiki, with a driving range, practice putting green and a short-game area that’s open to the public. The well-maintained course is dotted with a variety of trees, too, making you feel like you’re farther away from the bustling city than you really are.
Leilehua Golf Course, Wahiawa, Oahu
On the way to Oahu’s famed North Shore is this newly renovated 18-hole course that’s been a local favorite since 1949. The updated course still maintains its original appeal: magnificent trees, gently rolling fairways and sweeping views of the Waianae Range. It’s located between Wheeler Army Airfield and Mililani Tech Park — it’s technically a military course that civilians can access. One caveat: Don’t expect special on-course services. This is a pretty pared-down course.
Princeville Makai Golf Club at The St. Regis Princeville Resort, Princeville, Kauai
Princeville is no stranger to stellar golf courses, and Princeville Makai Golf Club is a great example of that. This Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed course at the Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star resort debuted in 1971 and was redesigned in 2009, featuring the salt-tolerant, warm-season seashore paspalum turf grass on all its fairways and greens and the bold reshaping of all its bunkers. The course is known for its scenery, as you play among serene lakes and native woodlands against the backdrop of Kauai’s stunning northern coastline. The signature 213-yard seventh hole boasts a challenging tee shot over idyllic cliffs onto a green surrounded by brilliant white bunkers set against panoramic ocean and mountain views. It also has a popular nine-hole Woods Course that’s perfect for the casual golfer.
Big Island Country Club, Kona, Hawaii
Forget the golf resorts in Kona and Waiakoloa on the Big Island. The par-72 course at the often-forgotten Big Island Country Club is an affordable alternative for golfers of all skill levels. (The course offers five — yes, five — sets of tee boxes at each hole.) It opened in 1997 and was designed by fame golf architect Perry Dye. Situated on the slopes of Mauna Kea, this course features wide Bermuda grass fairways and water in play on nine of its 18 holes. The elevation means a cooler climate and unrivaled views of the mountains and ocean.
Photos Courtesy of Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide Inc., Makaha Valley West and Leilehua Golf Course