Play in Paradise: Jetset’s Top Hawaiian Golf Experiences

It’s hard to imagine a more perfect place to golf than Hawaii. Perhaps the most desired vacation destination in America, its diverse islands offer pristine beaches, arresting views, and warm temperatures year round. For those very reasons, it is home to a multitude of unbelievable golf resorts and private courses. The following is a selection of some of the absolute best on two of its most popular islands, Hawai’i and Maui. Each of these are first-class, and each course featured contains details like organic lava flow layouts, oceanic surroundings, and design by some of the biggest names in golf. So let us help you plan that next unforgettable golf adventure deep in the heart of paradise.

Four Seasons Resort Lanai

The Four Seasons name always connotes luxury and refinement, and this stunning Hawaiian golf property is certainly no exception. Owned by Oracle CEO Larry Ellison — who bought the entire island in 2012 — Lanai overlooks the gorgeous marine preserve Hulopo’e Bay and is as picturesque as any vacation destination. No matter how you get there (it’s either a quick jet trip or scenic, 45-minute ferry ride from Maui), Four Seasons Resort Lanai will have a dedicated “ambassador” awaiting your arrival who will transport you to the resort in a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, check you in, and serve as your personal concierge throughout your stay at one of their 213 beautiful guest rooms (including 45 suites).

A recent multi-million dollar, top-to-bottom makeover has taken an already great property and turned it into arguably the best Four Seasons Resort in the world. The brilliant design innovatively incorporates tranquil natural garden mazes, koi ponds, and open-air hallways that subtly outline the path to your room. My suite was spacious, adorned in fine wood, and featured a dazzling view of the gently swaying palms and beach below. Amenities included a 75-inch, platinum-bezeled LED TV, iPad Airs — that enabled me to do everything from order room service to peruse more than 3,000 periodicals — and control panels for adjusting the shades and setting mood lighting (“day,” “sunset,” or “relax”).

But the headline remains the marvelous, Jack Nicklaus-designed course, Manele. I’ve been fortunate to have some phenomenal golf experiences in my life, but I’ll put Manele up against any of them. From the moment you step onto the driving range, you know you’re in for a treat. Flanked by jagged cliffs and crashing waves, this astonishing course is the only one in Hawaii that affords panoramic ocean views at every hole (they stretch for miles across the glistening sapphire ocean and breathtaking igneous lava rock cliffs). Generous landing areas, pristine white sand traps dotting the lush coastline, and meticulously manicured greens make Manele ideal for a championship event, yet still comfortable for a leisurely round amongst friends.

After your celebratory round, be sure to stop by VIEWS and savor the island-influenced cuisine and, as the name might imply, panoramic ocean and fairway vistas. On the subject of cuisine, there are myriad fine dining options at the resort, the most notable the recently-redesigned Nobu Lanai, which delivers Chef Matsuhisa’s trademark Japanese fusion dishes (like sashimi tacos) alongside local ingredients plucked from the restaurant’s private farm. Across the way is romantic One Forty, another eatery with a focus on farm-to-table ingredients, like Prime and Wagyu beef from Snake River Farms and fresh local Hawaiian fish. And if you’re headed to the pool, Malibu Farm — a favorite of local residents, surfers, and A-list celebrities alike —features fresh local and organic ingredients lunch offerings.

Aside from golf, you’ll find a multitude of other activities to explore at Four Seasons Lanai including helicopter and UTV tours, snorkeling in Hulopo’e Bay, dolphin-spotting at sea, or hiking and horseback riding around the base of the island’s highest peak, Lana’ihale. Or perhaps check out what they’re calling “Pop Up Practice.” The experience offers you the opportunity to enter the “BirdieBall,” a veritable inflatable driving range on the resort’s beachside luau lawn. A seasoned golf professional is on-hand as you and some friends take part in this incredibly fun (and family-friendly) seaside sunset golf experience.

Fourseasons.com/lanai

Ritz-Carlton Kapalua

We turn our sights to the beloved island of Maui — a place synonymous with paradisiacal luxury vacations — at the beloved Ritz-Carlton Kapalua, a AAA Five-Diamond beachfront resort like no other. The name “Kapalua” literally means “arms embracing the sea,” and this secluded luxury escape embodies its namesake in spectacular fashion. One of the most breathtaking resorts in all of Hawaii, the Ritz attracts visitors from across the globe with its two 18-hole championship golf courses (one of which is outright legendary), exquisite dining, luxurious spa with treatments based on native Hawaiian healing, and a wealth of outdoor activities that span the surrounding ocean and mountains. The resort is nestled on 54 acres of lush, tropical oceanfront, and you can see the splendid Pacific that engulfs the property from nearly any location on-site.

 

The same can be said about the resort’s unbelievable Plantation Course. Consistently ranked as the number one golf course in all of Hawaii, it is sure to be on any golfer’s bucket list, and (as its name might imply) unfurls graciously across the resort’s natural geographic formations and pineapple plantation fields — offering dramatic views of jungle foliage, ocean vistas, and rugged rolling terrain from virtually every hole. Designed on a grand scale by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore to embrace its location along the slopes of the West Maui Mountains, the course features 400-yard drives, strong trade winds, downhill approach shots, bump and runs, and the widest fairways I’ve ever played.

Home of the PGA Tour each January, the Plantation has played host to the likes of Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, and Vijay Singh. Its lengthy, 7,411-yard Par-73 layout challenges even the most seasoned pros, and yet its wide fairways and generous greens make it accessible for the novice golfer. With dramatic elevation changes, this course offers plenty of downhill tee shots. A perfect example is the aggressively-sloping 18th where (regardless of skill set) you’ll feel like a pro when hitting one of the longest drives of your life. It remains the course’s signature hole and the iconic view down its fairway and out to the shimmering ocean has been famous since the PGA Tour started kicking off its season at Kapalua.

When you’re not playing like a pro, you’ll feel well accomidated at the Ritz. The hotel’s 463 rooms and suites are spaciously appointed and feature hardwood floors, marble bathrooms, and vibrant island-inspired décor. There are six dining experiences on-site, many featuring local ingredients from the resort’s sustainable organic garden. I was particularly impressed by The Banyan Tree, a spectacular, open-air, ocean-view restaurant featuring fresh fish and innovative cocktails. And of course the resort’s luxurious, 17,500-square-foot spa offers impeccable service, private outdoor gardens, spacious couples’ cabanas, and a vast array of rejuvenating treatments.

Other on-property and nearby recreational activities include tennis, basketball, swimming, surfing, boogie boarding, sailing, kayaking, outrigger canoeing, stand-up paddling, whale watching, snorkeling, and hiking. And if that’s not enough, the resort’s revolutionary new Jean-Michel Cousteau-sponsored Ambassadors of the Environment program offers an experience unlike any other. The “Cities Under the Sea” excursion allows you to swim amongst majestic sea turtles and schools of neon-colored yellow tang and zebra fish while exploring vast living communities of fish, coral, under the guidance of a seasoned “naturalists.” They even provide you with underwater digital cameras to capture your experience and create memories to last a lifetime.

Ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/kapalua-maui

Kohanaiki

We now move from Maui to Hawaii’s titular “Big Island.” Laid out through ancient lava flows, the breathtaking, Rees Jones-designed, 18-hole, Kohanaiki course winds over 100 acres along a mile-and-a-half of picturesque Pacific coastline. Located near Kailua-Kona, Kohanaiki was built to perfectly blend into the sparkling waters and hardened lava that envelop it and was certified by the Audubon International Silver Signature Program for its environmental efforts to preserve the land it gracefully inhabits. The centerpiece of the beautiful Kohanaiki luxury home community, this course offers an experience like no other. It’s a Par 72 that can play up to 7,329 yards and serves up unique challenges and views at every hole. Those interested in buying into the one-of-kind Kohanaiki residential community should consult one of the top brokers on the Big Island, Joni Metzler at (808) 640-6832.

Kohanaiki.com

Mauna Lani

Another gorgeous luxury golf community on the Big Island, Mauna Lani Resort offers two very different, but equally stunning courses. The North Course rests on a lava bed south of a 230-acre, protected archaeological reserve and is full of rolling terrain adorned with lovely, miniature mesquite (or “kiawe”) forests. The highlight of this championship course is its 17th hole, a challenging Par-3 tucked into a natural lava amphitheater. Meanwhile, the breathtaking South Course (home to the prestigious Hawaii State Open) is perhaps even more famous and features one of the most photographed golf holes in the world, the Par 3 15th hole. It snakes through a prehistoric Kaniku lava flow, offering panoramic mountain and ocean views along the way. If you wish to play either course you have a few options. There are fine homes for sale in the area, while the first-rate Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows is a wonderful, luxurious place to stay for any duration of time.

Maunalani.com

The Four Seasons Resort Hualālai

Located on the idyllic and exclusive Kona-Kohala Coast, The Four Seasons Resort Hualālai is an incredible luxury golf resort boasting two fantastic courses, 243 rooms and suites, and some truly impressive residences. With its picturesque white sand beaches, 28,000-square-foot spa, numerous fine dining options, and gorgeous black-lava landscapes, Hualālai is a truly one-of-a-kind oceanfront resort, and its both of its golf courses are spectacular. The Hualālai Course is the first Jack Nicklaus Signature Course on the Big Island. This splendid Par-72 weaves masterfully through its sweeping ocean landscape and is a delight for all those who attempt it. And the 18-hole, Tom Weiskopf-designed Ke’olu Course is a very challenging, private course exclusive to Hualālai Club members. And if that wasn’t enough, there is also a massive nine-acre driving range, short game practice area, two sand bunkers, and a lush putting green awaiting you at Hualālai.

Hualalairesort.com

Waikoloa Beach Resort

We finish our section on the Big Island’s finest golfing along the blissful Kohala Coast, where you will find the splendid Waikoloa Beach Resort. Home to two of the most breathtakingly gorgeous courses in all of Hawaii, Waikoloa offers an incredible experience for any avid golfer. Its first course, the Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed Beach Course is a challenging Par-70 along the idyllic Anaeho’omalu Bay surrounded by gently swaying coconut trees and carved from an ancient lava flow. The Par-72 Kings’ Course was designed in conjunction by Weiskopf and Jay Morrish, and ingeniously combines its island paradise setting with the timeless layout of a classic course from along the Scottish coast. And with its vast undulating fairways, multiple tee placements, and Scottish-style pot bunkers, the aptly-named Kings’ Course has challenged even golf’s most regal competitors.

Waikoloabeachresort.com

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