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Hawaii Kai makes the most of a super setting

By Jim McCoy,

HAWAII KAI, Oahu -- "Location...Location...Location." That's the mantra of real estate moguls worldwide, and it definitely applies to Hawaii Kai Golf Course on the east side of Oahu.

Located just eleven miles east of Waikiki, Hawaii Kai's two 18-hole courses sit amidst one of the state's most affluent neighborhoods, and feature spectacular views of the ocean and one of the last stretches of undeveloped shorelines on Oahu.

Robert Trent Jones Sr. designed the par-3 executive course in 1962. Eleven years later the William Bell-designed championship course opened. The championship course features the largest greens in the state, man-made lakes and little rough. But several fairways parallel some of those million-dollar homes, and signs advise the slicers and hookers to store the driver and use an iron.

It's a popular course for local golfers and visitors, and many fine-tune their short games ahead of time on the par-3 course.

"The pace of play here is fairly quick," says Hawaii Kai golf director John Inzer. That despite the visual distractions. "A lot of them enjoy the ocean views. On a clear day you can look across the channel and see Molokai and Maui."

During the Hawaiian winter the view also included frolicking whales.

The courses remain in good shape despite the summer drought that has dried the fairways of most of Hawaii's tracks. Hawaii Kai normally doesn't get a lot of rain, and combined with the almost constant wind, the course can easily dry out. Local government has pushed all industries, golf included, to cut down on water use, and Hawaii Kai has joined in the conservation efforts, dropping use 21 percent this year alone.

Hole seven on the 6,222-yard championship course is the toughest. A seemingly idyllic 358-yard par 4, it has trouble lurking everywhere. A big lake to the right of the fairway and a drainage canal to the left make the tee shot the first of two key shots. Assuming your drive is safe, the approach shot often has to clear water before finding the protected green.

My personal favorite is number five, a devilishly short (124 yard) par 3. A half dozen bunkers are the least of your problems -- go left and you're dead, short and you're in a stream, long and you are in the kiawe trees or the number six tee box. Go right and you'll have a difficult recovery. Why is it my favorite? Because, like most duffers, I have never had an ace, but on this hole I came within an inch with one lucky nine iron whack. I gladly took the birdie.

At Hawaii Kai, wind is a key. Regulars add a club or two when heading into the wind and club down when the wind is at their back.

Greens fees for visitors run between $60 and $100 depending on the time and day of the week. The par 3 is as low as $14.50 with a cart, less if you hike it.

Golf phenom Michelle Wie hones her short game at the executive course. Hawaii Kai is also a popular course for sports superstars. The NFL pro bowlers are regulars every winter. Lawrence Taylor tees it up, as does local boy and former New York Mets pitcher Sid Fernandez. Actors like Hawaii Kai: Cuba Gooding Jr. And Adam "Happy Gilmore" Sandler are among the Hollywood notables. And no, Sandler leaves his hockey stick on the Mainland. "He's a pretty cool guy," says Inzer.

Why are they all here - visitors, locals and the occasional star? Location...location...location. You can't beat it.

Where to dine

The course has a popular restaurant with gorgeous views of the ocean and the Makapuu cliffs. Near Hawaii Kai are a number of fine restaurants -- Roy's, Outback, Assaggio's and Chef's Table to name a few.

Where to stay

Waikiki is the best bet for visitors. There are a limited number of beachfront rentals in Hawaii Kai -- Portlock and nearby Waimanalo. Developers have long craved to put up a hotel along the rugged shoreline between the world-famous Sandy Beach and Makapuu Lighthouse...but environmentalists have thus far thwarted them.

Off course

If hiking is part of your game, the Makapuu Lighthouse hike is relatively short and offers spectacular views of Oahu's Windward side. In winter it's the best place to watch the whales.

If the ocean is your game, Sandy Beach is a must -- but only for the experienced surfer. The breaks can slam a body surfer into the shoreline, with a broken neck as the sad result.

Just up the road from Sandy's is a "must" for tourists, Holona Blowhole. When the waves are pumping, the hole really does blow. Keep an eye on your belongings -- rental cars are a favorite target for thieves. The nearby beach was the setting for one of Hollywood's most famous forbidden love scenes -- Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity.

Fast Fact

Hawaii Kai has a large lighted driving range with both natural and artificial grass hitting areas.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • completely disagree

    Nick Fogelson wrote on: Jan 7, 2008

    Was Hawaii Kai paid for this review?
    An opposing thought -
    This course is lousy, for the following reason.
    1) It has two of the stupidest holes in golf. Both are Par 5s that require snap hooks off the tee to stay in play. No, not draws, but snap hooks. On one hole (#3) there is a huge backstop that blocks 80% of the fairway off the tee, in an effort to protect the nearby houses. This is retarded. They built the houses there, they knew it was a golf course. To ruin the hole for this reason is retarded. It would be better just to move the tee up a bit and make it a long par 4. The other retarded hole (#9) is OK from the white tee, and requires a gentle draw. Since there is no room to move the back tee back, they instead move it back behind some trees, and now it requires a snap hook to stay in play. Its just stupid.
    2) the marshalls are not cool at all. I once hit about four balls off a tee into a fairway since the group ahead was being so slow. They were 250 out and I was hitting wedges so they weren't remotely in danger. The marshall just freaks out. Ridiculous. They treat the Japanese tourists like gold and the locals like crap.
    3) the course just isn't that great, even the two holes that aren't the two stupidest holes in golf