WAIMANALO, Oahu -- Nestled against a majestic mountain range on the windward side of Oahu, Olomana Golf Links is popular among Hawaii residents. It's the course that helped launch one of the hottest names in golf these days -- 13-year-old phenom Michelle Wie. And it's also one of the better deals for visitors.
Located twenty minutes from Waikiki, Olomana is an attractive course that is not too long but can be challenging. Designed by Bob Baldock, the course opened in 1967. It marks the entrance to Waimanalo, a rural town that looks and feels like a small island community, not a neighbor to big-city Honolulu.
Golfers at Olomana will marvel at the Koolau Mountain Range, sculpted by centuries of buffeting trade winds. The twin-peaked Mount Olomana gives the course its name. "Olo" is Hawaiian for camel, and "mana" means staying power. The twin peaks signify the powerful shoulders of a mortal.
For several years Olomana regulars have watched a young mortal with powerful shoulders tame this course. Michelle Wie got her start at Olomana at the tender age of 6, tagging along and playing twilight rounds with her parents, BJ and Bo Wie. Three years later her parents enrolled her in Olomana's popular junior golf program, in which instructor Casey Nakama began refining her game.
By 11, she was tearing up all of Hawaii's courses, posting her best-ever score at Olomana, a 64 from the white tees. At 13 she became the youngest player to win a U.S. Golf Association adult event by capturing the 27th U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links Championship in Palm Coast, FL.
Wie's success has triggered a jump in junior golf enrollment throughout Hawaii, especially among girls. When she's not winning tournaments on the Mainland "she's out here every day, working on her game," says Olomana superintendent Peter Yamashita.
Watching her on the practice tee is a treat. The 6-foot youngster, who will start ninth grade this fall, smashes 300-yard drives with ease. Tom Lehman once dubbed her the "Big Wiesy" because her swing reminds so many of 6-foot-3 Ernie Els ... known as the Big Easy.
For us mere mortals, Olomana can be a challenge. The front nine has plenty of water -- on every hole except the fifth you can get wet. Don't be deceived by the par-5 first hole. At 413 yards it appears a slam dunk to open with a par or better. The marsh and pond on the right side have deflated many slicers.
There's less water on the back nine, but it has elevation changes.
"You have two distinctly contrasting types of nines, and you get a different test on each side," Yamashita says.
At 6, 304 from the tips, the course is not long, and there are none of the blind shots that mark nearby Koolau, one of the toughest courses in the world.
"Our course doesn't beat you up," Yamashita says.
Many obstacles are the work of nature. Coral outcroppings formed centuries ago when the entire area was submerged dot several fairways. A three-story-high outcropping sits near the 13th green and can be intimidating if you stray to the right.
With the exception of two holes near Kalanianaole Highway, Olomana is a quiet course, with no jarring traffic or construction noises. If your game is off you can at least admire the scenery in peace and quiet -- except for the wildlife. Chickens from nearby farms race in front of the driving range, looking for handouts. The course is also home to endangered birds such as the Nene, Hawaiian Stilt, night heron and galleon. They tend to stay clear of golfers. The same can't be said for the mongoose, an aggressive ferret-like critter who will steal the hot dog from your cart as you line up a shot.
Green fees for visitors are a bargain compared to the islands' pricier courses and the fee drops on successive rounds. Olomana allows walkers after 3 p.m. in the summer, a half-hour earlier in the winter, for under $20. Add $10 for a cart.
Whether the goal is getting a glimpse of Michelle Wie or just playing an affordable round among friends with beautiful mountains as a backdrop, Olomana in Waimanalo is a good choice. A popular song called "Waimanalo Blues" still makes the airwaves in the fiftieth state. Written by the group Country Comfort decades ago, it laments the hotel development on Hawaii's shores and points to Waimanalo as an oasis from concrete paradise. Today, Waimanalo remains rural and magical. A popular bumper sticker reads: "Las Vegas...Paris...Tokyo...Waimanalo."
The golf course restaurant features a $2.99 "early riser" breakfast of eggs, rice, ham or spam (an Hawaiian staple). The extensive menu also offers fried rice with eggs, a favorite among local residents. All day long the restaurant buzzes with 19th hole energy as bets and deals are made and paid over cold beverages.
Waimanalo is a small town, but there are other restaurants that are favorites of both locals and visitors. Kaneke's at 41-857 Kalanianaole Highway offers mixed plates and some of the best shave ice (snow cones) in town. Another popular spot is Kimo Z Family Restaurant and Karaoke in the Waimanalo Shopping Center.
If you are active duty or retired military, Bellows Air Force Station is the place to be. Its a mile from the golf course and offers one of the finest white sand beaches on the island. Its also the safest beaches for kids, with a mild current and little coral. Those without military privileges can opt for various bed and breakfasts up and down the windward coast, but most visitors choose Waikiki with its thousands of hotel rooms and wide range in pricing.
If it's your first trip to Oahu, a visit to Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial is a must. Plan ahead, because it's a busy attraction.
There are two routes between Waikiki and Olomana -- East Oahu and the Pali Highway. Try both, as they are equally beautiful drives. Going through East Oahu will take you past the snorkeling site Hanauma Bay, which is so popular its parking lot is often filled (and closed). If you get in the lot, be prepared to plunk down a $3 admission fee and sit through a safety and preservation video. Hanauma is closed on Tuesdays to give the fish a day off.
On clear days the drive through East Oahu will also allow you to see the islands of Molokai and Maui. Check out scenic spots like the Blowhole but keep an eye on your rental car and personal belongings. Paradise has a property crime problem and visitors are often targeted. You also will pass two world-famous surf spots -- Sandy Beach and Makapuu. Only strong and experienced swimmers should venture into the water here, as the waves and rip are strong and potentially dangerous.
If you take the Pali Highway, the Pali Lookout has an incredible view of the windward coast.
There are more golf courses on Oahu than any other Hawaiian island.
August 16, 2003
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
Referred to by its hosts as a "hidden gem," the greens alone at Sterling Hills Golf Club in Camarillo, Calif. make this a stone worth turning over. Located an hour northwest of L.A., it's a pleasing, quiet and generally engaging round that will appease players of all levels.
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