KANEOHE, Oahu, Hawaii -- Carved from a tropical rain forest in the shadow of majestic mountains, Ko'olau Golf Club remains one of the most difficult golf courses in the world.
Ko'olau's sheer beauty -- and challenge -- attracts just as many players as it repels. Ko'olau, built for $82 million, opened as a private club in 1992. It fell steadily into disrepair until the First Presbyterian Church of Honolulu bought the 7,310-yard golf course and the sprawling 1,100-square-foot clubhouse in 2006.
American Golf, the course operator, has steadily made it more playable since then, clearing back jungle underbrush and taking out bunkers. In 2012, Golf Digest rated Ko'olau No. 25 on its list of the nation's toughest golf courses, down from third in 2007.
Losing balls in the ravines and thick jungle lining many fairways will frustrate first-timers who think they can slay one of golf's Goliaths. Soggy conditions, the curse of such a rainy climate, also contributes to its difficulty.
To enjoy the day, come for the scenery -- not a score. Ko'olau Golf Club's first hole, a tight and winding downhill par 5, and the demanding 18th hole, a par 4 highlighted by epic carries on the tee and approach shots, combine to form arguably the toughest bookends in golf.
Putting the driver away or playing it safe on the quirkiest holes -- par 4s at No. 5, No. 6 and No. 10 and the par-5 16th -- will reward players. Hawaiian-born PGA Tour pro Dean Wilson owns the course record with a 67, a score some high-handicappers might threaten in nine holes.
Ko'olau General Manager Ken Terao recommends players bring as many balls as the number of their handicap.
"Either you sacrifice length for accuracy or you come with a bunch of balls," added Ron Mathieu, the executive director of the church.