Although the Big Island of Hawaii is the largest island of the Hawaiian archipelago, almost all the golf courses on the island are strung along the western shores. Most of the better known golf courses are north of the Kailua-Kona airport; Mona Kea, Hapuna, Waikoloa Beach, Mauna Lani, and Hualalai come to mind. Often ignored, although not forgotten by the LPGA, along the Kailua-Kona coast, south of Kona, is the Kona Country Club.
Just six miles south of Kona, in the village of Keauhou, is the Kona Country Club. This complex contains two golf courses, the Ocean Course and the Mountain Course. Golf course architect, William Bell, had a hand in both courses, although Robin Nelson added the second nine of the Mountain Course in 1991. The golf courses are unique in that if you are playing the Ocean Course, you get a spectacular view of the mountains; whereas, if you were on the Mountain Course, you get a breathtaking view of the Pacific Ocean.
Kona Country Club – Ocean Course
Both courses are not particularly long as they are designed primarily for the visiting tourists. The Ocean Course plays to 6,748 yards from the championship tee, 6,281 yards from the middle, and 5,038 yards from the short tee.
As the name implies, the entire course runs along the Pacific Ocean, more specifically, the Kailua coast, accompanied by towering palms trees along the fairways and other distinctive Hawaiian features as trails of ancient lava flows and local wild life. You will be walking on Bermuda grass on both the fairways and the greens; needless to say, well kept and immaculately groomed.
The Ocean Course hosted the Takefuji Classic in the years 2000 and 2001. We actually played the course a week after the LPGA tournament and found out first hand how much beating the golf course takes after professional golfers get through with it. I recall walking up the gradual rise of the eighteenth hole and noticing with awe, the solid line of divot marks right across the fairway, from one side to the other, at around the hundred yard mark. Hardly a blade of grass separated one divot mark from the other. It was not difficult to realize that all the ladies laid up at this point to hit their third shot to the green.
The main treat of golfing in Hawaii is to see the ocean, and here at Kona, the signature holes No. 3 and 12 will provide you with the sensational view that will take your breath away. Walking along the palm tree lined fairway, caressed by the warm tropical breeze of the Kailua-Kona trade winds, you will definitely feel the pull of Hawaiian golf. Add this to the fact that you will feel that you can dip your club in the ocean as you walk along. That is, until you get to the thirteenth hole and view the unique blow hole named “Puka” a hundred yards left of the fairway. Like all blowholes in Hawaii, this phenomenon is caused by an aperture(s) in the lava rocks that spews out the crashing surf squeezed through an underground channel.
The Ocean Course, as lavishly I am attempting to paint it as an extraordinary tropical experience, may fall slightly short when you visit the Mountain Course the next day.
Kona Country Club – Mountain Course
Taking advantage of the rapidly rising coastline of the Kailua-Kona coast, the Kona Country Club carved out eighteen holes along the hillside and designated it as the Mountain Course.
The Kona Country Club – Mountain Course, designed originally by William Francis Bell and subsequently upgraded by Robin Nelson and Rody Wright, plays to 6,634 yards from the championship tee, 5,976 yards from the middle tee and 5,038 yards from the short tee.
Even though built along the mountainside, the course is interspersed with several small ponds. A slight change in the vegetation from the Ocean Course, occasionally visited by the foraging wild goats, you would almost forget that this is a Hawaiian golf course.
Having played the Ocean Course yesterday, you will immediately notice a change in the temperature up along the Mountain Course. The seemingly rarified air, you will readily concede, is most refreshing and invigorating, after having basked in the warm, humid air yesterday.
The architect has taken advantage of the changes in elevation and has created some very interesting holes. From many fairways or tee boxes, you will get a breathtaking view of the Pacific Ocean that looks like it is at least four miles away. Hole number fourteen, the signature hole, is a case in point. The tee box is the highest point on this course, and the view is the most spectacular of the entire grounds. This stretch of the golf course, from number twelve to seventeen is arguably considered the premier golf site of the entire archipelago. From the tee box of the par three number five, similar to number fourteen, you would hit your tee shot straight down the cliff where the greens look like they are a mile downhill. Club selection becomes critical because of the optical illusion.
Many have argued that the Mountain Course is the one to play (if it is a one time event) even though the Ocean Course has the advantage of being an ocean front layout with its attendant Hawaiian scenic beauty.
Accommodation and Amenities
The clubhouse services both golf courses and provides all the needs of the golfers as well as sight seeing visitors. Having hosted the LPGA, it is understandable that the facility is more than adequate to handle all eventualities and golfing requirements.
All visitors will likely find accommodation in the city of Kona as it is just a few miles from the golf course. We stayed at the Royal Kona Resort during our several visits to this area. The resort is right on the water and you can look straight down at the pounding surfs against the black lava rocks. Needless to say, the food, service and hospitality were exemplary. Kona, being a resort city, has all the name brand hotels that one can think of; Four Seasons, Outrigger, King Kamehameha, Sheraton Keauhou…to mention just a few.
While you are in this area, you must take a day or two to visit the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. It is very close from Hilo, but if you were staying in Kona, the trip is just under a hundred miles, or about two and a half hours’ drive. The Visitors Center there will direct you to see the active lava bubbling inside the crater. The Center will also direct you to the ocean side site where the lava flow from the Kilauea Volcano actually empties into the ocean. Most of the time, you can still see the white steam rising from the ocean. Do not attempt to walk on the black lava on the bank as it will probably burn the soles off your shoes!
As I have indicated, we love this area so much that we have made several visits here. We came for Hawaiian golf, which we got by playing the Ocean Course, but we received an added bonus by playing “Alpine” golf on the Mountain Course. Add to this, the scenic visit to the Kilauea Volcano site and its surrounding areas. Golfing the Big Island is not complete until you visit this end of the island; even including the ever present VOG (volcano-fog) condition, depending on the direction of the wind.
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