Designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr., Mauna Kea is no newcomer to the Big Island. The 18-hole, par 72 course at the Prince Mauna Kea Beach Hotel opened in 1962. It covers some 230 acres of Hawaii’s tropical landscape. Getting in a round here is a perfect reason to add a Big Island stay to your trip. You can even take a quick flight from Oahu just for the day, as I did.
Views from the course cover every type of topography, from snow-capped Mauna Kea to lava beds that weave their way through the course to the magnificent beach below. The course boasts the greatest par 3s in Hawaii, including its two signature holes, Nos. 3 and 11. The dominant theme incorporated by Jones is the elevated greens found on 14 of the 18 holes throughout the course.
The course at Mauna Kea is the gold-medal Olympian of Hawaiian golf, having won awards and accolades from many sources. It’s been listed in America’s Best Golf Resorts Golf Magazine, March 2006; No. 1 on the state-by-state Hawaii list Golfweek, March 11, 2006; and it’s made Conde Nast Traveler’s Top 100 Golf Resorts list five years in a row.
The Prince Mauna Kea Beach Hotel offers magnificent views of the beach, as well as attentive service and comfortable rooms with all the necessary amenities.
Hole 3 (200 yards, par 3)
This is the signature hole at Mauna Kea. You’re shooting over a cove between the tee box and the green, created over centuries of pounding by the Pacific surf. It is said to be the most photographed and famous par 3 in the world. The pin was forward the day I played and there was no wind to speak of, making the shot to the green about 190 yards. Take care to avoid the bunkers guarding the front (four) and two to the right. Long and right is better than short and left, unless you want to go for a swim.
Hole 4 (396 yards, par 4)
Hole No. 4 ranks No. 1 handicap. It is all uphill to an elevated green. You need 232 yards off the tee to clear the left bunkers, which should be avoided. Short drives left will find an area of scrub, sand and branches requiring a near-impossible recovery. Yours truly had a “golf shot” with one foot in the trap and one on the grass, making the green in regulation. Those who under-club themselves for their shot to the green should take care to avoid the traps guarding the left and right sides. The undulation reported in the yardage book is overstated — the green appears flatter than indicated.
Hole 5 (570 yards, par 5)
Wow! This 570-yard monster requires three near-perfect shots — two of which must have distance to make the green in regulation. Both your tee shot and second shot will most likely land on an uneven lie with the ball above your feet. Drives should be aimed slightly right as the fairway rolls to the left. Six is a good score here.
Hole 6 (244 yards, par 4)
Ranked the 17th handicapped hole, this one should not be difficult. But errant shots can cause scoring issues. Take a picture from this elevated tee box of the valley below, then launch up again to an elevated green. A set of bunkers protects the shooters to the right and one large bunker catches shots that head left off the tee. The green is two-tiered and pin placement on the back means your approach shot must clear the front of the green.
Hole 10 (500 yards, par 5)
Try to cut the corner if you dare on this par 5 dogleg to the right. It’s ranked as the No. 2 handicapped hole. Errant shots off the tee could be caught by a left-lying bunker at 182 yards — or worse, could clear it and be lost in the trees and scrub behind. The fairway is undulating and your approach shot is to an elevated green. Avoid the bunkers to the left of the green.
Hole 11 (208 yards, par 3)
This is a simple par 3 with a breathtaking view of the Pacific Ocean beyond the green. Prevailing trade winds might require additional clubbage at the tee. Beware of out-of- bounds on the right, a beautiful garden and a multimillion-dollar Big Island beach house. Be sure to take a peek at the magnificent beach below from the green — it’s worth the price of admission.
Hole 12 (387 yards, par 4)
From the tee box, aim to the center of the fairway. Those trying to cut the corner of the dogleg right might catch the group of bunkers on the right side at the bend. A set of four bunkers guards the left side and might catch a shot blown through the fairway. Your approach shot is to an elevated green guarded on both sides by bunkers.
Hole 18 (428 yards, par 4)
Off the tee you are required to clear about 200 yards of native growth. A pair of bunkers on each side of the green catches errant shots as the fairway races downhill to the green. Don’t be fooled by the bit of fairway in front of the green, which almost looks like a false front.
MAUNA KEA GOLF COURSE
At the Prince Mauna Kea Beach Hotel
62-100 Mauna Kea Beach Drive
Kohala Coast, Hawaii 96743
tel 808 882 7222
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