One of the best aspects of the Arnold Palmer course at Turtle Bay Resort is its location. Many visitors grow tired of the hustle and bustle of Honolulu and Waikiki Beach — though I’m not one of them — so head instead to the North Shore of Oahu. The drive alone, through mountains and along famed beaches, is well worth the journey. The Turtle Bay Resort on Oahu’s North Shore is home to championship courses — The George Fazio Course which has hosted the LPGA Tour’s Hawaiian Open and was the site of the first Senior Skins Game, and The Arnold Palmer Course which is home to the PGA Turtle Bay Championship. Both are nestled among 880 acres of beaches, ironwood trees and wetlands of Oahu.
The Palmer Course underwent a massive renovation in 2003, including new greens and other course improvements to the tune of $60 million. Improvements to the proshop and to Lei Lei’s Bar and Grill completed at the same time were somewhat underwhelming.
The Palmer course is an 18-hole championship course measuring 6,225 yards from the resort tees and 7,199 from the championship tees. It was designed by Arnold Palmer and Ed Seay and has been rated one of Golf Magazine’s “Top 10 New Courses” in America. It ranked fourth on Golf Digest’s “Best New Resort Courses in America” when it opened in 1992.
The front nine follow a “Scottish Links” style while the back has a more tropical setting. The course forms a horseshoe around the Pinaho’olapa Marsh, which is a 100-acre wetland and bird sanctuary (birds were plentiful during our game). Water is everywhere and comes into play on 14 of the 18 holes. Hawaii had been awash in pounding rains over a span of 41 days in February and March of this year, but the course came through the deluge without damage. I played on the first full day of sun in quite a while and found the course wet, but not unplayable, which must be due to excellent drainage. The new greens are made up of Sea Isle 2000 paspalum grass and 70 bunkers line the fairways and greens. One tip that anyone failed to tell us is that the flag position is indicated by the colored cap on the 150 pole in the center of the green. We did not realize this until we were more than halfway through the round.
Hole 2 (376 yards, par 4)
Off the tee, drive your ball to the left of the fairway in order to have a clear shot to the green. Shots short and right will be blocked by a tree in a waist bunker. Depending on the trade winds, you might want to take an extra club to make the green. The green runs true. When we played, even with record rainfall, the course was playable and the greens appeared dry.
Hole 3 (530 yards, par 5)
This hole is “birdieable” — two big hits put you in front of the green. Tee off from the gold and the big boys surely will reach the green in two. Keep away from the water on the left. It runs the entire length of the fairway, which pitches to the left toward the lake (Arnie!). If you are anywhere from 220 to 240 yards to the green, knock the heck out of it — there’s room up there. The green is very undulating, but putts stay more true than expected.
Hole 5 (389 yards, par 4)
This dogleg left has a waist bunker, which runs the length of the left side. Those who dare can try to cut the corner and position their shot to the green with a high iron. Mere mortals will need to drive the ball toward the 150 marker.
Hole 9 (535 yards, par 5)
Look out for the water on the right and those who fail to position the ball in the center and favor the left will find traps. A large banyan tree blocks recovery shot from the left side. Ranked as the seventh handicapped hole on the course, my group found this hole more challenging than expected.
Hole 10 (391 yards, par 4)
Drive your ball to the left side of the fairway off the tee. Balls that land right will have the best approach to the green. If you do land right you have trees and water to greet you. Look out for a deep swale that lies to the left of the green making pitches up difficult.
Hole 11 (433 yards, par 4)
This is the No. 2 handicapped hole on the course and it will give you a run for your money. The right side is lined with water on this dogleg right. Play your ball left off the tee for a clean shot to the green out of harm’s way. The club recommends taking more for your shot to the green. Par is good; bogey should make you happy here.
Hole 17 (402 yards, par 4)
We could hear the ocean breaking as we played the course. Hole after hole, we were waiting for that idyllic Hawaiian moment when you tee off over a ravine to a green that lies beyond with the mighty Pacific Ocean between. The closest on the Palmer course is hole 17 where you can see the Pacific from the green. But first things first — you’re driving to the second bunker on the left (clearing it, of course) so as to avoid the landing-area bunkers on the right. Make sure you take into account the out-of-bounds beyond the green and on the left side.
Hole 18 (539 yards, par 5)
Big hitters off the tee need to keep the water on the left and the trees in mind, as they both are reachable. Laying up your ball is also risky, as balls tend to roll hard toward the water hazard near the green. If you have the gusto, go for your shot to the green. The risks are epic; the rewards are for those who dare.
TURTLE BAY RESORT
Arnold Palmer Golf Course
57-049 Kuilima Drive
Kohuku, Oahu, HI 96731
Tel 808 293 8574
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