A major reason we return to Hawaii is the golf. Hawaii has some spectacular (and pretty expensive) golf courses available to tourists, and we tend to plan our vacation around golf as much as anything else. (But even the non-golfers can find plenty to do or laze on the beach while Dad golfs.)

Most resort courses offer special rates for visitors staying in hotels or condos at the resort, but tend to charge a whole lot for other visitors.

There are excellent courses on all the islands, and the following are comments on various courses I've played over the years, with my personal ratings. For more details and to make reservations on any of these courses, click on the photo(s).

Big Island

Mauna Kea (*****). Still rated as one of the top courses in Hawaii, this course was the first to be built on the Kohala Coast back in the mid-1960s when there was nothing but lava. Its a classic Robert Trent Jones course, where it seems you're always hitting up to a huge elevated green. The signature hole is the 3rd hole, a par 3 across an inlet that you've seen in numerous advertisements and articles. Note: the course we rebuilt in 2008 while the hotel was closed for renovations, and I haven't played it since it reopened. I doubt it has gotten any worse.
Hapuna (*****). Part of the Mauna Kea resort, Hapuna plays up and down the hills near the resort mauka (mountain-side) of the highway. This course emphasizes target golf, giving you interesting choices for many holes. Nice pro shop, clubhouse, and staff.
Waikoloa Kings (*****). Links-style course in the Waikoloa resort. Pretty flat course, but with water and other hazards that come into play. Signature hole is a short, down-wind par 4 where the last 60-70 yards consists of lava and rocks.
Mauna Lani (*****). Two courses - North and South. South course is gorgeous, with two par 3s alongside or across the ocean and holes surrounded by bare lava rock. North course has a different character with bushes and trees along the holes (as opposed to bare lava, except on the unique-looking par 3 17th). Both courses are great to play.
Big Island Country Club (****). Fun upland course, with a nice variety of holes, including an island par 3. Nene and other birds are common on the course.
Waikoloa Beach (***). Resort course in the Waikoloa resort, with a couple of ocean-front holes. Too many condos too close to the course for me. If you're staying in Waikoloa, its a good deal, but otherwise I personally think there are better choices.
Waimea Country Club (***). Course located up in Waimea. Tends to be much cooler and rainier than courses down in Kohala and Kona. Economical compared to others, plus doesn't tend to be as busy as courses closer to the resorts.
Waikoloa Village (**). This course is in Waikoloa Village, about 6 miles up the mountain from the highway near the other Kohala resorts. Its an OK course, and a pretty good value for your money. Feels much more like a public course than a resort course, with a pretty basic clubhouse and pro shop. Only course I've seen that has a warning that they don't issue "wind checks".


Princeville Prince (*****). One of the best courses in Hawaii. Long, tough course, with lots of carry and precise shots required. Located on the north shore. Bring an umbrella.
Puakea (****). Fairly new course in Lihue. First few holes aren't real impressive (first hole plays towards a Home Depot), but then you move into some very challenging and memorable holes.
Poipu Bay (****). Excellent course, with a number of holes along the cliffs (though they don't really come into play). Site of the PGA Grand Slam for several years. Located on the sourth shore.
Princeville Makai (****). Actually 3 nines, located in the same resort as Princeville Prince. Another excellent course, but I found the Prince course more challenging and picturesque.
Kauai Lagoons (Kiele and Mokihana courses) (no rating). Located overlooking Lihue harbor, this resort (now a Marriott) is currently being reworked. Originally consisting of two courses (Kiele and Mokihana), the back nine at Kiele is currently closed and being rebuilt, and they've combined a nine from the Mokihana course with it. The Kiele course was a great course (I gave it a rating of *****), but the Mokihana course is much less interesting. Suggest waiting until things are back to normal.


Plantation Course at Kapalua (*****). Similar in many ways to the Prince course on Kauai. Long and hilly. Great views of the ocean throughout. Lots of greens tucked in next to the jungle, so demands accuracy. 18th hole (downhill and downwind) gives you a chance to hit a 300+ yard drive. Site of PGA Mercedes championship.
Wailea and Makena courses (****). Five courses in total, that are fun to play. But to be honest, I have trouble telling them apart or remembering anything specific about any of them. Good places to play, with nice views of the ocean and some nice ocean-side holes.
Bay Course at Kapalua (****). First of the Kapalua courses to be built, situated nearer the coast than the other two courses. Not quite as memorable as the other two, but nice to play.
Kaanapali (***). Two courses in the Kaanapali resort. Royal Kaanapali (previously known as the North) course is inland and hilly; Kaanapali Kai (previously the South Course) is closer to the resort and ocean (with a couple holes going down to the shore). Nice courses, in an older "resort course" style with wide fairways. If you're staying at Kaanapali, worthwhile value, but better choices at Kapalua and Wailea.
Elleair (**). Public course just mauka of Kihei. Good value, and some interesting holes. Played in once in 30 MPH winds, which made it extremely challenging!


Experience at Koele (*****). A unique and memorable course, up in the highlands of Lanai. One nine is links style and fairly flat; other nine plays up in the mountains, giving you a chance to see both sides of the island. The signature hole is a par 4 with a tee shot from about 100 feet above the fairway. Rarely busy, so you'll play very quickly.
Challenge at Manele (*****). Down near the coast, this course winds back and forth along the side of a hill, with ocean views on every hole and a couple cliff-side holes. More difficult than Koele, but has a very different feel. Tends to be a bit busier than Koele, but still plays quickly.


Luana Hills (****). A gorgeous course on the windward side of the island, carved out of jungle.
Coral Creek Golf Course (***). A public course on the leeward side of the island. Was fun to play, but nothing too dramatic or memorable.
Ko Olina Golf Club (**). A nice course in the Ko Olina resort on the leeward side of the island. Water comes into play on a number of holes. Played it a couple times, and to be honest, don't remember much about it.