Best Public Golf Courses in Hawaii

The 50th US state of Hawaii is located in the Pacific Ocean and consists of a group of northern Polynesian islands. It is the only state located outside of North America and is a perennial favorite holiday destination for many US mainlanders. It is composed of 8 major islands, namely: Kahoolawe, Niihau, Hawaii, Molokai, Oahu, Kauai, Maui, and Lanai. The island of Hawaii, nicknamed as “The Big Island”, is the largest of all Hawaiian Islands and is considered the biggest island in the U.S with a measurement of 4,028 square miles.Although Hawaii is the largest island, Oahu is the most visited island among tourists. Home to Hawaii’s capital city of Honolulu, it is also where the majority of the citizens reside.Hawaii is the ideal state to enjoy all sorts of recreational outdoor activities. The warmth of its people, beautiful vistas, great food and amazingly diverse terrain lends an almost magical, otherworldly quality to all your activities as if you entered another world where time slows down and trifling worries are but distant memories. Its consistent tropical sunny disposition makes the state perfect for golfing, catering to locals and tourists alike. With a selection of over 104 golf courses spread across all the Hawaiian islands, there’s surely a few that will pump your competitive juices or catch your fancy. Let’s take a look at some of the best public golf courses that Hawaii has to offer.

Best Golf Courses in (Province/State)

1. Kapalua Resort- The Plantation Course

Rating: 4.91/ 5.0Location: Lahaina, Maui County, HawaiiHoles: 18Par: 73Length: 7,411 yardsLocated on the northwestern shores of Maui, the Kapalua Resort is a beach and public golf resort open to local residents and tourists alike. It boasts of two gorgeous 18-hole championship courses: The Plantation course and the Bay course. Recognized as the “Best Golf Course in Hawaii” by Golfweek Magazine for 10 consecutive years, the Plantation course is simply astounding. The PGA Tour Sentry Tournament of Champions is held annually in the Plantation course every January. Prolific golf course designers Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw seamlessly created an intricate course around the area’s exceptionally beautiful natural terrains. The winds will be a major factor here, the kind which you will likely never experience anywhere else. Curiously, downhill holes feel like you’re with the wind while uphill holes also feel against the wind. Neglecting to factor this into your game would definitely lead you to a lot of ‘less than ideal’ situations. But don’t let these quirks distract you from the fact that you are playing in one of the most beautiful courses ever created. This par-73 course has hosted many famous great golfers over the years such as Tiger Woods, Justin Leonard, Ernie Els and Bubba Watson on its grounds. The well-maintained grass and facilities are always impeccable and a tricky layout with frequent elevation changes and numerous bunkers are specifically designed to provide you with a difficult yet extremely satisfying time.This is a must-play course. To maximize the resort amenities and complete the experience, stay in one of their luxuriously appointed rooms and enjoy their white sand beaches and marine sanctuaries for one truly memorable golfing getaway.

2. Princeville Makai Golf Club – Makai Course 

Rating: 4.87/5.0Location: Princeville, Kauai County, HawaiiHoles: 18Par: 72Length: 7,223 yardsSituated in Princeville on the charming island of Kauai, the Makai Golf Club has two golf courses to offer: the 18-hole Makai Course and the 9-hole Woods course. The resort initially had three 9-hole golf courses but eventually renovated and joined two of the courses to make for one legendary course – the Makai course. After undergoing an extensive renovation in 2010, it has been rated as one of the top 3 courses in Hawaii by Golf Advisor and Golfweek in the past two years and among the Top 100 Greatest Public Golf Courses in America by Golf Digest in 2015 & 2016.With the Makai course hovering over Hanalei Bay, you will be taking in some of the most beautiful vistas in Hawaii. Nothing beats a stunning scenery while enjoying a sensational round of golf. This Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed course offers beautifully diverse layout variations as you wind through the property. But this is not a walkable course by any measure due to the elevation changes and the considerable distances from the greens to the next tees.The Seashore Paspalum-lined fairways and greens are impeccably well-maintained. My favorite hole is the 181-yard par-3 third hole which rewards you with a gorgeous view of the ocean on one side and the mountains on the other side, but not before forcing you to carry your tee shot over the cliffs toward the green on the other side. A beautiful clubhouse, excellent amenities and very friendly and accommodating staff from the reception to the marshall round up the reasons why this is considered as one of the best golf courses in Hawaii by some of the most reputable golf publications.

3. Wailea Golf Club – Gold Course

Rating: 4.83/5.0Location: Wailea, Maui County, HawaiiHoles: 18Par: 72Length: 7,078 yardsSunny weather and gentle breezes usually accompany you when playing at the Wailea Golf Club which can be found on the famous island of Maui – the second biggest island in Hawaii. It is frequently listed among the top golf courses in America by Golfweek, Golf Digest and Golf Magazine. The Wailea Golf Club actually has three exciting 18-hole championship courses to choose from, namely: The Gold, Emerald and Old Blue Course. All are offering splendid ocean views and their own individual characteristic flair, but the most popular among the three would be the Gold Course.The Gold Course has been the venue for the Champions Skins Game from 2001 to 2007. As is characteristic of a Robert Trent Jones Jr. design, the Gold Course takes advantage of the terrain’s natural beauty and undulations and features a whole lot of bunkers proliferating the entire course. They all add up to a very exciting and difficult layout but a choice of up to six tee boxes on each hole ensures that all players can get to have fun if you only choose the appropriate tee for your skill level. It is worth pointing out that the most dangerous hazards here are actually the stunning ocean views as they will definitely take the focus out of your game more than a couple of times. They have excellent amenities and well-trained staff who are genuinely pleased to be of service to the guests. Golf cart rental is incorporated in the green fees. Keep in mind that they only accept credit cards, however, so it’s best that you bring enough cash with you, just in case.

4. Manele Golf Course

Rating: 4.79/5.0Location: Lanai City, Maui County, HawaiiHoles: 18Par: 72Length: 7,039 yardsLocated in the state’s so-called “Pineapple Island”, Manele Golf Course provides a steady backdrop of exquisite tropical views that can only be described as distinctly Hawaiian. The entire golf course sits on old lava outcroppings and colorful cliffs overlooking the crystal blue sea. During the colder months, you may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of Pacific humpback whales from the greens or fairways. Designed by the legendary Jack Nicklaus, the property is bordered by a steep cliff with the Pacific Ocean acting as a natural water hazard on some of the holes. Its sugar-white sand bunkers are deliberately calculated to provide the most difficult hurdles possible with respect to the original terrain. Their signature hole is the par-3 12th hole which is famous for its intimidating carry of almost 200 yards over Pacific Ocean waves furiously breaking against the cliff’s surface. This par-72 course will keep you engaged all throughout your round as it offers an eclectic mix of layout variations consisting of short par-4s, long par-5s, and up to 9 doglegs to keep you constantly on guard. With a very challenging layout and an incredible vista from every hole, it is no wonder why the Manele Golf Course is considered by many not only as one of the best golf courses in Maui County but in the entire state of Hawaii. By the way, be sure to bring all your best IG-worthy poses for all those Instagrammable photos as there will be plenty along the way.

5. Poipu Bay Golf Course

Rating: 4.77/5.0Location: Koloa, Kauai County, HawaiiHoles: 18Par: 72Length: 7,123 yardsFramed by the mountains on one side and the mighty Pacific Ocean on the other, the Poipu Bay Golf Course offers some of the most breath-taking scenery that can be found anywhere in the state of Hawaii. With no real estate developments that can be seen anywhere on site, it also doubles as a calm and idyllic place to commune with nature. It has a difficult layout designed to challenge players from all skill levels. Some of the very best professional players even played here when the Poipu Bay Golf Course proudly hosted the PGA Grand Slam of Golf for thirteen consecutive years from 1994 to 2006. Their famous coastline holes starting from the 15th until the 18th are just absolutely amazing, both in terms of shot difficulty and the unbelievable scenery. This is a stretch where you are mostly flanked by the Pacific Ocean and bunkers on either side as you try to navigate your way towards the green without being distracted by the scenic background. If you happen to be on a flight where there’s no group immediately behind you, try to savor and take your time a little bit more on this surreal stretch. This is essentially the physical manifestation of what you imagined Hawaiian golfing would be like.They also have a well-stocked pro shop and a beautiful restaurant ably manned by warm and friendly staff with their characteristic Hawaiian Aloha fervor. All things considered, Poipu Bay Golf Course is definitely one of the best golf courses in Kauai County and in the entire state of Hawaii.

6. Ko’olau Golf Club 

Rating: 4.70/5.0Location: Kaneohe, Honolulu County, Oahu, Hawaii Holes: 18Par: 72Length: 7,310 yardsA common denominator among many of the courses on this list is that most of them will have stunning views of the mountains and the ocean at the same time. This is a defining characteristic of most top-rated Hawaiian courses. The Ko’olau Golf Club fits the same mold. It has mountain and ocean views by the buckets that even if you happened to play poorly during your round you’d still be heading out of there with a smile on your face; contentedly happy to just have driven around the course taking in the magnificent views. Designed by Architect Dick Nugent, Ko’olau Golf Club can be found on the east of Oahu – the most visited island in the entire state of Hawaii. This course successfully blends a peaceful and serene ambiance on the outside while delivering a tempest of excitement and adrenaline from the inside which is the reason why it is well-loved and considered by many to be one of the best golf courses in Oahu Island. The course condition may not be as perfectly manicured as the other courses on this list, but it delivers a jungle-like, pre-historic type of atmosphere that you wouldn’t be able to find with the other more sophisticated courses. So, if that is something that you fancy, then the Ko’olau Golf Club is definitely for you. Be warned, though, your shots better be accurate and straight or you will be losing a lot of balls if they ever get into the rough. To be safe, just bring an extra sleeve with you as there are also several forced carries over ravines that will also be depleting your inventory.

7. Mauna Lani Resort 

Rating: 4.67/5.0Location: Kohala Coast, HawaiiHoles: 18Par: 72Length: 6,913 yardsThe Mauna Lani Resort located on the “Big Island” of Hawaii is the epitome of a classic Hawaiian golf resort. Sculpted out of dried lava bed, sloping landscape and a mesquite forest with the perfunctory mountain and ocean views, the Mauna Lani Resort is actually composed of two distinct 18-hole courses: The North Course and the South Course. Each has its own character and flair that perfectly complements one another that it would be a pity not to play both courses on the same trip, in the same manner that you would watch sequel movies in succession to grasp the entire story. The older of the two, the South Course is preferred by more casual, laid-back players as it is deemed more forgiving and has more postcard-worthy ocean views compared to its younger sibling the North Course. The North Course, on the other hand, is the brother that you don’t want to mess with. You have to possess both power and accuracy to successfully navigate its challenging layout with its long and narrow fairways, elevation changes, bunkers, and numerous doglegs pressuring you to give all that you can muster. The 455-yard par-4 ninth hole is easily one of the most scenic and toughest holes to play in the entire island as you aim for a green that is surrounded by bunkers while seemingly teetering over the edge towards the Pacific Ocean. The signature hole 17th is a picturesque 132-yard par-3 that rewards you with a perfectly caption-able backdrop of an amphitheatre-like lava structure in the background after finishing your putt.Most tourists would go for the more scenic South Course while many regulars and locals actually prefer the North Course because of its more challenging layout and variation. Often overlooked due to its proximity to its more popular neighbors the Mauna Kea and Hualalai courses, the Mauna Lani Resort’s North and South courses actually deserves its own spotlight and be recognized as one of the best golf courses in the entire state of Hawaii.

8. The Ocean Course at Hokuala

Rating: 4.61/5.0Location: Lihue, Kauai County, HawaiiHoles: 18Par: 72Length: 7,120 yardsRecognized as one of the twelve most picturesque courses in the world by MSN Travel, the Ocean Course at Hokuala can be found in the southeastern coast of what’s geologically considered as the oldest island among the main islands of Hawaii – Kauai.Hokuala’s Ocean Course is known for having the longest stretch of consecutive ocean-view holes called the “Amen Corner”. Initially opening with relative ease through the first nine holes, the course becomes trickier and more complicated once you are forced to deal with tough carries and challenging par-3s in the back nine. It has a healthy mix of short and long holes as well as a number of exciting risk-reward propositions. Designed by the legendary Jack Nicklaus, this course was originally created with 27 holes before they decided to renovate and shorten it to a more standard 18-hole course. Water hazards provide some necessary spoilers in order to at least take your eyes off the beautiful scenery and the turquoise-blue waters. Several inland lagoons were also incorporated into the layout to act as natural water hazards on some of the holes. As customary with most ocean courses, the winds will definitely play a factor in determining how well you play. By successfully combining the natural terrain with a challenging layout that caters to all players across the board, the Ocean Course at Hokuala earns our praise as one of the best golf courses in Kauai island and all of Hawaii.

9. Turtle Bay Resort – Arnold Palmer Course

Rating: 4.55/5.0Location: Kahuku, Honolulu County, HawaiiHoles: 18Par: 72Length: 7,218 yardsSituated on the famous North Shore in the beautiful island of Oahu, Turtle Bay Resort’s Arnold Palmer Course wasted no time collecting accolades right out of the gate when it opened in 1992, as it was included in the list of “Best New Resort Courses in America” by Golf Digest and recognized as one of the “Top 10 New Courses” by Golf Magazine the very same year it was launched. Only 45 minutes away from Honolulu, this Arnold Palmer and Ed Seay creation’s layout presents a golfing tale of two halves as the front nine is laid out like a typical Scottish Links course while the back nine pulls back to a more familiar ocean course expected of a Hawaiian course. The lack of drastic elevation changes is offset by a smattering of water hazards, sand traps, strategically-aligned trees and fierce winds all combine to provide a worthy challenge to even the most seasoned golfers. Novice and average players don’t need to worry however as each hole is provided with five tee options so that you can still enjoy the game without getting overwhelmed.

10. Mauna Kea Golf Course

Rating: 4.48/5.0Location: Kamuela, Hawaii County, HawaiiHoles: 18Par: 72Length: 7,370 yardsThe Mauna Kea Golf Course is billed as the first golf course in the island of Hawaii. Presently recognized as one of the most visited golf courses in the state of Hawaii, this popular course didn’t start out as this amazing crowd-drawer in the beginning.The entire course actually sits on what was once an old desolate lava field. The course’s architectural team composed of Rees Jones, Robert Trent Jones Sr. and Steve Weisser set out to redesign the barren landscape into the beautiful course that it is today which features breathtaking ocean views from almost all holes.However, there are always two sides to every equation. While there is beauty on one side, absolute mayhem also awaits you on the other side in the form of a very challenging course layout. By all purposes, this is an absolutely punishing course, practically akin to a target course as even a slightly errant shot will land you in very thick rough. Those lost balls and penalties can quickly accumulate that you may be looking at a total tally 12-16 strokes higher than your normal score when it’s all said and done. Undulating greens and coastal winds (always a factor when playing ocean courses) complicate matters even further.The signature 272-yard par-3 third hole is a gorgeous over-the-ocean forced carry that will singlehandedly make the green fee absolutely worth it if you manage to stick the landing. Their other off-course amenities and activities all serve to bolster Mauna Kea’s popularity, enough to include it among the best golf courses in Hawaii.

Wrap up

Hawaii is one of the most popular US holiday destinations. Its beautiful terrain and tropical setting make it the ideal location for all sorts of outdoor activities, including golf – usually featuring courses that combine the best characteristics of mountain and ocean courses, representative of Hawaii’s tropical island character. The ten we listed here are based on popular opinion as well as from our own personal experience. It is perfectly acceptable for you to come up with your own list, independent of what we have listed here as we recognize that this is a purely subjective undertaking. The important thing is that you go ahead and try some of these courses on your own and have some fun doing it in the process. One thing is for sure, this is a trip that should be on everyone’s bucket list.


Author: Abraham

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