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Hawaii ‘Fore’-Oh! Golf is becoming a staple of ‘The Aloha State’


Hawaii, a land of palm trees, waterfalls and moonlit beaches, is known as paradise. Nicknamed “The Aloha State,” this collection of islands became the nation’s 50th state on April 23, 1959. In the 40-plus years since its statehood, this paradisiacal destination has placed its imprint on today’s golfing world.

In 1999 more than 500 golf courses opened in the U.S.—setting a new record. The statistic underscores the ongoing love affair that more than 24 million Americans have with this admittedly addictive sport. Add the Tiger Effect, named after the game’s high-profile phenomenon, and its prevalence borders on explosive. Meeting planner Gregory Howell, president of GHA Travel in San Francisco, likens the relevance of the game of golf to a six-hour board meeting.

For in-the-know planners such as Howell, capitalizing on this game’s immense popularity means incorporating golf into more and more meeting agendas; and in the process, luring attendees who dream of playing some of the world’s most celebrated courses. Dreams that come true in Hawaii.


Called the Big Island because of its size, it encompasses an area almost twice as large as Delaware. And with its 19 spectacular golf courses and prestige as home to the Senior PGA MasterCard Tournament, it is also known as “The Golf Capital of Hawaii.” Here are some offerings:

  • Mauna Lani Resort: Francis H. I’i Brown North Course is built on an ancient lava flow and feral goats frequent its fairways. Francis H. I’i Brown South Course is sculptured from a moonscape of a geologically young lava flow. Its famed 15th hole crosses the crashing surf.
  • Waikoloa Resort: Waikoloa Beach Course is designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr. The course’s Scottish-inspired double green at holes No. 3 and 6 is a rare layout feature in the Islands. Waikoloa Kings’ Course is a Tom Weiskopf/Jay Morrish design featuring nine acres of water and more than 80 bunkers, some up to five feet in depth. Golf enthusiast and meeting specialist Ted Albrecht with Chicago-based Albrecht Incentives International describes Waikoloa’s courses as “challenging but fair.”
  • Mauna Kea Resort: Hapuna Golf Course is a links-style, 18-hole championship course. Mauna Kea Golf Course offers dramatic elevation changes and spectacular views. It is noted as one of Hawaii’s most exclusive challenges.


For years, the island’s dramatic scenery has lured movie companies seeking paradise—including locations for films such as Raiders of the Lost Ark and South Pacific. Not surprisingly, today’s avid golfers are equally drawn.

The Poipu Bay Resort Course, a Robert Trent Jones, Jr. design, has earned the nickname “Pebble Beach of Hawaii” because of its rugged coastal views enjoyed from most holes. Princeville Resort’s Prince Golf Course features a hole called the Eagle’s Nest. The tee on hole No. 12 rests on a perch 100 feet above a narrow fairway whose boundaries are marked by impenetrable jungle.


No other American destination offers the opportunity to surf some of the world’s biggest waves (Banzai Pipeline), visit a poignant World War II landmark (U.S.S. Arizona memorial) and play the nation’s toughest course (Koolau Golf Course). This course claims the U.S. Golf Association’s highest slope rating (a measure of a course’s difficulty)—162 from the back tees. (By comparison, Waialae Country Club, host of the annual PGA Hawaiian Open, has a slope rating of 133.)


This secluded island has no traffic lights, one deli, three hotels and two world-renowned golf courses. The Challenge at Manele is consistently ranked among the world’s top 50 golf resorts. Whales and dolphins are often a distraction on this Jack Nicklaus-designed course where every hole guarantees golfers an ocean view.

The Experience at Koele meanders through the island’s upcountry pine-covered hills. Designed by Greg Norman and Ted Robinson, the course is abundant with water features (a Robinson trademark), including seven lakes, cascading waterfalls and one green—No. 17, which is completely surrounded by a lake.


Noted for endless sugarcane fields and its Manhattan-sized Haleakala Crater, the island is sometimes called the most sophisticated amongst its sister islands. Each of the resorts on Maui’s famed Golf Coast features a bounty of legendary championship courses designed by some of the industry’s best.

The Kaanapali Golf Courses, Hawaii’s home of the Senior PGA Tour and centerpiece of the Kaanapali Resort, are within easy reach of 10 hotel and condominium properties.

The Kapalua Golf Club, set amidst a 23,000-acre privately owned pineapple plantation and featuring The Bay, The Village and The Plantation, stretches from the West Maui Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. Dramatically distinctive in character, each course shares what has become a Kapalua trademark; most putts break toward Molokai. The resort opened the Kapalua Golf Academy in 2000 and recently revived one of the game’s lost traditions with its Caddie Program.

Danielle Adams, meeting planner with Concepts Worldwide, is no stranger to the Kapalua Bay Resort and its many offerings. Adams recalls the activity level of a visiting pharmaceutical group.

“They were on-the-go nonstop,” he says. “The minute the president and his wife arrived from New Jersey, they went to the course and played an 18-hole round of golf.”

Located at the base of Haleakala Crater, Makena Resort boasts two Robert Trent Jones, Jr. championship golf courses (South Course and North Course) within five minutes of the Maui Prince Hotel.

Wailea’s Gold and Emerald are Maui’s two newest resort courses. Laced with prehistoric lava rock walls, the Gold sports a rugged, natural layout. The Emerald is reminiscent of a tropical playground and has been ranked among the nation’s most women-friendly golf courses. The Blue features trickling fountains, serene lakes and wide fairways.

“Golf is an ideal activity for groups,” says Barry Helle, marketing manager for Maui’s Wailea Golf Club. But arranging for group golf and organizing tournaments can be intimidating.

If golf is important to your group, it pays to include it in your planning from the very beginning, advises Wailea Golf Club’s booklet, “How to Plan Great Golf & Tennis Events for Groups.” An additional suggestion for the planner is to ask how far in advance the golf course should be booked. It is important to note that policies vary from one facility to the next. At popular golf clubs such as Wailea, it is recommended to reserve the facility one year in advance.

“Planners research meeting sites with great care, and if golf is going to be a part of the meeting, they should do the same for the courses, too,” explains Helle. Group golf and tournament tips from the expert include:

  • Look at well-known golf courses. If you don’t golf, ask golfers about their dream golf destinations. Call the golf courses and inquire about awards they’ve won. The more renowned a course, the more desirable it will be to your meeting attendees.
  • Make sure the golf courses are within easy reach of your accommodations. This detail will minimize the potential of transportation problems.
  • Ask the course about the range of services it can offer groups: group rates, rental equipment, club storage, on-site catering, tournament services and customized merchandise.
  • Inquire about typical weather conditions for the time of year you are planning your meeting. If inclement weather is a possibility, devise a back-up plan.

When making a hotel site inspection, arrange for a golf course tour, too. Ask questions. Determine whether the golf staff is comfortable with groups and experienced in dealing with them. Meeting specialist Albrecht advises planners to deal directly with the director of golf or the golf pro. “Drive the course, get a yardage book, ask to see their signature hole,” Albrecht says. “If possible, play the course. This is no different than looking at an off-site venue for dinner. And before you even think about getting rooms, you better have some tee-times.”

Wailea’s head golf professional, Rick Castillo, says, “What we do for groups ranges anywhere from straight golf play to a full-blown, professionally run shotgun tournament with prizes, scoreboard, banners, specialty games and customized merchandise.”

The golfing facility is equipped to set up a special putting course or coordinate a private week-long golf academy.

“We can even arrange to get smoking golf balls or glow-in-the-dark golf balls to add a little fun to an event,” Castillo adds.


Copyright 2018 Cynthia Dial. All rights reserved