The Hualalai resort is
situated in the Kona district of Hawaii, close to the international airport in
the northwest corner of the Big Island, and it boasts two 18-hole layouts. The
first to appear was the Jack Nicklaus Signature course in 1996, followed six
years later by the Tom Weiskopf-designed private Ke'olu course.
The Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai is held on the Hualalai course every year and the field comprises senior major champions from the previous five years plus other tournament winners of the last two years and other sponsor-invited players. The tournament is played over 54-holes with a prize purse of almost $2 million.
Fairways on the front nine of the Hualalai course play through a variety of lava rock features and over a pond at the par three 5th but the bunker in the middle of the green on the par three 12th is probably the biggest talking point before the final trio of holes bring the round to a dramatic conclusion next to the ocean.Yet another par three, the 164-yard 17th, is regarded as the signature hole on the card. If you come across any marketing images for this Nicklaus-designed course then the chances are at least one of them will be related to this hole which plays right toward the ocean, with lava rock and sand traps surrounding the green.
This is truly a resort course. Not the most difficult resort course on the island as that honor goes to Mauna Kea, but also not the traditional, standard resort course like Waikoloa Beach, or Kaanapali or Walea on Maui. First off the conditioning of the course was excellent as was the service. The head pro was very personable and was quite open that this was not the place to go to be challenged but rather to enjoy an enjoyable day of golf. The fairways are wide, the greens, despite being told that they had been renovated during the pandemic closure to incorporate more break, were still generally flat but pure, and the bunkering was primarily for show not hazard. Unless the wind is up you can shoot a really good score here and, as others have noted, 17 is certainly the photo opp hole. 18 was somewhat weak as again the bunkering was for show more than for fear but it's always nice to finish with a birdie.
The Hualālai Golf Course is home to the prestigious PGA Tour Champions “Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualālai” event, which brings all the well known characters of the Seniors tour to enjoy the full hospitality of The Big Island. It is a popular event with the players, their families, members and the general public alike.
During the year, the course is available for play to Hualālai Club Members, their registered guests, registered rental guests and the guests of the Four Seasons Resort Hualālai. The sister course: the Ke‘olu Course is only open for Hualālai Club members and their guests.
The Hualalai Course sets a rather placid pace early with nice, but unremarkable holes leading inland from the hotel over quietly rolling terrain. The fairways are generally wide, and the first cut is also wide and forgiving- it is all perfect for resort golf.
However, lava features lift the look and strategy of some holes nicely. The par 5 seventh hole uses the lava to advantage framing the hole and creeping into the line of play.
In the back nine things get a little more interesting! Hole 12 has a bunker in the middle of the green akin to that on Riviera's famous 6th hole. It's only a short approach, but make sure you land on the right side of the bunker!
In the end of the day the key to this course is the big finish: holes 16, 17 & 18. Hole 16 is a longer par 4 that heads you straight to the ocean, and invariably into the breeze. It is a picturesque approach as the pounding surf forms a backdrop to the green. The hole is nicely bunkered, and requires a well struck shot that takes into account the increased wind exposure.
Then you turn the corner, and boom! Hole 17 is a wonderful little par 3 right on the waterfront. Depending on your which teeing ground you have selected you may need to carry the ocean to approach the green. Either way you will be terribly aware of the white caps crashing on the rocky coastline just metres from where you take your stance. Inevitably the wind will affect your flight, and although the green is forgiving, it can be a testing shot. The green setting is gorgeous, surrounded by white water on a rocky promontory. Take a moment, and look back to the tee. Take another photo. It’s a moment you will want to remember..
In time you will move to the final hole. At the back of the championship tees Jack has positioned a park bench where you can have a quiet moment, take in the surrounding beach scene and prepare for the final hole. Hole 18 is a longer par 4 with a water carry off the tee to a fairway angling away to the left and protected by bunkers. Take as bold a line as you dare, and be rewarded with a shorter approach. The view to the hole is dominated by bunker after bunker protecting the more direct line to the green. A par here is well earned!
Hualalai is a lovely place to play golf on that dream Hawaiian holiday. It's not the best course in Hawaii, but it is well designed, nicely maintained, and has some real Kodak moments at the end of the round.
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
Great course well maintained, putting against the grain is a skill that need to be learned quickly here, and on the Island in general. Nice layout with scenic views. Overall a 1/2 lower then its sibling on the property but not a bad place to spend a round whatsoever. Would I play here again? Hell yes, I love this place.