45-550 Kionaole Rd,
Hawaii (HI) 96744,
- +1 808 236 4653
1 mile S of Kaneohe
Dick Nugent built the course at Ko’olau Golf Club in 1992 and it’s a formidable test, even from the resort tees. Hewn from the tropical rain forest beside the towering Koolau Ridge mountain range, this layout offers a stiff challenge at each and every hole on the card.
Tom Doak made a point of playing Ko’olau in 2016 and brutally awarded the course a zero out of ten on his Doak rating scale:
“Celebrated by the golf press of the day for its 155 Slope rating, the highest in the nation, Ko’olau is a torturous test of golf tacked onto a rain forest mountainside, just half an hour from Honolulu. Built originally by a Japanese conglomerate, it was bought out by a local church, which prized the large clubhouse as a space for a place of worship, and operates the course to try to generate money for the congregation. So, it would be blasphemous for me to say what I really think of it, other than Lord have mercy for those who choose to play here.”
Ko’olau deserves to be much higher up on this list. In the years before the USGA limited slope to 155, Ko’olau was touted as ‘toughest in the nation’ based on its slope rating. You’ll feel like you’re playing in Jurassic Park. Don’t miss playing here.
Ko’olau Golf Club is acknowledged as the toughest course in the United States with the tournament tees rating 78.2 with a 153 slope. Ko’olau is on the winward side of Oahu, which means rain and lots of it. Located at the base of a mountain range in a rain forest, Ko’olau receives over 100 inches of rain per year. Bring lots of balls. The course is so wet that tee shots may plug. I did lose one drive that plugged in the fairway. Ko’olau is target golf but with lots of forced carries. If you are left or right, in most cases, kiss you ball good bye. The jungle is hungry.
The first hole is a par five dogleg left. I cannot envision too many people trying, never mind succeeding, in getting home in two. Off the tee favor the left to avoid the fairway bunker. The fairway lists to the right so your second shot also needs to favor the left. The ideal landing area is about 150 yards out. The approach is downhill, probably one less club to a green surrounded by 5 bunkers and jungle. Be forewarned, this is one of the easier holes. The 2nd is another relatively easy hole, while the drive is downhill the approach is up and you should take an extra club. Favor the right off the tee. The green is narrow with bunkers left and right and is multi-tiered. The 3rd is a difficult long dogleg right. To give yourself a chance favor the right off the tee to shorten the hole. Your approach will still have to carry a BAB on the right, not to mention jungle left, jungle right. The downhill par 3 4th is the easiest hole on the course. However, it is typically into the trade winds. Thus, while you will be tempted to take one less club, don’t do it. The dogleg right 5th is the number 10 handicap hole. I don’t see it, tough hole. A split fairway, with the right being ideal. However, from the tips the carry is almost 250 and from the next tees 200. The fairway left is very narrow and you will still have a 200 yard approach. The 6th is another dogleg right and the hardest hole on the front. Favor the left off the tee as the right has less runway into a ravine. Definitely take an extra club on your approach. The carry looks daunting, but there is more room front and left than meets the eye from the fairway. The par 5 dogleg left 7th is a good birdie oppty. Carry the ravine off the tee and you should be in good shape. Favor left of center on your 2nd and 3rd shots as trouble looms right. The 8th is another downhill par 3 into the trade winds with a BAB left. The 9th is a tough dogleg left with three bunkers on the outside elbow. The green is well protected and I would advise taking an extra club.
The back starts with a dogleg left. Favor the middle off the tee to set up your approach over another ravine. The 11th is a par 5 that looks reachable on the scorecard. At just over 500 yards. It is not that long, but once again the dreaded ravine. I would recommend playing it as a 3 shotter and pick your favorite wedge yardage. The 12thisojne of the shortest par fours and is a slight dogleg right. Favor the left side off the tee to give you the best approach over the ravine. The 14th is a long straight uphill par 4. Off the tee left if center is best. Take an extra club for your approach to this well protected 3 tired green. The 15th may be your best chance for birdie heading in. The tee box is the high point of the course and very scenic. It is downhill with very little trouble (other than jungle). The par 5 16th more than makes up for 15. Not a lot of landing area off the tee and for your second shot favor the right side, which has even less room. For your approach be wary of the only water hazard on the course that caresses the green on the left. The 17h is another downhill par 3. Left is death. The 18th is one of the hardest finishing holes I have ever played. Dogleg right with two forced carries. The further right you go, the easier the second shot. However, the longer you will need to hit off the tee. About 220 yards will at least carry the jungle, but that will only get you into one of the large fairway bunkers. If you can hit it 240 you should find the fairway. The green is protected by deep bunkers and jungle. Par is cause for celebration.
I was told that the course record is 63, not strokes but golf balls. That is correct, 63 lost balls. Wonderful scenery on just about every hole, but be prepared to be a mudder. This course will humble you. While in Hawaii I strongly recommend visiting Pearl Harbor and make sure you get there early and don’t forget to thank me later.