The Mauna Lani Resort features two 18-hole golf courses of almost equal renown — the North and South — but the latter may be more ingrained in peoples’ memory than its counterpart due to its role in the annual Senior Skins Game, which was held there from 1990 through 2000.
In particular, the memory might go to No. 15, a par three that plays 190 yards across a small bay to a clover-shaped green, with bunkers on every side. Calling that the most photogenic hole might do a disservice to No. 7, which plays 210 yards alongside a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
Although these and the par four No. 13 merit mention for their prime locations, the rest of the course does due diligence while traveling along the black rock of the ancient Kaniku lava flow. The North Course may be more famous for its instance where some of the black rock serves as a bunker island, but those who land in the fairway trap at No. 10 may find themselves blocked by rock as well.
The course makes a full 18-hole loop, finally returning to the clubhouse — which it shares with the North Course — after the final hole.
Mauna Lani Resort is located on the Kohala Coast on The Big Island and is approximately 23 miles north of the Kona International Airport. It features two wonderful resort courses. The site was originally identified and acquired by local Francis H I'i Brown. He sold the property to Mauna Lani Resort in 1972.
The original 18 hole course was opened in 1981, designed by Homer Flint and Raymond Cain. It was a visually spectacular golf course that featured one par 3 hole crossing a wide Pacific inlet, another par 3 playing into a colosseum of lava, and many holes whose primary challenge was just to hit the verdant fairways and greens
The golf course received rave reviews from the moment it opened. However in 1991 the resort employed architects Robin Nelson and Rod Wright to expand the 18 holes to 36, creating the North & South Courses
The South Course is routed through rugged lava from the prehistoric Kaniku lava flow. While it is a resort course and playable for all, it can also challenge the best. It offers the golfer a distinctly Hawaiian experience with a combination of lava, mountain and ocean views interspersed with lakes and swaying coconut trees. The South Course is also home to No.15, one of the most photogenic golf course holes in the world.
Mauna Lani Resort's championship South Course was the home to the Senior Skins Game from 1991- 2000, and was one of the world's most exciting televised golf matches. Golf legends such as Raymond Floyd, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Chi Chi Rodriquez, Gary Player, Hale Irwin, and Jim Colbert attended The Skins.
The south course is the more popular of the two courses at Mauna Lani because it is the more scenic, and has a number of holes touching the ocean, while the north course travels more inland.
The course starts quietly with a number of holes framed by black lava before heading for it's first encounter with the sea at hole 7. The black lava looks great and proves an imposing hazard.
Each hole has a bit of character with nice splash bunkering, some water in play, and the ever present black lava both framing the holes and providing ‘pop up’ hazards in strategic places- tightening fairways, dominating bunkers, adding to the drama of approaches to the greens, and generally adding to the visual impact of each hole.
Hole 3 added a water carry over a lake, but it is hole 7 that is the first to really get the heart racing.
With different tees to cater for all levels of player, and the dramatic coastline on the left of the tee, the challenge is to carry lava and water to hit the picturesque pear shaped green. Stop! Take a picture or a video with that wonderful coast as a background feature. The rolling waves crashing over the rocks and splashing high in the air provide endless entertainment- an ideal distraction from any golfing woes. It really is a gorgeous place to play golf.
While holes 8 & 9 are nice holes, again framed by the lava, they head back inland to the clubhouse- giving some respite from the drama on 7.
The back nine repeats the formula with some very pleasant lava golf helping us wend our way back out to the coast. Hole 12 is a mid length par 3 with water carry and water extending down the right side of the hole.
Hole 13 heads to the coast and is a short dog leg par 4 with skyline green- the iconic 15th hole is a compelling background to those who know the course.
When you have putted out take a minute to take a happy snap of the 15th hole from the 13th green, and note the spectacular ‘tiger tees’.
Fourteen is another nice lava hole, but by now you know what is coming and all your attention is on that fifteenth tee shot.
Hole 15 is one of THE dramatic holes in golf with a carry over the churning white top waves to a green sitting on the distant peninsula. There are a number of different length tees- so choose carefully… The back markers are 196 yards and the wind off the ocean IS a factor. You will need to hold your nerve, choose the right club, and make a good swing! Make sure you record your memories on this hole, it is a special place.
Holes 16, 17 & 18 are solid lava holes, but a bit of an anti climax after hole 15.
Overall, the South Course at Mauna Lani is a joy to play. For those who have not played in Hawaii before, the black lava will make this a unique experience.
The course is ideal for resort golf, and played off the appropriate tee will provide a very enjoyable days golf (with some really spectacular holes thrown in).
There are no nasty tricks or surprises- the greens have nice movement without excess, and the strategic use of all hazards: lava, bunkering, water and ocean has been applied with a deft touch
If you are planning a golfing holiday on The Big Island, do not miss Mauna Lani Resort- South Course It is an unforgettable golfing experience
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
Great Course, had a blast playing here. Been fortunate enough to play both the North & South courses multiple times. Both are excellent tracks. Lush fairways and quick greens. Putting against the grain will slow the ball considerably but that goes with every course on the island. Would I play here again? Yes, love this course and the courses that the Big Island has to offer.