The Island of Hawaii, or Big Island as it is also known, is an extraordinary place to visit. It’s naturally Hawaii’s largest island where numerous different climate zones create bizarre extremes, including lush rain forests, black sandy beaches, arid deserts and even a snow-capped volcano called Mauna Kea, which is actually a dormant volcano that last erupted some 4,000 years ago. However, it’s also the world’s tallest mountain when measured from the foot of the ocean floor. Big Island is perhaps more famous for it’s active volcano “Kilauea” but, for the benefit of the world of golf, the island really should be better known as home to Nanea Golf Club, Hawaii’s best course.
Opened in 2003 and designed by David McLay Kidd for Charles Schwab and Safeway magnate George Roberts, Nanea Golf Club is the most exclusive club in Hawaii. "Our selection David McLay Kidd to design our course was based on his creativity and his flair for creating outstanding links golf courses, the determination of his entire team to produce the best results, and of course his Scottish brogue." Stated Charles Schwab & George Roberts.
Nanea Golf Club is so exclusive that it shuns publicity. Membership is by invitation only and consequently you’ll have to befriend one of the lucky few to get a game here. Alternatively, you could try and make it into nearby Kealakehe High School’s golf team who are allowed to practice and play home matches here.
The clubhouse was designed to resemble the island’s five volcanoes and the course itself was laid out on a thick lava mantle with the heart of British seaside links at its roots.
We’d love to hear from anyone who has played the course. Better still, why not write a review and let the world know what they’ve been missing.
Nanea is an exclusive golf club on the west coast of Hawaii's Big Island, located around 15 miles north of Kailua Kona. It is an intriguing course. Set on the side of the vast slopes of Mount Hualalai the terrain is hardly ideal for great golf. And with black lava as the base, one would have to say whoever thought of producing a quality links type course on this site might have been out in the sun just a little too long...
But Charles Schwab and George Roberts employed David McLay Kidd to do just that. They wanted to create a very special meeting place for a select group of members, who can talk business, play golf and enjoy the facilities, away from the 'riff raff'.
The clubhouse is unique and commands superlative views over the course and out to the Pacific Ocean, the dining was superb, and the club service levels were everything you could ask for. This would be a very nice place to be a member!
The course is not really a true links course and the green paspalum is not normally the grass of choice on links courses. But the ball does bounce and roll like a links course.
Kidd had a vast parcel of land to work with, and produced a big, sprawling course that measures 7464 yards of the back tees. At Nanea the fairways are wide, and the first cut of rough is also wide and cut low. So tee shots on most holes have to be seriously off line to find trouble.
The long fountain grass rippling in the wind offers a nice contrast to the verdant green of the fairway and first cut, but is basically there for definition, and does not trouble the travelling golfer over much…
Long hitters will love this course, because they are rarely penalised for being off line, and can obtain significant advantage by cutting doglegs…
No, the real action at Nanea is on and around the greens! Perhaps because the whole site is on a constant gradient, it is very difficult to establish whether putts that look downhill compared to surrounding territory, are in fact downhill, and if so, how much!! I have never been so confounded by greens before!
Caddies are part of the deal at Nanea, but even with a caddie advising on slope and speed on the greens for the entire round, we just could not get our putts in the same postcode as the hole. Both of us are good putters, and good readers of the green, who have played many of the better and also the craziest greens going around. We have never floundered as badly! I concluded that given the base slope the course is built on, that perhaps the greens had just a little too much going on....
As you would expect Nanea is beautiful maintained, and has a links feel- but while it has that links style, for me it does not really match the standard of the traditional links courses. Kidd has done a grand job given his canvass but he had very little in the way of natural features to work with. He manufactured some interesting holes, but at least a couple of the greens are just plain awkward and need reworking.
Nanea is first and foremost an exclusive club, with wonderful facilities. It is a lovely place to play golf and rub shoulders with some interesting people. And if you are fortunate enough to be a guest at Nanea you are guaranteed to have a memorable experience. The course is a nice contrast to the Hawaiian courses around- but is not among the better links, or links style courses on a world scale, in my opinion.
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
As others have noted on their reviews, if this course wanted publicity, it would be #1 or #2 at worst. First, if you don’t know about it, or know what you searching for on the internet, you don’t even know this place exists. I talked to several locals and they know a golf course is there, but not sure how you get to it. First you have to drive 2 miles up a completely unmarked road to a gate that only has a camera and call box. Then, once you get through, it’s another 1.5 miles to get to a clubhouse that comes out of nowhere. Then it’s on to an absolutely exquisite clubhouse, with every detail cared for. The practice range is absolutely pristine with logo ProV’s on the range.
Now, I’m not going to get into all the details of the course, because I could go on for days, but I will say that it’s the best course you’ll ever play, next to Augusta. There isn’t a blade of grass out of place, not a divot or ball mark to be seen that hasn’t been previously cared for, and the views, ha! Unreal. Not to mention the caddies are knowledgeable, and know your game better than you by the end of the round (Casey was hilarious). Even a non-golfer would love this place. I consider to be one of the luckiest guys on earth knowing that I was able to play here. If you get an opportunity, drop everything and play.
I have played several fantastic golf courses including Pebble Beach, Spyglass, Sawgrass, Kings Creek, Harbortown and in Hawaii, Kapalua, Prince, Manele, Wailea, etc. I have also visited Augusta National for the Masters, so I’ve seen and played great courses. Nanea is in another whole class than ALL of the courses named above, and in many ways is similar to Augusta National in terms of its exclusivity and in the perfection of its conditioning. There was nary a ball mark on the greens and every blade of grass was mowed to perfection. Pro V1s on the superb driving range and a wonderful and entertaining caddie named Channing who has caddied for pro golfers on that course who I would only have to say their first name and you would know who they are. Anyway, it is the best course I have ever played on and I was thrilled to shoot an 82 as well. A memory I will never forget!
My son and I played Nanea twice. Here, we ventured up to the "caddie tee" on the 9th hole for a great view.
I played Nanea a few weeks ago with a client whose a member and it is easily a top 10 course in the US. Dramatic holes but not repetitive. I have played all the top 10 and Nanea is on par with National Golf Links of America or Shinnecock.