Hapuna GC is a Big Island gem, courtesy of the "King"

Hapuna GC is a Big Island gem, courtesy of the "King"

Reid Spencer Editor
image Photo by Reid Spencer
Spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean from the windswept 12th tee at Hapuna Golf Club.

Hapuna Golf Club may not be the best-known name on the Big Island of Hawaii, but what the course lacks in notoriety, it more than makes up for in playability and scenic beauty.

The Kohala Coast provides a gorgeous backdrop for an Arnold Palmer/Ed Seay signature design that features pronounced elevation changes topographically unavailable to the more famous Big Island seaside courses of Mauna Lani, Mauna Kea and Hualalai.

The highest points on the course, the 11th and 12th tees, are exposed to brisk winds that can play havoc with anything but the straightest of drives. Other holes, by contrast, are nestled in natural corridors protected from the prevailing winds.

The opening hole, a modest par 4, plays parallel to the Pacific Ocean at an elevation close to sea level. From the first tee, the course climbs nearly 700 feet to the elevated 11th tee before descending to the 18th green.

The back nine, which plays predominantly downhill—with drop-shot par-3s at the 13th and 16th holes—is nearly 200 yards longer than the front. With the exception of the No. 1-handicap 441-yard sixth hole, which features an intimidating second shot to a narrow green, the course gains difficulty as the round progresses, and the four finishing holes collectively present a worthy challenge.

Holes that don’t face the ocean often provide spectacular views of Mauna Kea, rising to nearly 14,000 feet, the tallest mountain in the Hawaiian Islands. It’s often difficult not to let the scenery distract from what is a solid test of golf with excellent shot values.

Notes: Greens are seeded with Bermuda grass and are well-tended and receptive. The ability to read the grain and the severity of the slopes is essential in judging the pace of putts. The putting surfaces feature subtle breaks that can be exceedingly deceptive.

The staff at Hapuna is friendly and enthusiastic, and the pace of play is generally brisk. The club has a corps of dedicated members but outside play is welcomed. Greens fees include range balls.

Tee spacing is extremely fair and sensible, allowing seniors and women to compete on equal footing. 

Favorite hole: The downhill par-4 12th (photo above), which plays toward the ocean with a view of the town of Kawaihae to the right. There’s more room to the left off the tees than there appears to be, but from that side of the fairway, a large pop-up bunker obstructs the view of the green.

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