Ocean views, lava-lined fairways, palm trees – golf in Hawaii naturally has plenty going for it. But the best of the best public-access golf in the island paradise is even better these days after renovations and restorations to several top courses in recent years.
That starts at Kapalua’s Plantation Course, annual host site of the PGA Tour’s Sentry Tournament of Champions. The design team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw oversaw extensive restoration work on the Plantation that wrapped up late in 2019, helping what already was No. 1 on Golfweek’s Best Courses You Can Play list in the Aloha State strengthen its grasp on the top spot.
Golfweek ranks courses by compiling the average ratings – on a points basis of 1 to 10 – of its more than 750 raters to create several industry-leading lists of courses. That includes the popular Best Courses You Can Play list for courses that allow non-member tee times. These generally are defined as courses accessible to resort guests or regular daily-fee players.
Kapalua’s Plantation Course is famous for providing sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean on television as the Tour kicks off its annual calendar each year. The course, which plays some 400 feet up and down the side of a mountain in Maui, opened in 1991, and regular wear and tear over the years led to the renovation that wrapped up 13 months ago. Now the course has been restored to its fast and firm conditions, perfect for golf in the island breezes with balls frequently rolling prodigious distances along sweeping fairways and into greens.
Aside from being the top public-access layout in Hawaii, Plantation ranks No. 44 among all tracks on Golfweek’s Best Modern Courses list for layouts built in or after 1960.
Four Seasons Resort Hualālai in Kailua-Kona, ranked No. 5 in Hawaii on that Golfweek’s Best Courses You Can Play list, is another example of a recent renovation, having wrapped up work in 2020 on its Jack Nicklaus-designed layout. Set among black lava rock alongside the Pacific, the layout received a new coat of paspalum grass, bunkers were reshaped and greens were recontoured. The resort said it worked closely with Nicklaus to retain the integrity of the course that hosts the PGA Tour Champions’ Mitsubishi Electric Championship.
Four Season Resort’s Manele Course in Lanai is No. 2 on Hawaii’s public-access list and is No. 51 on Golfweek’s Best Modern list for the entire U.S. Built by Nicklaus in 1991 on lava outcroppings, the course features three holes atop cliffs above the Pacific.
Mauna Kea Beach Hotel’s eponymous course at Kohala Coast is No. 3 on Hawaii’s public-access list. Built by Robert Trent Jones Sr. in 1964, the layout sits atop a black lava field and received a modernization by Rees Jones in 2008.
Princeville Makai in Kauai, Robert Trent Jones Jr.’s first-ever solo course, is No. 4 on Golfweek’s Best Courses You Can Play list. Opened in 1971 and renovated in 2009-’10, the layout features six ocean holes.
As might be expected, Hawaii also features stunning private golf courses. Nanea in Kona is No. 1 in Hawaii on Golfweek’s Best Private Courses list, and it is No. 17 on Golfweek’s Best Modern list for the whole U.S.
Kukio Golf and Beach Club in Kailua-Kona is No. 2 on Hawaii’s Private list, followed by No. 3 Kohanaiki in Kailua-Kona, No. 4 Hokulia in Kailua-Kona and No. 5 Kukuiula in Koloa.
Golfweek’s Best Courses You Can Play in Hawaii
1. Kapalua (Plantation)
Maui (No. 44 m)
2. Four Seasons Resort (Manele)
Lanai (No. 51 m)
3. Mauna Kea Beach Hotel
Kohala Coast (No. 194 m)
4. Princeville Makai
5. Four Seasons Resort Hualalai
6. Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa (Poipu Bay)
7. Wailea (Gold)
8. Mauna Lani (North)
9. Turtle Bay Resort (Arnold Palmer)
10. Wailea (Emerald)
11. Kapolei GC
12. Ocean Course at Hokuala
13. Wailua Municipal
14. Royal Ka’anapali
15. *Mauna Lani (South)
Golfweek’s Best Private Courses 2020 in Hawaii
Kona (No. 17 m)
2. Kukio Golf & Beach Club
*New to the lists in 2020
(m): modern; (c): classic
Golfweek’s Best 2020
How we rate them
The members of our course-ratings panel continually evaluate courses and rate them based on our 10 criteria. They also file a single, overall rating on each course. Those overall ratings on each course are averaged together to produce a final rating for each course. Then each course is ranked against other courses in its state, or nationally, to produce the final rankings.
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