Away Game | The Big Island, Hawaii
Bigger Is Better
A getaway to Hawaii might seem like the perfect way to escape the worst of winter, but the weather on this archipelago in the Pacific is less predictable than you might think. Your best chance to avoid a washout from December through February is the Big Island's west coast. One of eight major islands that make up the state of Hawaii, the Big Island is known for its extreme contrast in precipitation: The east coast, or Hilo side, receives an average annual rainfall of 130 inches; the west coast, the Kona side, gets just 10 inches. (Las Vegas -- in the desert -- gets 4½.)
I've spent a lot of time touring the major islands of Hawaii the past few years, and some of my lasting impressions include the breathtaking spectacle that is Kauai's Na Pali Coast, the winter waves of Oahu's North Shore, and the romantic charm of Lanai and Molokai, each without a single stoplight. If I were judging a Hawaiian-island beauty contest, Maui would walk off with the sash that reads: "Best All-Around."
Hawaii never ceases to surprise, and on a recent trip to the Big Island I was blown away again. And not just because I looked into the eye of an active volcano.
I visited the Big Island for four days in early 2010. I flew into Kona on a 40-minute shuttle out of Honolulu, but there are direct flights into the Big Island from several West Coast cities. While I was in town, I took my first helicopter ride, which was easily worth the anxiety I experienced leading up to takeoff. We flew over multiple ecosystems, including the snow-capped Maunakea (Hawaiian for white mountain) and the waterfalls off the Hamakua Coast. The Big Island is also home to one of the world's most active volcanoes, Kilauea, which has been spewing lava since 1983. To buzz past the heat is as intense as you would think.
Thankfully the adventure didn't end with the helicopter ride. I played three rounds of golf, sampled two lodging options at one resort and screamed as if I needed saving while zip-lining over the trees of the Kohala rain forest.
When I see a reference to a "king" in the name of a golf course, I assume it was built by Arnold Palmer. But not at Waikoloa, where the Kings' course was designed by Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish. The more Weiskopf courses I play, the more I think his designs are underrated. They tend to be fair tests of golf with limited gimmicks, and they're enjoyable to play. That was true of this layout.
Weiskopf usually has one short par 4 that tempts long hitters to go for the green from the tee. The Kings' course has one on each nine.
I gambled both times and made a par at the 293-yard fifth and a double bogey on the 318-yard 13th -- the rub of trying to hit a shot off lava rocks.
If there's a gimmick here, it's that they refer to the Kings' course as a "Scottish links experience." Sure, it's rolling and has wispy grass, but it also has trees, is missing any holes along the water, and doesn't link the nearby land to anything other than open space.
The second course at Waikoloa is the Beach, designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. Despite some forced carries, it's known as the easier of the two. I didn't get a chance to play it this time, but if it makes sense for your schedule, look into the pre-pay multiple-round packages offered. You can get as many as four rounds on either course for $385, which is a good value, especially relative to the price of the competition.