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Courses

The best courses you can play in Hawaii

January 03, 2023

If Scotland’s sandy-soiled coastline presents the ideal conditions for a golf course, then Hawaii’s idyllic landscape that blends volcanic mountains, beautiful ocean views and incredible wildlife might be the gold standard for course aesthetics. Towering, jagged peaks. Lava outcroppings. Whales breaching in the distance.

Each January, when the PGA Tour kicks off its calendar-year schedule at Kapalua’s Plantation course and the Sony Open at Waialae, we’re reminded of The Aloha State’s unrivaled terrain and visual appeal—equal parts dramatic and tranquil. 

Just as each of the major islands has a unique vibe, the golf varies greatly across the state—from Kapalua’s hard-to-fathom elevation changes on the Maui coast to the more understated layouts on the Big Island’s western shores. To help you plan your next Hawaii getaway, we’ve compiled the Best Courses You Can Play in Hawaii, complete with options on five different islands.

Scroll on to read more about each course and be sure to expand each course page to read reviews from our course-ranking panelists. We hope you enjoy our searchable course database, Places to Play, complete with course reviews, experts’ opinions and star ratings.

Manele Golf Course
Public
Manele Golf Course
Lanai, HI
Manele, previously called The Challenge at Manele, has unseated Kapalua’s Plantation course as the highest-ranked public course in Hawaii. And the Nicklaus design is worthy of high praise. It has three ocean-cove holes, including the par-3 12th and dogleg-right par-4 17th. You might argue Manele has been perpetually underranked, starting with its finish on Golf Digest’s ranking of Best New Resort Courses in 1994, well behind World Woods’ Pine Barrens course, which is currently 90th on our 100 Greatest Public.
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Kapalua: Plantation
Public
Kapalua: Plantation
Lahaina, HI

From Golf Digest Architecture Editor emeritus Ron Whitten: Most golf fans are familiar with Kapalua Golf Club’s Plantation Course, home of the PGA Tour's opening event each year. Located on the north shore of the Hawaiian island of Maui, the Plantation was built from open, windswept pineapple fields on the pronounced slope of a volcano and is irrigated by sprinklers pressured solely by gravity. As the first design collaboration by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, it unveiled their joint admiration for old-style courses. The blind drive on the fourth, the cut-the-corner drives on the fifth and sixth are all based on tee shots found at National Golf Links. So, too, are its punchbowl green and strings of diagonal bunkers. It's also a massive course, built on a huge scale, Coore says, to accommodate the wind and the slope and the fact that it gets mostly resort play.

 

Read our architecture editor's complete review

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Mauna Kea Beach Hotel Golf Course
The immediate thrill at Mauna Kea is its iconic par-3 third, a daunting tee shot over an ocean cove that’s a great substitute for those unable to gain an invitation to tackle the 16th at Cypress Point. The remaining holes at Mauna Kea are thrilling, too, with constant views of the ocean, awkward lies on sloping fairways and roughs of crunchy lava rock. A decade ago, Rees Jones updated his father’s original work by relocating and redesigning all the bunkers. They now add to Mauna Kea’s beauty.
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Princeville Makai Golf Club
Public
Princeville Makai Golf Club
Princeville, HI
The first solo design of Robert Trent Jones Jr., Princeville Makai is situated on bluffs overlooking Kauai's Hanalei Bay and pipeline surf. Two of its three nines (the Lake and Ocean 9s) were re-grassed and re-bunkered in 2009 by Jones and partner Bruce Charlton, who also re-established the width of several holes. The untouched Woods 9, now considered the resort's walking course, provides a graphic reminder of how golf has changed in five decades.
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Hualalai Resort
Hualalai Resort
Kailua Kona, HI
4
69 Panelists
Open to club members and guests of the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai, the Hualalai course is one of two layouts at the resort, along with the private Ke’olu course. A past member of our 100 Greatest Public ranking, the Hualalai course was designed by Jack Nicklaus and annually hosts the first event of the season on the PGA Tour Champions. The par-72 plays along the shore and over rugged, charcoal-black lavascape, which along with the ocean vistas enhance the course’s aesthetics.
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Poipu Bay Golf Course
Public
Poipu Bay Golf Course
Koloa, HI
4.1
73 Panelists
Situated on the south shore of Kauai, Poipu Bay is a Robert Trent Jones Jr. design that hosted the PGA Grand Slam of Golf from 1994 to 2006. Formerly a member of our 100 Greatest Public ranking, the course plays over 210 oceanfront acres and features wide fairways and large greens, making this a playable layout. There are numerous historical sites on the course, including several ancient Hawaiian heiau—places of worship—and centuries-old handmade stone walls.
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Wailea Golf Club: Gold
Public
Wailea Golf Club: Gold
Kihei, HI
4
101 Panelists
Our highest-ranked course of the three at the Wailea Golf Club, the Gold course is a Robert Trent Jones Jr. design on Maui’s southwest coast. The layout has plenty of elevation changes and ocean views, especially on the front nine, which several of our course-ranking panelists have noted is the better of the two sides. The most demanding course of the three at Wailea from tee to green, the Gold has well-placed fairway bunkers and a few forced carries over deep ravines. Though with five sets of tees, there’s a playable option for every handicap. In the early 2000s, the course hosted the Champions Skins Game, an exhibition with some of the best players from the over-50 circuit.
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Mauna Lani Resort: North
Public
Mauna Lani Resort: North
Kamuela, HI
3.7
42 Panelists
Situated on the Big Island’s northwest coast, Mauna Lani’s North course is one of two layouts at the resort. The North plays over a lava bed, with charcoal-black rocks framing many of the holes, giving the course a distinct feel that at times resembles a desert-style design. Though the course is predominantly routed through a housing community, there are a few scenic views of the nearby Pacific Ocean. The par-3 17th sits in a natural lava amphitheater and is one of the more unique holes on property, with towering piles of rocks surrounding the green.
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Ocean Course at Hokuala
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Ocean Course at Hokuala
Lihue, HI
The Ocean Course at Hokuala is highlighted by the oceanfront holes on the back nine, which offer tremendous views of the Pacific and nearby mountains. Nos. 14-16 on this Jack Nicklaus design present some dramatic—and challenging—shots along the ocean. The short par-4 16th can be reachable for longer hitters, but the narrow opening to the small green is closely guarded by the Pacific, creating a risk-reward opportunity. A word of advice from Nicklaus, who told Hokuala, “The smart play is usually to hit a hybrid or 3-iron, leaving you a little wedge down to the green.”
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Wailea Golf Club: Emerald
Public
Wailea Golf Club: Emerald
Kihei, HI
The Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed Emerald course at Wailea Golf Club is more forgiving than the Gold—also designed by RTJ—but has the same dramatic elevation changes and scenic ocean vistas as its sibling. Starting with the par-4 opener, there are plenty of downhill tee shots that play to relatively generous landing areas with the Pacific in the background. The views, playability and quality conditioning making the Emerald course an enjoyable track on Maui’s southwest coast.
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Turtle Bay Resort: Palmer Course
Though Turtle Bay Resort hugs the northern coastline of Oahu, the Pacific Ocean is only visible from the 17th hole on the Palmer course. The former 100 Greatest Public course has two distinct nines, with a forgiving front nine and a tighter, more demanding back side. Unlike many dramatically undulated Hawaiian layouts, the Palmer course is quite flat, with water in play on 14 holes. The Arnold Palmer design opened in 1992, but the property has quite an interesting history: It was used by the U.S. Army during World War II, with Nos. 15-18 serving as a landing strip and Nos. 5, 6 and 13 housing military personnel. The course hosted a PGA Tour Champions event in the mid 2000s, with Hale Irwin, Fred Funk and Jerry Pate all winning at Turtle Bay.
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Kapalua: Bay
Public
Kapalua: Bay
Lahaina, HI
Often overshadowed by its sibling Plantation course (annual host of the PGA Tour’s Tournament of Champions), Kapalua’s Bay course holds its own, having hosted PGA Tour and LPGA Tour events, as well as the 1998 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links. The Arnold Palmer design treats golfers to stunning views, including at the signature par-3 17th, which plays directly over the ocean.
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Royal Ka'anapali Golf Course
Public
Royal Ka'anapali Golf Course
Lahaina, HI
Royal Ka’anapali is a Robert Trent Jones Sr. design situated on Maui’s northwest course—a short drive from Kapalua—with terrific views of nearby Lanai and Molokai. The course plays over varied terrain, starting on the coastline before moving into the foothills of West Maui Mountains. Though the course tips out at a modest 6,700 yards, strong trade winds often present a stern test.
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Wailua Municipal Golf Course: Wailua
One of the best deals for golf in all of Hawaii, this muny hosted three U.S. Amateur Public Links Championships. The par-3 17th photographed here features an elevated green to a green carved out near the water.
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Mauna Lani Resort: South
Public
Mauna Lani Resort: South
Kamuela, HI
Situated on the Big Island’s northwest coast, Mauna Lani’s South course is one of two layouts at the resort. Host of the Champions Skins Game—a former exhibition with top over-50 circuit players—in the 1990s, the South course plays among lava outcroppings with views of the Pacific. The course features two scenic par 3s, including the 15th, which plays over the Pacific to a green set hard against the ocean.
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Hapuna Golf Course
Public
Hapuna Golf Course
Kamuela, HI
Adjacent to Mauna Kea Golf Course (a current Second 100 Greatest member), the Arnold Palmer-designed Hapuna Golf Course opened in 1992 and features dramatic elevation changes. As many holes play on an exposed hillside overlooking the Pacific, strong winds are often present and make the course play quite difficult. There is a blend of downhill and uphill holes, with the downhill holes offering fantastic ocean views.
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Waikoloa Beach Resort: Beach/Lakes/Kings
Just down the road from Mauna Lani Resort, Waikoloa Beach Resort features 27 holes that can be played in three combinations. The course has minimal elevation changes and generous landing areas that are often guarded by lava outcroppings. Though Waikoloa Beach is a relatively straightforward resort layout, there are scenic vistas of the Pacific and of Mauna Kea.
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Kona Country Club
Public
Kona Country Club
Kailua Kona, HI
Just south of Kailua-Kona on the Big Island, Kona Country Club is a straightforward yet scenic public layout, originally designed by William F. Bell. The course plays through a housing development but still offers great views of the Pacific throughout. There are several oceanfront holes, including the par-3 third and 12th, while others wind through stands of palm trees and native brush.
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