Oahu’s windward side features two astoundingly picturesque layouts where shot- values are exceeded only by the lush jungle-like fauna that surrounds. Set just a couple of miles apart, Koolau Golf Club and Royal Hawaiian Golf Club (no longer Luana Hills and back to its original name) are both located near the Pali Highway, that history-rich artery to downtown Honolulu. They also happen to be the two privately owned, publicly accessible courses that are closest to Oahu’s lodging center known as Waikiki.
Together, Royal Hawaiian and Koolau create Hawaii’s most intriguing and under-the-radar golf destination. Both courses are extremely challenging and deliver a golf experience that is compelling, profound and value-driven. So, if you’re visiting Hawaii, you owe yourself and your game a visit to Oahu’s unique Pali Golf Destination.
Ko’olau Golf Club is carved out of dense, jungle-like foothills at the base of the Ko’olau Mountains on Oahu’s windward side, where shot-values are only exceeded by the lush jungle-like terrain on this astoundingly picturesque layout. By anyone’s standards, this is a compelling course that distracts all comers with stunning views of Kaneohe Bay, tropical fauna and the imposing peaks that loom above. Featuring several forced carries and new Paspalum greens, Koolau can play tough if concentration and proper course management are not employed.
Dick Nugent and Jack Tuthill designed the course to take its place on the short list of world-class courses. In many ways they’ve succeeded. Each and every hole is enhanced by the natural splendor of the tropical rain forest; the majestic creases in the face of the mountains; the sound of birds and the aroma of Ginger Blossoms.
From the sensational 1st Hole, with its 100-plus feet of elevation loss, to the signature 18th, with its two sharp doglegs right and forced carries, Koolau offers a stimulating golf hole beyond every tee. The front side will play a few strokes greater than the back. The par-3’s all play from highly elevated tees, so every golfer must be wary of club selection.
Don’t miss Koolau. Don’t fear it either. It is certainly not for the ultra high-handicapper, but most golfers should play from the three most forward tees (Red-Silver-White). Single-digit men can try the Blues the second time around, but avoid the Gold tips.
The convenient location is also rewarding as it is one of the three closest courses to Oahu’s lodging center—Waikiki. Located just off the history-rich Pali Highway and directly below the famous Pali Lookout, Koolau is a “can’t miss” golf adventure that in every way goes to the esthetic heart of why we all enjoy the experience as much as the game itself. In the Aloha State, where so many courses have eye-popping views and exotic locations, none is more compelling than Koolau GC.
Royal Hawaiian Golf Club is a stunning physical plant on a magical rainforest stage. With the towering ridges of the Ko’olau mountains looming on one side and the sharp peak of Mt. Olomana on the other, golfers are offered an awesome series of contrasting vistas from the well-defined contours of the golf course. Accordingly, nature beckons. Jungle tree species of considerable age soar to over 100 feet while bulbul, egret and the indigenous auku’u (Hawaiian stilt) make regular appearances.
True to country club layouts, the fairways are tight and the greens small. Yet, characteristic of Perry (and Pete) Dye’s designs, virtually every shot presents golfers with a discerning choice. One side of each hole is fraught with risk and the other side extremely forgiving. Play away from the risk to be rewarded.
The Dye imprint on Royal Hawaiian is perhaps most notable in its sensational par 3s. The 7th Hole is played up to 218 yards from a highly elevated tee to a stunning green cut like a bowl out of dense jungle and protected by a gulch running left to right in front of the putting surface.
Not a beat is missed at the game par-4s and thought-provoking par-5s. The 363-yard 6th hole is a superb example of risk and reward. A straight or drawing tee shot blind to the green must avoid perilous hazards on the left. The left-legging fairway literally drops off the table with an approach made to what appears to be a sunken green. Ah, there’s the rub. This dance floor is actually perched above its surroundings.
Royal Hawaiian is both rewarding and inspirational to those willing to play the course rather than have the course play them. To tame the forces of nature, golfers must concentrate and marshal all that is positive in their game. In a sensational garden of golf delights, Perry Dye has crafted a winner.
Play the Koolau Golf Club at the end of your Hawaii or Oahu trip after a few rounds are under your belt. Golfers who play it smart can score well and avoid losing too many balls. Macho golfers, who are enamored with distance rather than accuracy, will have at least one consolation, their golf bags will be a lot lighter for the trip home.