Golfing in Hawaii: The Ultimate 5-Island Guide
“The loveliest fleet of islands that lies anchored in any ocean,” said novelist Mark Twain of his 19th century excursion to the Hawaiian archipelago. Long the tropical target of many a traveler’s desire, America’s far-flung 50th state is a bucket list item worthy of a transpacific flight: giant waterfalls, screensaver-esque beaches, pounding sapphire surf, active volcanoes, and a deluge of Jurassic Park greenery are just some of the marvels that await you there. From hiking to surfing, helicopter touring to beachside lounging, the Aloha State delivers no shortage of thrill and chill. And if you pack your clubs, nothing beats golfing in Hawaii.
For the flag-hunters among us, Hawaii’s incredible topography makes it one of the best golf destinations on the planet. The state boasts more than 70 courses across five islands, many of which the pros—in the PGA, LPGA, and Champions Tour—play for a paycheck on a yearly basis.
Like a pilgrimage to the links of Scotland, you won’t get to every track in a single visit to Hawaii—there’s just too much to see. What you will get, however, is consistent 80-degree temps, impeccably manicured turf, volcanic vistas, and lava-coated fairways that are surefire landing spots for the longest drives of your life.
For now, your best approach to golfing in Hawaii is to give yourself a week and build an a la carte tour using the course guide below. You’ll want to play as many holes as you can, of course, but be sure to enjoy paradise and not spend all of your week driving and puddle-jumping between courses.
Our advice? Pick an island (or two), snag a handful of tee times at some of the world’s best layouts, pack your snazziest floral-patterned collared shirt, and then grip it and rip it. Golfing in Hawaii is a pin-seeker’s dream. By the time your ball settles after that bomb off the first tee, you’ll already be thinking up a reason to come back.
Where to play: The Ocean Course at Hokuala, a Jack Nicklaus design, hosted the best collegiate men’s golfers last winter. Its outward nine takes you through lush jungle before dishing out Hawaii’s longest stretch of oceanside holes, punctuated by the dramatic par-3 fourteenth (this is your Instagram shot) and the daring but driveable par-4 sixteenth (take out the big stick and go for it—you didn’t fly across the Pacific Ocean to lay up).
At Poipu Bay on Kauai’s sunny South Shore, Phil Mickelson shot a 59 in the PGA’s Grand Slam of Golf in 2004—an event Tiger Woods won a staggering seven times. Green mountains and breaching humpbacks off the back-nine’s clifftop coastline underscore this Robert Trent Jones Jr. layout.
RTJ II also designed Princeville Makai Golf Club on the North Shore’s Hanalei Bay; it’s rated one of the best public tracks in the U.S. by Golf Digest. Be sure to rent a GolfBoard so you can surf its immaculate fairways from shot to shot.
Where to stay and eat: Located in the 450-acre Hōkūala resort community and a few minutes from the Lihue airport, Timbers Kaua’i Ocean Club & Residences’ two-to-four bedroom villas (equipped with multiple lanais) provide an ideal basecamp for Garden Isle golfing groups. Sip on a Happy Madison rum cocktail (named for Adam Sandler’s production company’s logo, which features the Ocean Course backdrop) in a surreal two-tiered infinity pool before dining on Chef Zach Cummings’ delectable farm-to-table menu at Hualani’s, which includes fresh ingredients from the resort’s 16-acre organic farm.
Off property, dine at Hukilau Lanai in historic Kapa’a for an old-school Hawaiian-style meal. The ahi poke nachos are a must-order.
Where to play: Your raison d’être for teeing it up on the Valley Isle is Kapalua’s Plantation Course, Maui’s crown jewel and home of the PGA’s Sentry Tournament of Champions each January. Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, the game’s top design duo, drew up the pine-framed mountainside course, located on a former pineapple plantation, back in 1992. They renovated it a few years ago to make it friendlier for guest play (think extra-wide fairways). Prepare for high winds, jungle ravines, jaw-dropping views across the Pacific Ocean to the island of Molokai, and the opportunity for the longest drive of your life on the downhill, 600-plus-yard 18th hole. (Pro tip: book a forecaddie to help you read greens and provide target lines off the tee. You’ll need it).
On the island’s west shore, The Royal Kā’anapali Course offers a fun day on the links and a history lesson. Cultural plaques adorn each tee box, sharing stories of Maui’s Royal Chiefs who once lived on this sacred land. Wailea’s Emerald is a picturesque Robert Trent Jones Jr. design with big elevation changes and excellent course conditions. Its challenging sibling, Wailea Gold, demands a bit more skill and strategy if you want to post a low number.
Where to stay and eat: On the island’s west side, the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua covers 54 verdant acres and rubs shoulders with an ancient Hawaiian burial site. The spa is top-notch, too (book the specialty Lomilomi massage). Each of the hotel’s six restaurants are delicious, but the fan-favorite is the beachfront Burger Shack, which slings burgers, fries, and some of the best hand-spun milkshakes anywhere.
From the hotel, walk down the Coastal Trail to Merriman’s to sample its macadamia nut-crusted mahi mahi and famous pineapple bread pudding. For arguably the best ahi poke bowl in Hawaii, head to Tamura’s, a no-frills market with multiple locations island-wide.
Hawai’i Island (The Big Island)
Where to play: You’d be hard-pressed to find a more thrilling tee shot than the par-3 third at Mauna Kea, which requires a lengthy forced-carry over a spellbinding nook along the Kohala Coast onto a peninsula green. The rest of Mauna Kea, considered one of America’s best public courses, shines from beginning to end with picture-perfect Hawaiian beauty.
In the Kona district, another par-3 worth the price of admission is the 17th hole at the pristine Four Seasons Resort Hualalai, a Jack Nicklaus-designed course that’s home to the PGA Champions Tour’s Mitsubishi tourney. You’ll wind your way through a maze of glossy green fairways and crunchy black lavascape before crescendoing at the sandy seaside signature hole where a birdie could certainly be in your future.
The 15th hole at Mauna Lani’s South Course will never leave your memory: It plays over a blue bay into a clover-shaped green encircled by swaying palms and sand. It’s one of the most photographed holes in the world.
Where to stay and eat: Fresh off a $100 million dollar renovation in 2021, the 865-acre beachfront Four Seasons Resort Hualalai offers the acclaimed Jack Nicklaus golf course, superb sushi at Ulu Ocean Grill, a swimmable aquarium, and tours of Kona’s nearby coffee farms.
For some of the island’s best poke and local fare, head to Umekes Fish Market Bar & Grill, fifteen minutes from the resort.
Where to play: Located forty-five minutes north of Honolulu, Turtle Bay’s Arnold Palmer course is Oahu’s preeminent track. Blending Scottish traits with an Eden-like landscape, it snakes its way through 100 acres of natural wetlands, jungle, and marshes and includes more than 70 bunkers peppering the wild, conifer-lined layout. Although the course hugs Oahu’s shimmering North Shore, the 17th hole provides one of your only coastal views—it plays straight at the surf.
Nestled along the sunny Leeward Coast is Ko Olina Golf Club, where the LPGA’s best played yearly for the better part of last decade. And unless you’re playing it or hovering overhead in an aircraft, you might never find Royal Hawaiian Golf Club, a cruel-but-worth-it Greg Norman design set amid a Jurassic Park-esque landscape. Pack an extra sleeve (or two) of balls for this true bucket-lister in Windward Oahu twenty minutes from Waikiki.
Where to stay and eat: Backdrop for the TV show Lost and mega-hit movie Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Turtle Bay Resort’s 850 acres of North Shore frontage is a surfer’s and sunbather’s dream.
Halepuna Waikiki by Halekulani is an urban oasis in the heart of Honolulu. For home-cooked Hawaiian fare, the smoky kalua pork and boiled butterfish collar at Helena’s Hawaiian Food, an Oahu landmark since 1946, has you covered. Fancy a Chef’s Table experience? A meal at Senia tops many a foodie’s list in Hawaii.
Where to play: Some experts will tell you that Manele Golf Course at Four Seasons Resort Lanai is the best round of golf in the Hawaiian Islands. It’s hard to argue with that statement. Not only is the Nicklaus-designed masterwork a treasure, it’s also the only 18-hole course in town. To get there, hop aboard the hour-long Lahaina-Maui ferry to reach the secluded and unspoiled shores owned by tech billionaire Larry Ellison. Card a two at the mesmerizing par-3 12th hole, flanked by 150-foot-tall seaside cliffs above Hulopoe Bay, and you’ll import home a lifetime of bragging rights.
Where to stay and eat: Lagoon-style pools, a two-story observatory, koi ponds, and serene gardens highlight the spotless grounds at the Four Seasons Resort Lanai. It fronts an aquatic sanctuary as well, supplying guests with some of the best snorkeling and dolphin/whale watching in the region.
Post-round, recap your best shots over drinks and lunch (and a signature ice-cream sandwich) at Views, the course restaurant. Come suppertime, book a reservation at the in-house Nobu Lanai and appreciate the sashimi and sushi ingenuity of renowned chef-restaurateur Nobu Matsuhisa.