Makani Golf Club—The Course Locals Don’t Want You to Know About
By Kent Coules, Publisher
“Makani” is the Hawaiian word for wind. You could be excused for thinking it means “spectacular views.”
Indeed, when one first drives off Māmalahoa Highway onto Makani Golf Club’s 150 acres, your first view is of its signature 17th hole. It’s a par three with an island green that architect Perry Dye modeled after the “most terrifying tee shot in golf,” the legendary 17th at TPC Sawgrass. Looking at this hole on the drive in is anything but terrifying, however. On a clear day, like the one my playing partner Dave and I experienced, one can see all the way to Maui.
Prior to teeing off, we sat down with Jason Trim, PGA General Manager.“We’re about 30% done on a complete makeover of the course,” says Trim. “We’ve installed new cart paths. The fairways are getting kikuyu grass. The entire course is getting a makeover, essentially.”
Makani Golf Club's signature 17th hole is as terrifying as it is breathtaking
What doesn’t need any improvement is the property itself. “The best part of the golf course is the land,” says Trim. “We’re at an elevation of 2,000 so the vistas are truly amazing.”
He’s right. The holes often switch from an amazing ocean view to one of awe-inspiring Mauna Kea in the time it takes to walk from a green to the next tee. And if you haven’t gotten your fill of water from looking at the vast ocean, there’s plenty on the course. Water comes into play on nine of the 18 holes. “Between the water and the wind, the course can be challenging,” adds Trim, “so much so that the member tees, which play at a relatively short 5,554 yards, still have a slope rating of 121.” (Slope rating pertains to a course’s difficulty. A slope rating of 113 is considered standard.)
Take it from Dave and me, the healthy slope rating is well earned. The water isn’t just “in play,” it’s omnipresent. The wind is a factor on virtually every shot not played around the green. But the course is also fair, even for the first-time player. “For the most part everything is in front of you,” says Trim.
Another of the many gorgeous vistas at Makani Golf Club
What makes Makani Golf Club even more of a “must play” for the visitor is the value. Following a name change in 2018 (from Big Island Country Club) and a rumor that the course was closing to convert to a private country club, Makani lowered its rates to the public. It is a bargain for visitors when compared to some of the resort courses in the Kona and Waikoloa area. Before 8 a.m. and after 10 a.m., rates are never higher than $99 and include cart, range balls and bottled water. Afternoon golfers can tee off after 1 p.m. for only $75. New Titleist club rentals are only $45.
“We have every confidence that we are the best golf value on the island for visitors and locals,” says Trim. “For a 30-minute drive from Kona or an hour drive from Hilo, you are rewarded with a memorable golf experience at a very reasonable rate.”
As for our favorite holes (aside from the aforementioned 17th) we both were blown away by the par-four third hole, which makes its way through the length of the valley. I particularly enjoyed the 16th, a reachable par-five with a huge kiawe tree in the middle of the fairway and an extremely shallow green with a bunker guarding the front and fescue grass behind. (Or maybe I just liked it because I made birdie.)
And along the way, you may notice several nēnē, the state bird, strolling in the fairways. “There are also hundreds of flowering trees and plants,” adds Trim.
Dave and I enjoyed a special day at Makani Golf Club. And if you’re lucky, so will you.
[Editor's Note: A version of this article appears in print in the June-August 2019 issue of This Week Big Island, on stands now.]
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