Playing Hassle-free Golf in Hawaii Without Hauling Clubs 0 141

Hawaii Prince GC Ewa Beach

Good Rental Clubs are the Key

There are the obvious joys of a trip to Hawaii, and then there are the joys of traveling to Hawaii without dragging golf clubs. The club-less version is something I’d recommend heartily.

Makalei Golf CourseTo set the scene, my time on Oahu was going to be without a car, which severely complicated the golf logistics — until I rang up Norm Guenther, publisher of Hawaii Golf News and Travel, Hawaii’s state golf newspaper. Norm also books golf packages. My best choice, he said, would be the Hawaii Prince Golf Club in Ewa Beach.

“But isn’t that on the other side of Pearl Harbor?” I asked. “Yes, but it has a shuttle from the Waikiki hotels. Which hotel are you staying at?” The Ilikai, I said. “Then you can catch the free shuttle at The Hawaii Prince Hotel, less than two blocks away.”

As the sun came up, I met the shuttle outside the hotel’s lobby, which overlooks the harbor from which Gilligan, the Skipper and crew departed for their three-hour tour, which took three years on TV to complete. The shuttle ride to the 27-hole Hawaii Prince Golf Club took 35 minutes.

Designed by Arnold Palmer and Ed Seay in 1992, the Hawaii Prince’s overall layout is flat, but it has multiple elevation changes tee to green that add challenge and visual interest. Players wind through a deciduous tropical forest beneath the final approach of airliners landing at nearby Honolulu International Airport.

On my trip from the Mainland, I had brought a glove, athletic shoes/walking shoes and a sleeve of Pro V1s. When I learned that I would be playing as a single, I hedged my bet and bought a sleeve of Bridgestone e5s — fearful of running out of balls far from the clubhouse.

The Prince’s holes are visually deceptive. Rises and mounds make it difficult from the tee to pick out a line and stay in the fairway. Four times I was certain my tee shot was OB in or near the woods, only to crest a rise and find my ball safely in the fairway or sitting up in the Bermuda rough.

The rental clubs were a pleasant surprise, too: TaylorMade Burner irons, woods and hybrids in great condition. A few years ago, golf properties in Hawaii quickly recognized the existential threat airline baggage fees posed and upped the quality of their rentals. Some, like the Hawaii Prince, continue to offer free or deeply discounted quality sets.

With clubs and cart, a round at the Hawaii Prince goes for $139, or $119 if you’re a Hawaii Prince Waikiki guest. For the business traveler, or someone who simply would prefer not to rent a car, the free shuttle from Waikiki is a no-brainer. The shuttle runs to the course from the Waikiki Beach Marriott, the Sheraton Princess, the Sheraton Waikiki, the Hilton Hawaiian Village and the Hawaii Prince Waikiki Hotel.

There are two shuttle pick-ups in the morning: at about 6:30 and 10:20 a.m., depending on your pickup point. Return runs leave the course at 2 and 5 p.m. A shuttle seat is reserved by the golf course when you book your tee time.

With parking so dear along Waikiki, my recommendation is take a cab from the airport (about $40, including tip) and rent a car only for day trips around the island. Like schlepping clubs after a long flight, the last thing you need in Paradise is having to worry about parking.

Jack Lord, Hawaii 5-0A footnote: I stayed at the Ilikai Hotel & Suites in an ocean-view condo owned by a friend. Jack Lord of the original Hawaii 5-0 series was famously photographed in the opening on an Ilikai balcony, and soundless reruns of the show loop continuously on a TV near the hotel’s registration desk. Although dated by modern hotel standards, the Ilikai is well-situated off the west end of Waikiki and is well-served by trollies and city buses. The night-time panorama from the bar in the Ilikai’s rooftop restaurant, Sarento’s, is worth the price of a drink and appetizer.

One regret: not getting to the Ala Wai near Waikiki, which hosted the 1960 Men’s Amateur Public Links Championship. Ala Wai is within walking distance from Waikiki hotels across the canal. The course, which opened in 1931, was once considered one of the best munis in the United States and its territories.

Golf on the Big Island

On the Big Island, a car is vital to seeing the most diverse of the Hawaiian islands. With a perennially sunny beach on the Kona side, a rainy forest on the Hilo side, a moonscape in the middle and the Kilauea Volcano belching steam and lava to the south, the Big Island resembles every place from New Zealand to New Mexico to Monterey and Panama.

Makalei GC HawaiiEight miles inland from Kona, straight up the hill, lies Makalei Golf Club. “It’s the closest course to where you’re staying at the King Kamehameha Hotel,” Norm had advised. “It’s a very mountainous course, with peacocks and wild turkeys wandering around.”

With a 900-foot elevation difference across the course, I imagined a typically gimmicky mountain layout with balls bounding into the woods, impossible blind uphill approaches and a day of exasperation, but Norm promised I’d not be disappointed. At check-in, seeing that I was a single and a first-time visitor, the starter paired me with Chris, a Makalei member and the captain of a 42-foot charter sportfishing boat, the Ohana. He runs charters out of Kona and moved to the Big Island after a decade in Cabo San Lucas.

With Capt. Chris’ help, I navigated Dick Nugent’s ingenious 1992 design, which is indeed severely uphill, downhill and cross-hill and nearly impossible to walk. But each hole is fair, neither so crazily uphill or downhill nor loaded with severe doglegs that you wonder why you bothered. To Nugent’s credit, Makalei is an intelligent, traditional layout across steep terrain that generally treats a good shot fairly. Players simply must factor elevation changes and some hard-to-spot winds above the treetops into their calculus.

The rentals at Makalei were the second happy surprise: Taylormade RBZ irons, woods and hybrids in good shape. I still had all l six of my golf balls, but that changed on Maklei’s downhill Par 5 10th hole, where a pulled tee shot hit a cart path and bounded high into the forest, scattering a flock of bright yellow finches. Putting on Makalei’s bent-grass greens was tough, mostly because I failed to heed Capt. Chris’ warning that, despite the apparent break, all putts break to the ocean.

A round at Makalei goes for $89 and rental clubs cost $50. Like at the Hawaii Prince, Makalei gets plenty of tourist play but it has a decidedly local feel and absolutely none of the high-end nose-in-the-air attitude common at some high-end tropical golf destinations.

As Capt. Chris can attest, living in a place like Cabo where they charge $400 a round gets old. Same with visiting such places. Both Malakei and The Hawaii Prince were refreshing in their genuineness, quality, value and affordability. Norm’s sending me to both places was a tribute his local knowledge as a wizened golf newspaper editor who has been on the beat since 1981.

Dan Vukelich is editor of Reach him at

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Pinehurst’s Summer Deals 0 166

Pinehurst No 8 Hole 1

Three-night, Four-round Offer Good Through Sept. 4

Two top golf resort brands are offering special stay-and-play deals.

The Pinehurst Resort is offering three nights and four rounds of golf for between $1,033 and $1,299 per person double occupancy from June 1 through Sept, 4.

The package includes accommodations at one of the resort’s three hotels – the Carolina, Holly Inn or Manor Inn – breakfast buffet, three-course dinner each night, unlimited use of the resort’s practice areas, free shuttles to the resort’s nine golf courses, four rounds of golf and club storage.

Pinehurst No. 8The deal is basically a three-round, three-night’s deal with an extra night’s stay and round of golf thrown in.

Kids under 17 stay and play free when sharing a room with a parent. Kids under 12 eat free.

A surcharge of $195 applies for all rounds on Pinehurst No. 2.

A one-night, one-round, double-occupancy package runs $329 to $459 per person. The resort also offers a three-night, four spa-treatment package, double occupancy, for $698 to $999 per person.

The rate is being called the Golf Week subscriber package, but the resort says anyone is eligible.

Omni Hotels Short-fuse Deals

Omni Hotels are offering discounted rates at most of their properties for stays through Sept. 10, provided bookings are made by May 25.

Rates range from $119 (Austin) to $269 (Toronto). Stay-and-play rates are discounted at most Omni golf destinations, including the Donald Ross/A.W. Tillinghast Old Course at Bedford Springs, Pa.

– Dan Vukelich

Los Cabos’ Quivira: Pebble Beach in Mexico 0 185

Quivira Golf Club No 6

Nicklaus Tested by Beautiful, Severe Baja Terrain

“Have you ever walked the golf course,” I asked Quivira Golf Club Los Cabos’ director of golf, Antonio Reynante.

“My assistants and I tried it once, but we couldn’t get past Number 6,” the fit-looking 35-year-old former mini-tour player told me. “We had to call the shop to come out and take us back in golf carts.”

It wasn’t an indictment of his staff’s physical conditioning so much as a testament to architect Jack Nicklaus’ ability to design a golf course that starts at 30 feet above sea level and climbs to nearly 400.

Quivira Hole No 15 “I thought it was a very challenging yet spectacular piece of property,” Nicklaus said when the course opened in 2014.

“I hope most people will think it’s the most spectacular golf course and the best golf course they have ever seen. And yes, some other people will say, “You have got to be kidding.

That’s an honest appraisal. A cynic might say that Quivira is just a clown’s mouth or windmill away from goofy golf, but in my mind Nicklaus cast aside his usual highly engineered approach; instead, he let Quivira’s landscape dictate an appealing compromise between playability for the vacationing player, visual impact and sustainability.

The result is a track that Golf magazine named “Best New International Course” in 2014. In 2016, Golf Digest gave it the magazine’s Editor’s Choice award for best golf resort in Mexico or Central America.

The Challenge

Part of The Golden Bear’s solution to the challenging elevation changes at Quivira is the longest cart path I’ve ever ridden – 1,500 meters, or just shy of a mile – switch-backing its way 250 vertical feet along the flank of a massive dune-topped granite ridge rising above the ocean.

The ride is both exhilarating and relaxing, much like the first long ascent on an amusement park roller coaster. As you climb between Nos. 4 and 5, the views of the receding golf shop, beach, and the occasional humpback whale breaching well beyond the surf break are reasons enough to pat yourself on the back for choosing Cabo.

Quivira Golf Club Hole No 5Cresting the last switchback to the No. 5 tee box brings a truly vertigo-inducing view – the kind that snaps your senses to full alert, makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, and announces in no uncertain terms that, yes, your golf vacation has finally begun.

To the left: the Pacific Ocean and a sheer drop of 280 feet. To the right: the ridge rising higher still. To the front: a narrow ribbon of grass leading to an unseen green dangling some 100 feet below the layup spot in the fairway. The putting surface itself is perched 125 feet above the surf.

It’s not often I’m thankful to see a “Cart paths only this hole” sign, but this was one of those times. The thought of our cart launching us a la “Thelma and Louise” into the ocean fleetingly crossed my mind.

Quivira No 6 holeThe Par 3 6th is no less spectacular. I’ll let the course description do the talking: “The tee shot must find and hold a long narrow green that drops off to a cavernous bunker and oblivion on the left.”

“Oblivion” would be the Pacific. From the back tee box, the putting surface is but a speck of green 180 yards away, sky blue above, ocean blue to the left, granite brown to the right.

Multiple Personalities

Quivira Golf Club No 13Once the course turns inland, the rest of Quivira’s holes range in personality from those you’d find on the sandy links courses of Scotland to those you’d find in Scottsdale or tucked in the folds of the hills and ravines of Northern California.

What you’ll likely not find elsewhere, though, are Quivira’s four staffed, on-course food and beverage stations, where complimentary beer, wine, tacos and other hand-held fare are freely offered. The halfway house, called the Oasis, features regional cuisine and a full tequila bar.

Pueblo Bonito Hotel and poolQuivira is part of the Pueblo Bonito family of resorts, which has three Cabo hotels, the Pacifica, an adult-oriented beach-side hotel, the Sunset Beach, a family-oriented hotel sited next to a 161,000-square-foot central food market, and the Greco-Roman-themed Rose Resort. For those seeking extra privacy, affiliated residential communities offer condos and freestanding ocean-view villas for rent.

If You Go

What: Quivira Golf Club Los Cabos, Pueblo Bonita Resort

Where: Cabo San Lucas, Baja Sur California, Mexico

When: Moderate temperatures year-round

How much: Greens fees, $227-$370, depending on season; $213 per round as part of a three-round stay-play package. Rooms start at $466 a night.

All the Pueblo Bonito properties in Cabo offer activities that include swimming with the dolphins, whale-watching, jet skiing and guided fishing trips. All offer a variety of spa treatments.

Getting to Cabo San Lucas is a snap, with easy connections through Phoenix. One wrinkle you should know about: For a reason no one I asked could explain, you can take golf balls in your carry-on baggage on the flight to Cabo but Mexican authorities will confiscate them before you board on your return.

 Dan Vukelich is the senior editor at ABQ Free Press, a former editor at Sun Country Golf magazine and editor of Reach him at