(7/1/14 – By Jim Allen) … Some of the best golf trips start off as something completely different than their original intention. What started out as an overall need for a real vacation — along with a belated-honeymoon, a 60th birthday party, and an assortment of landmark wedding anniversaries — turned out to be Golfest 2014 – Hawaii. And since most of us are only in a position to enjoy one real vacation this calendar year, there was no way this annual golf trip was happening without bringing our better halves. So while us male-Golfestians enjoyed Golfest 2014 – Hawaii, our women enjoyed an assortment of activities resembling Spafest, Poolfest, Shopfest, and Don’thurryback-becausewe’rehavingagoodtime-spendingallofyourmoney-withoutyoufest!
This Golfest included 72-holes of golf at three different quality courses, including one recognized in the Top 50 in the United States. All were located in paradise; the big island of Hawaii. Our basecamp was the massive Waikoloa Hilton, located about 20 miles north of the airport. A few of us had stayed at this resort about a decade ago and it was still worthy of a return trip. One can almost ignore the $14 poolside cocktails and $22 per day valet parking knowing that 36-premium golf holes were located directly behind our Ocean Towers. Yup, the Waikoloa Beach and Kings Courses wrap around through this Hilton vacation property. One can actually smell the grass while lying in bed. Mix that with the sound and scent of the ocean tide and it gives sizzling bacon a pretty good run for its money.
Waikoloa Resort Beach Course: Hawaii is a place where golf typically comes with a higher than at home. We wouldn’t expect anything less. And it’s pretty much a given that any pro shop cash register will ring up a higher number when the word “Beach” is worked into the course name. This prompted some serious web surfing in search of a more local-friendly deal. That turned up a treasure called a “Koloa Card,” something that was buried deep in the fine print. It’s really nothing special except that it makes you pay for a minimum of three rounds up front for a severely discounted price. In our case, $140, down to $105. We each saved a Ben Franklin before we even laced up our shoes. And in reality, one VISA transaction was easier than making three. “We’ll take five Koloa cards to go please!”
Our five golfers represented four states – Jim Dee & Chuck DeFrancisco (Arizona), Steve Sheldon (Tennessee), Bob Potts (Utah), and myself (California). But as most courses do in the essence of preventing slow play, we went out as a three and a two. J.D., C-Def and Pottsie led the way. Steve and I, who last played together two-years prior in Indiana at Fuzzy Zoeller’s Covered Bridge Golf Club, got partnered up with Christen Bartelt and her father Ted. Tennis fans may recognize Christen Bartelt as a former professional tennis player and a current announcer for ESPN Interactive TV in three out of the four annual Grand Slam events. She’s also an acclaimed lawyer in Malibu, who has been golfing for only a couple of years. Her tennis swing translates very well into a golf swing.
For those of you who have never golfed in Hawaii, it’s sort of like desert golf – EXCEPT – where in Arizona, one would be hitting out of the desert dirt and at Waikoloa it’s lava and you’re dropping another ball. Even if you do find your ball in Hawaii, half of the dimples are missing from the ball. The views are outstanding and the grass offers great contrast as all of the fairways are bordered by dark and very rugged dried lava flows. Robert Trent Jones had to really think this layout through, because he wasn’t moving soft dirt with a bulldozer. They had to jar coarse lava rocks out with a jackhammer. The good news is that this is a wide tourists-friendly Resort Course. After all, it’s not real good for business when the paying customers get their asses handed to them by a tough course.
The signature hole on the Beach is the par-5 12th hole which ends at an ocean outcropping. Hence the name and the green fee premium. It’s a dog leg left-right combo. Unless you bite off a huge chunk of the corner lava flow and drop softly on the fairway, it’s going to take three-shots to get on this green. It’s also a lot safer that way. From there it’s possible to see hump back whales, an outline of some tropical islands in the distance, and occasionally even a rare three-putt. You don’t get that combo back home!
Waikoloa Resort Kings Course: The Waikoloa Marshalls and course officials are laid back, having little, if any stress in their lives. So laid back that I’m surprised they don’t fall over. But then again, this is Hawaii and there is absolutely nothing to worry about – except for the occasional live lava flow or hurricane. Have you heard of “Hawaii-Time?” It’s the real deal. They let us go out as a five-some, which wasn’t going to be an issue because we always play fast. We never saw a Marshall the rest of the day and we never waited for anyone in front of us, or held up anyone behind us. The game of the day was a two on three game of WOLF – which was remarkably competitive – especially when the good-natured trash talking kicked in.
Chuck DeFrancisco decided about halfway through the round that we needed to make sure we were on Hawaii Time also. He determined that the best way to synchronize our watches was to add another person to our team by the name of Jose – like in Jose Cuervo!!! Who were we to argue? Our Hawaiian cart girl gladly accommodated our request with a handful of airplane Tequlla bottles. A couple of down-the-hatch high-fives later and the golf became very free-flowing, as well as the humor level. Bob Potts shot a 39-38, scored seven dots, and collected most of the money. The rest of us were in the low 90’s, except Steve Sheldon whose score resembled an Arizona summer temperature. However, Steve finished with six-dots proving that it’s how you golf, but who you pick as teammates.
Mauna Kea Golf Course: This was the crown jewel of our trip – rated number 32 on our famed Top 100 Public Golf Course in the United States list. What made it even better was that Mauna Kea was only a short 20-minute jaunt up the road from our resort. Mauna Kea is one of those rare courses that looks as good as the touched up-color enhanced photographs that most golf clubs post on the web. You even get a nice teaser driving in, coasting past the tee box of the signature par-3 third-hole that is all carry over a small bay. It is one of the best golf holes ever designed. This one should be on the tourism brochure for the State.
The Robert Trent Jones Sr. designed venue is a roller-coaster ride from the first tee to the 18th green. There are tons of elevation changes throughout the round and many of our drives rolled out nicely. To put those elevation changes in perspective, the course ranges from 3’ above the water to 300 feet on the 18th tee box. The back-nine is loaded with doglegs and the greens are scary fast. Most of the 99 bunkers at Mauna Kea were exceptionally deep and the club faces were opened wide to pop out of them – sometimes not on the first attempt. But we wouldn’t expect anything less from a Top 100 venue.
Speaking of the par-4 18th hole, it has been voted the toughest finishing hole in Hawaii and we really couldn’t argue with that fact. From the elevated tee box, the view on this dogleg right is bunkers and brush on both sides of the fairway. This demands a perfect poke to have any chance of par. Once you get down to the fairway landing area, you can finally see the green which comes into view as you round the curve. We finished with two bogeys, a double, and a triple. By the way, we went out as a foursome today because Chuck was either subpoenaed or summoned by his better-half to generate sone non-golf course relate “quality-time.” We’re pretty sure that was code for “fooling around.”
Waikoloa Resort Beach Course: The reality was starting to set in that this trip was almost over. 54 down, only 18 to go! Our fourth and final round of golf meant our time on the Island was counting down very quickly. Something resembling a career was only 48-hours away and it was calling our names loudly. Damn, we were just getting warmed up? The drives were getting longer, the yardage was getting dialed in on the iron, and the Beach Course played without an advantage since we now possessed the sacred course knowledge. Jose Cuervo didn’t show up today, but Mr. Vodka Cranberry and an assortment of cold beer did and it was an awesome day and end to the golf-portion of our trip. For Steve Sheldon, he played a years worth of golf in a week, because the four-rounds matched how many he had played in the previous year. That’s something he plans to do more.
And for the official endorsement of this review, and for those planning your next golf-related trip, Golfest does recommend the Waikoloa Hilton Resort. It should be considered if you’re planning a lazy vacation where you only want to wander about 200 yards either way from your room. Good food, Good Drinks, Good activities, and two Geat golf courses on the property.
And there you have it, Golfest 2014-Hawaii. It didn’t start that way, but it ended up that way. And somewhere in the process, our wives had a good time and we are better husbands because of it. That’s our story and I’m sticking to it.
The Mauna Kea Golf Club was named our 2014 Golfest Course of the year. Congratulations!