Royal Hawaiian Golf Club

Royal Hawaiian Golf Club in Kailua, HI

royal hawaiian golf club
Manny and I

The Stats

Tee Time: February 9, 2014, 9:30, 82 F, overcast

Designer: Pete Dye (1994)

Playing Partners: Manny Nova

Tees: Blue, Par 72 (70.9 rating/136 slope/6,595 yards)

Course Handicap: 10 (8.0 index)

Stats: N/A (we only played the back 9, front was too wet, but I did par 6 straight)

The Course

Royal Hawaiian Golf Club is not a golf course. It’s a paradise. One of those fantasy locations you see on the Travel Channel. Or like the impossibly beautiful and difficult dream courses in Tiger Woods. Granted, part of this ambiance is helped by the fact that the course was completely empty during the round. A week’s worth of steady rain turned the turf into slush and my clothes caked in mud after only nine holes. The front nine was too saturated to play and the backside, at a slightly higher elevation, only slightly less so. But man it’s an awesome place to bring the golf clubs. It somehow feels like you left Hawaii and entered somewhere even more remote in the rain forest. Exotic birds sing, the ridges of the volcanic crater tower into the clouds and every inch not shaped by man is covered in dense foliage and trees. After snaking through the long, one-lane road inland to the facilities I half expected that we would drive through a giant gate with the Jurassic Park logo on top.

royal hawaiian golf club clubhouse
And this is only the start; the view from the practice green over the valley at the towering Ko’olau Mountains

The history of this place is as rocky as those Ko’olau Mountains it’s carved out of. Designed by Pete Dye (so you know it’s gonna be tough) in the early 90’s for the Japanese, what was budgeted to cost $10 million or so ended up closer to $90,000,000. And that’s only completing one of the two proposed courses. Seven-figure memberships were to be offered for the privilege of playing in paradise. Well, as it turned out the course was too remote for travelers and too difficult for locals and the operation started poorly. Twenty years later the golf course, now operated by Pacific Links, is the only part of that grand plan that still lives on. Gone are the luxurious restaurant and extravagant Asian saunas. In some ways it really is like Jurassic Park, especially that whole “spared no expense” aspect, and I think at one point a pterodactyl soared overhead. Sounded a lot like an old biplane.

royal hawaiian golf club hole 10
The snaking (and possibly containing actual snakes) 10th

We only played nine and even then I knew this course is tough. I lost two sleeves of balls in 3 holes. And this was all just barely missing. The sand traps have no lips preventing shots from rolling into the jungle and water is all over. The only good thing about not playing an entire round is I don’t have to see triple digits on the scorecard. But enjoy the pictures, and just know it’s 1,000 times prettier in person. Next time I’m in Hawaii I’ll have to check it out on a drier day. Until then, thanks to Manny for taking me out and telling so many stories about the course, the island and, best of all, my dad. Those are always the funniest. And also probably best left unpublished.

royal hawaiian golf club hole 18
The 18th green, which sadly means the round ends here

Favorite Hole

#12, Par 3, 180 yards, ?-handicap, My Score: 5

This is easily the prettiest hole that I witnessed. From the tee you see nothing but the color green, and a tiny blue flag. Behind the green is a cool mound that gives it a stadium feel. Anything short and left is down in the hazard. It’s basically hit a good shot or make a double bogey. I chose to make the double. Oops.
royal hawaiian golf club hole 12
The gorgeous 12th hole


No grades at this time, consider it a Pass/Fail class. In that case: PASS

royal hawaiian golf club hole 11
The approach to the 11th, and you can see on the left where the bunker will not slow your ball down to avoid the hazard

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