Arnold Palmer Course at Turtle Bay Resort in Kahuku, HI
Tee Time: February 7, 2014, 2:00, 75 F, rainy
Designer: Arnold Palmer/Ed Seay (1971)
Playing Partners: Jordan Ritenour, Greg Ryan, John
Tees: Gold, Par 72 (70.8 rating/133 slope/6,225 yards)
Course Handicap: 9 (8.0 index)
Stats: 86 (41-45); 39 putts; 9/14 fairways; 10/18 greens; 1 penalty stroke
There are so many things to do on the Hawaiian island of Oahu that you can almost forget to do the one thing you came to do: relax. Between hours of beach volleyball, deep sea fishing, nightclubs open until 4am and the necessary trip to Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial, it can be hard to remember to come up for air every now and then. For me, golf is the ultimate relaxation. Four (sometimes five, let’s go people) hours of hanging out with buddies in the fresh air on green grass will ease any stress away. For some, golf is the opposite. The club-throwing, f-bomb dropping, cringe-inducing malcontent who swears the world is on a personal vendetta against him specifically through shanked 5-irons and bladed sand wedges.
Our playing partner John is not that person. John is the person I wake up every morning wishing I could be before remembering I have responsibilities and work for a living. John never got that far. He’s the stereotypical Hawaiian surfer bro. Smooth-swinging, sun-beaten and without a care in the world, he beat me by 2 skins despite being on his second 18 of the day, four joints and a case of beer in his newly 43-year-old body (and repeated stops to get it out of that body). I know for sure I’ve never had an experience like it, and it was awesome. If Jimmy Buffett were a 10-handicapper and washed golf carts for a living, you’d have this guy.
Turtle Bay Resort has two golf courses, one designed by Tom Fazio and the other by Arnold Palmer. The Palmer Course is about a 5-10 minute cart ride from the main clubhouse and has its own practice facilities. Once on the course, there is nary a building in sight except for the eerie abandoned mansion viewable from the 14th fairway. This isolated feel, combined with the ever-present crashing of waves on the North Shore just a fairway wood away from most holes, is as close to nirvana as you’ll get on a golf course. Probably even moreso when Mary Jane is in your foursome. Considering these courses are at a world class resort, the facilities seem a bit small, but that doesn’t diminish their charm. The pro shop is stocked with everything you could need, from blister tape to towels and plenty of turtle head covers. The bar is a nice little tiki hut that serves anything you could want, with good hot dogs as well.
The front nine opens with a short dogleg-right par 4. Sand guards the entire approach to the large green. The 338-yard 2nd is a target golf kind of hole. Aim out left into the fairway and avoid the zen garden of sand right of the short grass. Any approach from the fairway is a simple short-iron to one of the course’s flatter greens. The first of the par 5s, the 452-yard third, has one large fairway bunker placed perfectly in the landing zone. It’s shallow enough to hit a long club out of, but an otherwise reachable green can easily be swept away. The water on the left and highway to the far right makes this one of the narrower drives of the round. I would say just aim at that center trap and pray you miss just a little or catch a good lie. The long, 181-yard par-3 4th has one of the most massive greens at the Palmer Course and if the pin’s on the left, birdie is all but impossible. No way you wanna mess with that water hazard bordering out there. The banana dogleg-left 5th bends so much you can’t even see the green from the tee of this 381-yard par 4. Tall trees fend off any ambitious corner-cutters, but if you take the smart route the hole loses its teeth.
There might be more hazard than grass at the 367-yard 6th. All you see from the tee are fairway traps to the left and center while water and marsh creep in from the right. Going just right of the fairway traps is the shortest line, but the safer line is much longer left of the sand. Have fun with that. The green at the 7th is easily the prettiest scene on the front side, with a nice peninsula lined with big rocks and lush water grasses. The easiest hole on the course to me is the 155-yard 8th. If you aren’t dialed in with a 7-, 8- or 9-iron, you need to get back to the range. This is a guaranteed GIR and how many putts it takes from there is up to you. Hopefully enjoy the par on 8 because the dangerous 511-yard 9th has plenty of nasty spots to swallow golf balls. From the tee, it looks pretty straightforward. On the right is more marshland, while left brings those nasty Banyan trees into play, the ones with roots sprouting down from their limbs. The water rides the entire hole along the right, so you have to be careful trying to bite off too much of the second shot for an approach to the elevated green.
The 359-yard 10th is almost a little breather to begin the back nine. Without much to worry about (the main fairway trap is unreachable) and water so far away only horrendous tee shots will be swimming, enjoy an easy par. Watch out for the green, though, where I left a 40-footer eight feet short and John introduced me to a completely new golf term. Seeing my putt wimp out, he started cackling.
“Ohhh G-Man, you left yourself a dickhanger!”
I still have no clue what that means, but I must use it next time out.
The dangerous par-4 11th doglegs right and probably has the most water of any par 4 on the course. It is a great hole; the bend is just big enough to prevent cutting the corner, meaning less than a driver needs to be hit to leave a short-iron to a large green with, mercilessly, no sand around it. The shortest par-5 on the course, the 442-yard 12th, is definitely a green-light hole from the fairway. Anything missing left is in water, however. The good news is there’s no trouble short, so you could theoretically take an extra club and swing easy, making it less likely that disaster might happen.
And then the rains came.
Our luck ran out as the tropical monsoon finally hit. My scores went downhill around here, so for storytelling purposes, this was a Cat-5 superstorm with biblical wind gusts and torrential rains. (In reality there was no wind and the warm rain felt like a refreshing shower.) The Palmer Course drains very well, by the way. The rain had been steady for a couple days, and aside from a few puddles in the low spots, the course was in excellent shape. Only after an hour of steady rain did the grass finally feel soggy and started plugging. The greens stayed true, though there ended up being some slick spots where a putt would almost take off before slowing down again, making lag putting an adventure.
Maybe the scariest hole on the course is the par-3 13th at 175 yards. With the water dominating the entire right side of the layout, the green looks much further away than it is, and anything leaking starboard will kick in for a swim. A mirror image of the 11th, the 364-yard 14th doglegs left around trouble to the green. The cool thing here is off in the distance you can see ancient Hawaiian ruins… from circa 2005. Or it might just be an unfinished mansion, who knows.
And then John said something that scared even our battle-hardened Army officer: “I know an awesome shortcut. Follow me through the forest guys!”
Obviously I survived to tell the tale. But my heart was racing too fast and that’s obviously why I double-bogeyed the par-3 15th. What other excuse do I have for blowing such a simple, slightly uphill 149-yard chip shot? The final hole away from the ocean is the long par-4 16th. The fairway is narrow and water guards the front and left. It all comes to an end at the fantastic finishing par-5 18th. The tee shot is pretty straightforward, but hit a good one and then the fun starts. I left myself about 240 yards, about 225 to carry the water in front and on the right, with a tree left, sand behind and also to the left. Seeing as how both my matches came down to make this a $15 hole (which is, like, two gallons of gas on Oahu), I smoked a 3-wood to 15 feet and finished with a birdie. I wouldn’t recommend it, but moments like that are why golf is so fun. That final rain-splattered birdie through a very hazardous par-5 that was reached in two gave me a bigger high than whatever John was smoking all day.
Saying Turtle Bay Resort’s Palmer Course is a must-play when on Oahu is like saying Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck is a must-visit. These things are a given, because there’s nothing like it in the world. (Well actually there are about 100 shrimp trucks on the North Shore, but Giovanni’s is the best). What better way to enjoy a half-day outdoors in tropical weather than to be among abundant plant life and picturesque water? The great thing about this course is that it’s player-friendly as well. The round is as tough as you make it. Lower handicaps will find a good challenge. We came on a soggy day with heavy air and no wind, which made the course play longer. Other days the trade winds can whip up and wreak havoc with the golf ball and your scorecard. It probably was a little too short from the Gold tees, but from there everyone had a fun time. There is nothing unfair about the course and with all the routes each hole offers, any kind of golfer can make a par on any given hole. Might also wanna bring a beach towel, because like everywhere else worth visiting in Hawaii, you’re gonna get sand stuck to you.
#17, Par 4, 375 yards, 4-handicap, My Score: 7
Layout: A; something for everyone. Long par 5s, reachable par 5s. Doglegs to the left and to the right. Daunting par 3s and also some chip shots for those that want a hole in one (can’t be that hard).
Amenities: A; a great pro shop that’s as stocked as any PGA Tour Superstore, and a great outdoor bar.
Staff: A; well obviously the round the bartender bought us inflates the grade a bit, but everyone else here provides top-tier service as well.
Difficulty: B-; on this day it didn’t play tough at all, just heavy. On any other day I could see it being a bear, but never to the point where you would go home frustrated.
Scenery: A; Turtle Bay has a beauty you can’t put into words. Well, I can’t. I’ll let Rocky Nunes, operations manager at Las Vegas National who recommended this course to me, sum it up: “Finally… Turtle Bay resort. To me, by far, one of the most beautiful places ever. I can’t find the words to describe this place other than it’s home. The last few holes are next to the ocean and secluded beaches.”
Value: B; $110 for visitors to the island, less for residents and resort guests. A fine deal that includes cart and range balls. Everything costs more in Hawaii, but in some places it’s definitely worth it. It was 20% of my vacation budget though…
Overall GPA: 3.6 (A-); sure my pictures on an overcast day didn’t turn out especially vibrant, but don’t let that fool you. This place is required for anyone visiting this particular island, golfer or not.