HONOLULU – Last week I talked about a golf beauty. Today it’s a golf beast.
The Princeville Makai course on Kauai is a gorgeous setting; challenging but playable. Ko’olau Golf Club on Oahu is something much more treacherous. But just as beautiful.
Where Princeville is located on a peninsula high above the Pacific on Kauai, Ko’olau is hard up against the jagged, ragged green mountains that spike up the centre of the island of Oahu. At one point the course had a slope rating of 163; one of the most difficult numbers of any course on the planet. It’s a tad easier now, down at 153 from the back tees, with a course rating of 78.2. That’s a higher course rating by a couple shots and 12 points higher on the slope rating than the scorecard listed at Pinehurst No. 2 in North Carolina for use during the U.S. Open.
In other words, it’s a bear. A Hawaiian bear.
You pull up into the parking lot of the course, about a half hour from Waikiki Beach, and you immediately know there’s something unusual. It’s not just the massive range of mountains that rise behind the course but the fact that the pro shop/club house connects to a local church.
I ask at the pro shop.
“Let’s just say there’s a lot more praying going on out there (on the course) than in there (the church),” a worker tells me with a laugh.
In the interest of science, I tried the white tees on the first nine holes. To be honest, I found it a bit frustrating. It was pretty as all get out, but there were too many forced layups with five irons and even seven irons, owing to the numerous ravines that slash across the course.
It’s in great shape and the jungle surroundings and towering mountains are lovely to look at, but I found it underwhelming. Until I got to the back and decided to try the gold/yellow tees.
And immediately felt overwhelmed. Not to mention beat up, beat down, pounded, twisted, beaded, braided and battered to a pulp.
There were tough slopes with severe angles. There were forced carries off the tee of 230 yards and more. There was thick jungle everywhere I looked.
I lost two balls on the front nine. I lost ten on the back nine. Yet still managed a 53, thanks to a few sterling shots.
My partner and I looked at each other after the 15 th hole and each issued a deep sigh. We were beat.. But we didn’t’ want to quit, partly because this might be the most beautiful course you’ll ever play that’s not on the water. The jungle-green mountains seem to rise up a few feet from the fairways and the atmosphere is absolutely tremendous.
Highly recommended. But use caution!
I made a quick trip down to Kailua Beach to check out a nice stretch of sand. It’s close to where president Obama spends time at Christmas each year and it’s a gorgeous beach with powdery sand and brilliant blue water.
Back in Honolulu I checked out Tiki’s Grill in Waikiki , where they serve very good, chunky strips of calamari with a lemongrass dipping sauce and excellent ahi tuna poke (raw fish that’s been marinated) that’s sprinkled with spiky seaweed. They have awesome sunset views and reasonable prices and it’s away from a lot of the Waikiki crowds.
I bedded down for one night at the Vive Hotel Waikiki , a very cool, urban spot that feels more like Toronto or Vancouver than Honolulu. They have Asian statues and figurines in the lobby and yellow-gold walls. The Hawaii theme is quite subdued and nearly invisible, really, which makes it a strong and welcome contrast from the touristy places nearby.
They offer free Wi-Fi plus free beach towels and folding beach chairs. There’s also free breakfast and free coffee all-day long and a lending library. It’s not on the beach but Waikiki is a very short three blocks away; maybe five minutes max from the front door.
The only real drawback is there’s no pool. So it’s not really a family spot. Then again it’s clearly aimed at younger, hip couples and folks like me who wish they were hip.
My room, a junior suite on the 19 th floor, was decorated in neutral/dark tones with a nice functional desk and a big sink and lots of counter space plus a huge shower. I had pretty good views of sections of Waikiki Beach and large parts of the Diamond Head crater and the central Waikiki area as well.
I also have to thank the energetic, ever so helpful Zita, the docent at Iolani Palace in Honolulu, for a fine tour. I’d never visited the palace somehow, but I love Hawaiian history. So it was cool to see the only official royal palace in the United States, home to Hawaiian royalty in the late 1800’s.
There’s beautiful wood work and lovely acid-etched glass to admire, as well as portraits of such luminaries as King Kalakaua and Queen Liliuokalani, who was imprisoned here by the U.S. for allegedly trying to foster dissent with American rule.
It’s funny how the U.S. is so keen on preserving local rule in various parts of the world, but Americans were dead-set against the Hawaiians who desperately wanted to keep their royalty in place and who resisted rule by Uncle Sam.
Anyway, if you take the tour you’ll hear great stories about the feasts that the royal family would enjoy and the parties that ended at 2 or 3 a.m. You can admire the royal thrones and peek at their extensive array of cutlery and the medals they were given by various world dignitaries. And the grounds are very pretty, too; lush grass and towering palm trees and huge banyan trees with multiple trunks and jungle-like vines hanging down.
Down at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, I had a half hour of riding the waves on a Hawaiian outrigger canoe. It’s a great experience for folks who want to feel the thrill of surfing but can’t quite manage to get up on a board.
I also was lucky enough to get a refresher surfing lesson with Jo Jo from Gone Surfing Hawaii .
She’s easily the best teacher I’ve ever had, and she gave me a wonderful lesson. I’ve had a few in the ast and I was a halfway decent surfer as a kid, so I had a bit of an advantage. But she was marvellous, and by my fourth try (with her picking the waves and giving me a generous push) I was standing up and enjoying a 20 second ride towards the towers of the beachfront hotels.
My fifth and final go was even better, maybe 25 or even 30 seconds riding a small wave halfway to shore and even dodging a couple guys who surely thought I was going to run them over with my board. Jo Jo knew I was a beginner, but I could hear behind me as I slid past the scared onlookers yelling, “Oh, now you’re just showing off!”
My first surfing experience in the world was on this very stretch of beach when I was 12 years old. As I rode my very gentle wave back to Waikiki last Friday, I felt again like a 12-year-old surfing his first wave. I was grinning like an idiot, and when I got to shore I gave her a huge hug.
I was surprised I could still do it at age 57. And, as corny as it sounds, I will be forever grateful. For one brief, shining moment I was on top of a wave. And on top of the world.