Hualalai Golf Course: This is Resort Golf at its Finest
Obviously, we’re all acutely aware of the devastating wildfires that have hit Maui recently. While Hualalai is located on a different island, it’s impossible not to feel the impact of the fires wherever you are in Hawai’i right now. If you’re looking to help, you can donate to the Maui Strong Fund where 100% of the proceeds go directly towards addressing Maui community requirements.
There’s a delicate balance right now of being respectful of the tragedy that’s happened, while also recognizing tourism dollars are one of the primary ways the region is going to recover. So when you visit any of the islands, please be considerate of the community. It doesn’t matter where you live, we are all connected.
There are very few resorts in the world that are as highly regarded as the Four Seasons Hualalai.
For years I’ve been hearing about what a special place it is, and recently, I finally had a chance to visit.
Spoiler alert: It’s just as good as it’s billing.
From the eclectic variety of pools, recently refreshed rooms, to ocean views from basically everywhere on property – it truly is a special place.
But amidst the hype of the resort itself, there’s something that often gets lost in the commentary: the Hualalai Golf Course.
Despite hearing rave reviews about the resort itself, I honestly hadn’t heard a ton about the golf course over the years.
So when people ask me if it’s worth visiting on a golf trip, I haven’t really known what to tell them.
Because of this, I didn’t necessarily have overly high expectations for what the course and the experience would provide.
Honestly, I’m glad I didn’t know much about the golf course.
Because when you go in blind it makes every cool discovery about the course and experience that much better.
And after now playing Hualalai, I can safely say it was one of the very best resort golf experiences I’ve had.
What makes it so good? Let’s find out.
First Impressions of the Hualalai Golf Course at the Four Seasons
When you first roll up to the course at Hualalai, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that everything is immaculate.
The driving range, the brand new Golf Hale – everything is exactly how you’d expect it to be.
Over the last couple of years, they converted the course from Bermuda to Paspalum grass, and the result is fantastic.
One of the big differences you’ll notice with Paspalum vs Bermuda is the fact that it allows everything to be closely mowed. So instead of fluffy Bermuda rough (which always drives me crazy), you’ll find tighter lies across all aspects of the course. Not only does it add to playability, but it makes everything look fantastic as well.
They recently did this at Kohanaiki as well, and it’s the right move for this region of the world.
Walking up to the driving range and overlooking the first tee at Hualalai you notice how well-manicured everything is and know you’re in for a beautiful golf experience.
The second thing I noticed when I showed up was the Trackman Range. I wasn’t expecting this, and it’s actually the first course I’ve ever been to that had a Trackman Range system installed.
What this means is you can download the Trackman app, and get accurate Trackman data for every shot you hit. Obviously, it’s the members and regulars who get the most value out of this, but it’s a very high-end and unique feature to have. I didn’t have time to try it out, but it’s worth noting it’s an option.
The Golf Hale was new in 2020 and is very nice. I’ll talk more about what that is later on, but for now, let’s get into what you really want to hear about: the Hualalai Golf Course itself.
Related: Check out my full experience of the rest of the resort at the Four Seasons Hualalai.
Or watch my full Hualalai resort tour here:
The Front 9 at Hualalali Golf Course
Hualalai is a Four Seasons-managed resort course in Hawai’i, so let’s be real, I knew the experience would be nice.
But what I wasn’t sure about was the how the quality of the golf itself would be.
Taking a look down the opening hole, well, it doesn’t necessarily do much to assuage my concerns.
It’s a perfectly fine par 5 with bunkers down either side, and the aforementioned beautifully maintained turf.
But for a course where I was expecting views, drama, and some of that famous black lava rock – the opening hole doesn’t give you much of that.
Donald Ross’ favorite quote is that the opening hole of a course should be a “firm handshake.”
This has sparked offshoots of this quote over the years, such as a “friendly” or “gentle handshake.”
I’d describe the 1st at Hualalai as the latter. Wide fairways and a receptive green give you a chance to score early on, and I always prefer that over an overly brutal start, like you might see at Mr. Ross’ Aronimink.
But once you cross the road and get to the second hole everything changes.
This is one of those moments where I’m glad I didn’t know much about the course beforehand. I got to the first tee and audibly said “Whoa, this is cool.”
The fairways are still generous, but everything about this hole spoke to me. Fairway bunkers across the left of the fairway, and a giant mound of lava rock through the fairway make you feel like the landing area is smaller than it really is. But aim and club selection are important, as both of these could prove to be hazards if you’re not thoughtful about your shot.
The 8th hole at the private Ke’Olu course to the right of the hole also adds visual interest.
The green is perched up in an amphitheater and the uphill approach shot can be tricky if you don’t pull the right club.
Oh and did I mention all of this is happening right at the base of Hualalai Mountain?
I feel like this hole likely gets overlooked because it happens so early in the round, but it was one of my favorites on the course.
And fortunately, things continue to get even better from here.
The 3rd has one of my favorite green complexes on the course, and the elevated tee shot gives you options to play aggressively over the fairway bunker on the right, or to bail out left. If you do the latter, there’s another bunker waiting to swallow up your ball if you’re not thoughtful about your distance.
The way the greenside bunker fades into the lava rock is a recurring theme and makes for stunning aesthetics.
One of the things you’ll hear me talk about throughout this review is the fact I think Hualalai represents the epitome of what I think resort golf course should be.
I’ll talk about some of the elements that make me say that, but a big one is the unique contrast of views and colors.
Sure you’ve got some beautiful ocean vistas, but the contrast of black lava, white bunkers, green fairways, and the ocean in the background? It’s a delight to your senses and truly enhances the enjoyment of the round.
Playing golf in a beautiful place is exactly what you want in a resort vacation, and Hualalai delivers this in spades.
The 4th is a reachable par 5, with another wide fairway that gives you the confidence to really go for it on your tee shot for a chance to get home in 2.
Across the Hualalai course is a very nice quartet of par 3s that each bring something different to the table.
The 5th is a mid-length par 3 with water on the right and a giant ridge down the left.
Here’s another area element of what makes a good resort course in my mind.
With a resort course where the primary goal is enjoyment and playability, you want the golf course to be on your side.
Bunkers should be raised to kick balls back into the fairway, rather than funnel into the sand – for instance.
On 5, a lot of higher handicaps will be scared of the water right, so they’ll bail out left.
The big hill along the left side will take those errant, or safe shots away from the water and funnel them back into the center of the fairway.
They might not quite make it on the green, but the course is giving you a helping hand if you decide to play it safe, which I love.
The 6th is a shorter par 4 with another wonderful green complex. You’ll likely have a wedge in your hand, and a shot at a 3. Just don’t go long.
The 7th is the highest point on the course and provides some stunning views.
It’s a wonderful par 5 that requires thoughtful club selection off the tee. For longer drivers, the lava rock juts into the fairway forming a bit of a gate that’s only about 20 yards wide. It might be safer to lay back to avoid getting blocked out, as getting home in 2 will require a pretty big poke.
That said, once again the course is on your side, as balls that land a little short of the green will likely roll on.
8 is an elevated par 3 with great views and is also the longest par 3 on the course, reaching over 200 yards on 3 of the 4 tee boxes.
Commensurate with that, it features a large green, that’s actually a double green with hole #4.
9 finishes up with a perfectly fine par 4, but similar to the opening hole, it lacks some of the wow factor of the rest of the front.
All that to say holes 2 through 8 is a wonderful stretch of golf that I found to be as fun as it is scenic. It doesn’t beat you up, but if you move back to play from the tips at 7100 yards, things change completely – especially when the wind is up.
The Back 9 at Hualalai Golf Course
Off the tee on 10 you might be lulled into thinking this is a pedestrian golf hole. But once you get up to the middle of the fairway, you find out that it’s anything but.
10 is a fantastic risk-reward par 5.
Short and left of the green is a large swath of lava and bunker. A well-struck drive will give you a chance to go for the green in two – but if you’re short, the unpredictable nature of a lava-bounce could be punishing.
And if that feels like too much risk for you? You can layup down the right side of the fairway and actually have a better angle into the green which is wider than it is deep.
At 556 from the tips, it’s the longest par 5 on the course, so the direction of the wind will likely dictate how feasible it is to get home in 2.
11 is a nice par 4 with a semi-blind elevated green. Again, you see great contrast in textures with the grass, lava, and bunkering.
12 is one of my favorite holes on the course, and is also one of the most polarizing.
It’s the shortest par 3 at just 167 yards from the tips, but it has a large green with a bunker directly in the middle of it – ala the 6th at Riviera.
Part of the reason I may like it is that I hit a solid tee ball to 10 feet. Had I found myself on the other side of that bunker, without the guts (or talent) to chip it over from a lie on the green, I might have felt differently.
But this is a resort course. It’s meant to be fun, and in my opinion, should have some novelty to it as well – which this hole provides. There are some fun pin positions here, that while I might suspect rarely get used, definitely help keep things interesting.
13 is a par 4 that requires a smart tee shot. Lava all down the right with fairway bunkers across the middle. There’s a blind fairway landing area on the right-hand side that will give you the best approach angle. But playing short and left is the safer bet if you’re concerned about getting into too much trouble off the tee.
14 feels like the crescendo for lava features on the course, as there’s a massive lava field running the length of the hole to the left of the fairway. There’s plenty of fairway to work with, and if you play 3 conservative shots, par should be relatively easy.
But as soon as you start thinking about going for it in 2, all of a sudden what could be an easy par has the potential to rack you up a big number if you’re not careful.
15 brings you back to the resort side of the course for the first time since the opening hole. A big dogleg left that isn’t nearly as difficult as it looks with imposing lava sitting in the middle of the fairway.
Hualalai has an excellent set of closing holes.
The 16th isn’t quite a “Cape” hole but it feels like one off the tee.
Go further right for the more aggressive line, and the chance to be closer to the green. But if you take on the right bunkers and don’t get there, there’s a good chance you’ll be pitching out and hoping to one-putt your way to par.
The final par 3 17th is the signature hole on the course.
There are some beautiful ocean views across Hualalali, but 17 is the only one that sits right on the water – and it truly makes for a memorable hole.
This hole is where everything we’ve talked about comes together to create one of the best par 3s in Hawaii. The colors and textures are beautiful. The proximity to the ocean is mesmerizing. The bunkers that flow directly into the lava are unique. And the large green is welcoming, making par possible, but far from a sure thing.
I always enjoy it when the “signature hole” comes late in the round. Having something to look forward to throughout is always fun – especially for a resort course.
One thing I think is so cool about Hualalai having played it, is that yes, the 17th is a great hole, and one to be excited about, but there are memorable moments throughout the entire round. So as I’ve pointed out, there are a handful of holes that felt a little benign, but overall the vast majority of the golf holes at Hualalai give you something unique and memorable to get excited about.
The drive through the lava field from 17 to 18 is fun, and 18 is a great finishing hole. Framed with hotel rooms and condos, it makes the hole feel big and dramatic, which I love.
An aggressive line will aim to carry the innermost bunker on the left, providing a shorter approach. But there’s plenty of fairway to work with. But if you find yourself in any of the bunkers along the left side, you could have a tricky time making your par.
One of the Best Parts About Hualalai Golf Course
Let me be very clear on this, I really enjoyed Hualalai. I thought it was one of the best resort courses I’ve ever played, and it’s a course I would be very excited to play again (and again.)
But the course doesn’t get that much play.
If it’s so good, then why is this?
There are a few reasons.
One, the Four Seasons Hualalai is very expensive. Even the cheapest room rates during the time I was there crept up over $2k/night.
So it’s not exactly going to be a hotspot for a buddies golf trip.
Speaking of that, if you were to tell your significant other you were taking a golf trip with your boys to Bandon Dunes, Whistling Straits, or even Pebble Beach – they might say, “Ok, honey, have fun.”
But if you try and pull a “I’m going to a Four Seasons in Hawaii” the response is more likely to be “Not without me you aren’t!”
That being said, if you do find yourself at Hualalai, there are some really cool aspects of the golf experience that make it very worthwhile.
At first glance, you’ll get sticker shock from the $380 greens fee.
That’s a lot of money for a round of golf, even if it has been on Golf Digest’s Top 100 Public Golf Courses list.
But it’s actually a really good value.
First off, it’s a day rate. So if you want to play 36? Hell, want to squeeze in 54? Go for it. It’s all included for one price. Essentially every hole you play after that first 18 is free.
But it gets even better.
All food and beverages at the Golf Hale or on the beverage cart is included with your daily fee.
So you could play 36 holes and have all of your snacks and beers covered for the day for $380.
If you take full advantage, all of a sudden that price tag feels far more reasonable.
The Four Seasons always does a good job with experiences and the golf experience here is second to none.
It was friendly, welcoming, and while yes, expensive, I’ve paid a lot more for a whole lot less.
The Golf Hale
I’ve mentioned the Golf Hale a number of times in this post. Located right off the range the Golf Hale does double duty. It’s loaded with snacks and drinks for your pre and post-round pleasure, but it also features 2 Trackman bays that spill right out onto the range, as well as Hawai’i’s first Top Golf Swing Suite.
The latter I think is especially fitting for the location. If you’re golf obsessed, but maybe your kids and family, well aren’t? You can bring them to the Swing Suite in lieu of a full round of golf, and make it fun for them.
While also making sure they have all the snacks they need to have a good time 🙂
Regardless of whether you’re looking for instruction, practice, a simulator etc. the golf program at Hualalai is incredibly robust for a resort course.
And that doesn’t even include the membership component or the private Ke’olu course, but we’ll save that for another post.
Final Thoughts on Hualalai Golf Course
I knew my stay at the Four Seasons Hualalai was going to be special.
But I wasn’t prepared for just how memorable and special the golf would be as well.
I played the course by myself in just over 3 hours.
That might not sound like the most enjoyable experience, but it really was.
I didn’t have any groups around me at all. I could take all the time I wanted on each hole. But most importantly, this round allowed me to truly enjoy where I was and be thankful for all that has transpired to bring me to this location.
Given the remote location and cost associated with visiting the resort, I have no idea when or if I’ll ever make it back to Hualalai.
But I really hope that I do. This golf course spoke to me and impressed me more than I expected it to. And now a week removed from the trip, I’m still thinking about it.
That doesn’t happen very often, but it’s a true testament to the entire package that golfing at Hualalai provides. And it’s for this reason I think the Hualalai Golf Course at the Four Seasons is among the best resort golf experiences in the world.
Want to know how the rest of the resort stacks up? Check out my detailed Four Seasons Hualalai review.