Golf and ghosts in paradise

The King's Trail on the Island of Hawaii is a historic place that many Hawaiians believe is haunted.

The Mamalahoa Trail, or King's Trail, on the Island of Hawaii is a sacred place.

The trail was built in the 19th century by King Kamehameha I for horse travel on the western side of the island, stretching 32 miles from Kailua Kona north to Puako. Today, several spots are a popular hiking trail for tourists to see more than 30,000 petroglyphs, carvings of animals and people left in old pahoehoe lava flows by ancient Hawaiians.

It's also a place renowned for supernatural activity, where "Night Marchers," the spirits of ancient Hawaiian warriors, are cursed to forever roam and protect. Locals report seeing the faint flicker of torches marching in single file and hearing the sounds of drums and chants at night. If you encounter one of these spirits, you must lay face-down as a sign of respect or be killed.

Since everybody loves a good ghost story around Halloween, I asked Ross Birch, the executive director of the Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau, to share some haunted tales he told me in 2015 when I last visited the island. We both get goosebumps every time the subject of golf and ghosts in paradise comes up.

"I still get chicken skin every time I talk about it," he said. "It is one of those stories, your hair on the back of the neck stands up. You get this chill."

In 1990, Birch was an assistant golf pro at the Waikoloa Beach Resort, a sprawling oasis of two courses and multiple hotels, restaurants and shops built in the middle of centuries of lava flows off Highway 19 north of Kona. He recalls lots of strange occurrences during construction of the Kings' Course that disturbed parts of the King's Trail. The clubhouse motion detector would set off an alarm with no one around. He and the late Dennis Rose, a former director of golf and president at Waikoloa, would hear doors slamming while they were locked and untouched.

One morning, members of the maintenance crew swear they witnessed massive boulders rolling across the sixth green. "There was never really a panic (about seeing and hearing weird things)," Birch said. "It is almost an acceptance of what would be causing it and where it was coming from. We are in their area now (on the King's trail). You just let it go.”

The incident that really spooked him, though, was at the Club at Hokuli'a, a fabulous Jack Nicklaus design that's the centerpiece of a private club community (see the lead photos above). Birch was working inside the clubhouse during a championship high school golf match when it occurred.

The 16th hole is a par 5 dissected by remnants of the King's Trail. A foursome of players on the green saw their coach driving toward them. "This was in the middle of the round, the middle of the day," Birch recalled. "Their coach had been driving up the previous hole, and they noticed him driving around with a gray-haired lady sitting next to him. As he approached the green, they saw he was the only one on the cart. All four girls asked him, 'What happened to your passenger?' He was beside himself when they told him that."

Pele, the Hawaiian Goddess of Fire and Volcanoes, has been known to appear in human form as an old woman in flowing robes, according to Birch said many other friends who work in the tourism industry have told him about strange happenings at resorts around the island. Paranormal events aren't just stories to scare children on Halloween. They're part of the lore and legend of island life in Hawaii.

“I believe that there are spirits," he said. "I would say that I’m not fearful of these spirits, but Hawaii has a strong - I would not call it a superstition - the culture embraces that these spirits are around in different situations."

Do you believe in ghosts on golf courses? If you have any paranormal experiences to share, let us know in the comments.

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 1,000 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Instagram at @jasondeegangolfadvisor and Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
Commented on

Man, I've got to say that the story of Coach Birch and the phantom, gray-haired woman is chilling. I would be incredulous, too, if that had happened to me. I did go to Hawaii last year and played golf seven times (same course: Makani) but nothing remotely strange happened that I can recall, other than our seeing a native, wild black boar running around.
It did not seemed to be afraid of golfers. But that's about as close as we got to "Lord of the Flies" or any other form of insanity.

Great ghost tale, well told!

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Golf and ghosts in paradise