PEARL HARBOR, Oahu -- Golf and the historical sites and museums of Pearl Harbor are a big reason why Oahu is the most visited Hawaiian island.
Why not combine the two during your next visit?
Contrary to popular belief, not all the military golf courses on Oahu are closed to the general public. Three military courses -- the Leilehua Golf Course and nine-hole Walter J. Nagorski Golf Course (both run by the U.S. Army) and the Kaneohe Klipper Golf Course on the Marine Corps Base Hawaii -- allow public access. You just have to know the proper protocol.
Getting on Oahu's military golf courses
Playing military golf -- shots that go left, right, left, right -- isn't recommended on Oahu. Playing military courses, however, does have its advantages. They're usually less expensive than other tee times on the island and kept in relatively good shape.
Getting on most military courses requires a military "sponsor," although the Kaneohe Klipper Golf Course makes that process much easier than, say, the Kealohi Par 3 Golf Course and Mamala Bay Golf Course on Hickam Air Force Base. The military "sponsor" must meet their guests at the Hickham front gate to sign them onto the base unless they are a pre-approved group of 11 or larger, according to Philip Chambers, the manager at Kealohi.
For those who don't have a military connection, the Kaneohe Klipper Course, located on a scenic peninsula north of Honolulu, will "sponsor" a golfer for five days for a $10 fee. All that's needed for a pass to put in the windshield of your car is a valid Hawaii driver's license or a social security number. Yearly passes are available as well.
Dino Silva, who works in the pro shop, says the 6,269-yard course gets a lot of civilian play at $59 a round. A $45 promotional offer to book a tee time from 1-3 p.m. includes a drink and an appetizer.
"The view is why a lot of people come. The back nine is along the beach," Silva said. "A lot of people like to play and take pictures. Our upkeep is good. It's hard with some of the weather, but we keep it nice. Everybody (on staff) tries to be pleasant. We try to be happy because a lot of the people who play here are on vacation."
"The course is always in great shape from greens, to views, etc." he wrote. "Always plays quite difficult because of the wind. Challenging but very fun."
Since the Leilehua Golf Course isn't technically on a military base, located between Wheeler Army Air Force Base and Schofield Barracks at Wahiawa, it is open to public players without a "sponsor." Even so, there are still restrictions. The course only allows same-day walk-ons. Only military personnel can make tee times in advance.
Leilehua sits between the Waianae and Koolau Range in the Ewa Forest Preserve in the heart of the island. Large palm and eucalyptus trees frame the 7,010-yard layout. Civilians pay $36 to walk and $49 to ride, according to Head Professional Lou Merkle.
"We are in an area where it is nice and cool, about 10 to 15 degrees cooler than (Honolulu)," Merkle said. "The course is tree-lined. There is a good separation of holes. It's pretty up here."
The Nagorski course, located at Fort Shafter halfway between Honolulu and Pearl Harbor, is a hilly nine-holer built in the 1940s, featuring views of Honolulu and Diamond Head. Holes 2 and 3 occupy what once was the Putnam Airfield emergency landing strip used during World War II.
Military attractions on Oahu
Plan to spend a full day, or more, touring Pearl Harbor.
The first time I visited in 1997, I was taken aback with emotion. I don't have many family members with ties to the military, but I felt a deep connection that day to others who did. When I brought my family back to Oahu for a golf vacation in 2013, I made sure to return to the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument again, so my 11-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter could better understand the sacrifice of those who died on Dec. 7, 1941.
Audio tours of the two exhibit rooms focus upon what led up to the attack and the events of that fateful day. Visitors watch a movie before boarding the boat that leads to the USS Arizona Memorial. It's true that those standing on the memorial platform can still see oil leaking from the sunken battleship.
There's so much else to see beyond that famous landmark. The USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park, operated as a private, non-profit organization, pays tribute to more than 3,500 submarine personnel and 52 subs lost in World War II. Ford Island, accessible by shuttle, is home to the USS Oklahoma Memorial and two separate attractions, the Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor and the Battleship Missouri Memorial, the battleship where the Japanese signed their surrender.
There are other lesser-known military museums elsewhere on Oahu, including the Tropic Lightning Museum at Schofield Barracks in the center of the island. The Hawai'i Army Museum, located at the Hale Koa Hotel and the Ft. DeRussy Recreation Center in Waikiki, tells the military story of Hawai'i from ancient times to the Vietnam War. The National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, known as the Punchbowl Cemetery because of its location at the Punchbowl Crater in Honolulu, honors those who died serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.