The best of Hawaii golf and travel: A roundtable of experts offer their picks

The state of Hawaii, with its remote string of islands, can be enjoyed countless ways. It's as good of a state for golf as any in the U.S. But as we all know, it's just a small piece of the destination's allure. From Top 100 golf to lavish resorts to secluded beaches, all visitors to the islands return home with their own unique memories.

It would take a lifetime to see it all. But between the four of us -- the editorial staff here at GolfAdvisor, myself, Golf Channel's Matt Ginella, and Senior Writers Jason Scott Deegan and Mike Bailey -- we have covered just about every corner of the state. We got together and came up with our favorite picks for not only golf but also off-course activities, restaurants and more.

What's your favorite island of Hawaii to visit?

Matt Ginella: I've learned that each Hawaiian island has a unique culture and energy, but if I had to pick one, I'd say Oahu. Specifically the North Shore, which is where my brother lives, and where I've been making annual visits for 15 years to spend time with him and his family. The "Keep the Country Country" community of 25,000 gets almost two million annual visitors who make the trek from Honolulu to take pictures of sea turtles, world-class surfers and stunning sunsets.

Brandon Tucker: What puts Maui over the top is that, aside from fantastic golf at Wailea and Kapalua among others, is there's a great diversity of activities and accommodations, and you can even find a little nightlife in awhile in Kihei or Lahaina. Logistically, you can't beat Maui.

Jason Scott Deegan: Hawaii Island (or the "Big Island") has it all -– great weather and an interesting mix of resorts along the sunny and dry Kohala Coast; bustling and beautiful Kona town; gorgeous ocean golf at Mauna Kea and Mauna Lani; swanky private clubs like Kohanaiki and Nanea; volcanoes with flowing lava and a wetter, more tropical region near Hilo. There's enough to see and do for a month-long vacation.

Mike Bailey: The Big Island. Slower paced. Great weather on the Kona side. Spectacular coast and mountains and I love the coffee.

What's your favorite resort course in Hawaii?

Ginella: Not only is the Plantation Course at Kapalua my favorite resort course in Hawaii, it's always on my list of Top 20 Public Courses in the Country. Host of the Sentry Tournament of Champions, the back nine gets a lot of attention for the dramatic finish, but the front nine has its own set of memorable shots and spectacular scenery. Resort-guest green fee is $235.

Bailey: I'd like to say it's the Makai at Princeville Resort on Kauai, (hole for hole, it doesn't get any better, plus it's walkable), but I've got to give it to the Kapalua Plantation Course on Maui. The views are incredible from the clubhouse to the 18th, and the course has so many fun holes on it, including the 18th. Where else can you hit a 650-yard par 5 in two?

Deegan: When golfers go to Hawaii, they want to play by the Pacific. No course delivers better ocean views than the Princeville Makai Golf Course, a stunner recently renovated by original architect Robert Trent Jones Jr. Five holes cling to oceanfront cliffs on Kauai's northern shores.

Tucker: I'll pass on the tough jungle courses like the Prince Course and Kapalua for the mellower Makai at St. Regis Princeville for the oceanfront holes, walkability and playability.

Morning Drive: Ginella answers your Hawaii questions

What's your favorite bargain golf course in Hawaii?

Tucker: If you want a true Hawaii golf experience but don't want to drop a C-note or three, Maui's Kahili Golf Course is your horse. No real-estate or resort component to the all-natural mountainside property. Green fees: $59-99.

Deegan: Puakea Golf Course on Kauai opened as a 10-hole course in 1997 after a hurricane halted construction. Original architect Robin Nelson returned to complete the 6,954-yard layout in 2003, creating a local favorite with affordable green fees and nice views of Mt. Ha'upu.

Ginella: Kahuku Golf Course, which is on the North Shore of Oahu. It's $16.50 for out-of-towners to play nine holes. In order to blend in with local play, I suggest walking, playing in a T-shirt and flip-flops. Around the corner, before and/or after the round, stop at the Kahuku Superette for the "best poke bowl in the world."

The other value golf option is Wailua Golf Course, which is en route to the North Shore of Kauai. Host of three 3 USGA Amateur Public Links Championships, it's another refreshing slice of non-pretentious golf along the Pacific Ocean with memorable holes and hard-to-believe value. Play fast, that six-some behind you is waiting for you on every shot.

Bailey: Wailua Golf Course on Kauai. It's $48 for visitors with ocean holes and a pretty good layout.

Off the course, what's your favorite adventure activity in Hawaii?

Ginella: It's impossible to pick one. But one adventure activity that you might not see in a lobby rack of brochures is an ATV Tour at Kualoa Ranch on the east side of Oahu. ($99 for a two-hour tour.) As you roll through movie sets from some of the most spectacular adventure films, such as Jurassic Park, Pearl Harbor and Godzilla, your eyes might pop out of your goggles.

Tucker: The most adventurous part is waking up at 3 a.m., but the sunrise atop Mt. Haleakala is worth setting a backup alarm. (Do it your first night or two on the islands before you've fully adjusted to the time change). Then, enjoy the nice, long descent down on a bicycle. You'll wrap up by about 8 a.m., affording plenty of time for 36 holes.

Deegan: Paradise Helicopters offers great fly-bys of smoldering lava on Hawaii Island (out of Kona and Hilo) and the "Sacred Falls" in the Ko'olau Mountains along Oahu's North Shore (out of Turtle Bay Resort).

Bailey: Snorkeling, Captain Cook's Monument and Kealakekua Bay off the Big Island.

Where is the best place for romance in Hawaii?

Ginella: Almost every trip to the Hawaiian islands drips with romance. It's the sights, smells, warm waters and endless sandy beaches. She also might tell you it's the flowers. Very few couples in love complain about getting rained out in Hawaii.

Bailey: Outside dinner at the Mauna Kea Beach Resort on the Big Island, followed by a nighttime walk on this intimate resort's private beach.

Deegan: Couples can't go wrong on Maui, specifically with dinner at Lahaina Grill followed by a sunset walk touring the shops and art galleries around Lahaina town.

Tucker: A leisurely, open-air, candlelit dinner somewhere, anywhere. Fairmont Wailea's Ko or the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua's Banyan Tree restaurants are fine places to start.

What's your favorite bar in Hawaii?

Tucker: Check out Mulligan's at Wailea's Old Blue Course. It's open-air with lots of TVs choose from. The food menu is also over-achieving.

Deegan: Live music keeps the party alive at the Stevenson's Library, a sophisticated hangout at the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa. The only real nightlife in Hawaii, though, happens in Waikīkī, Honolulu's busy beachfront neighborhood on Oahu.

Ginella: Hawaii, for me, is always a chance for a chunk of some clean living so I tend to steer clear bars. But if I do, I go to Lei Lei's, the bar and restaurant next door to the pro shop of the Palmer Course at Turtle Bay, which is on the North Shore of Oahu. The warm winds wander through the outdoor setting, which is lit up by tiki torches and the bright smiles of a hospitable staff.

Bailey: Arnold's Beach Bar & Grill on Waikiki.

What's your favorite restaurant in Hawaii?

Tucker: There's a tiny and simple sushi restaurant in Kihei, Koiso. The fish is great, of course, but it's little only got about a dozen seats in the whole joint, so it's almost impossible to not end up chatting with the whole room.

Deegan: A great ambiance accompanies good food at The Beach House Restaurant on Kauai. Guests dine while watching surfers dabble in the waves offshore. Escape the table to gather on the grass lawn at sunset.

Bailey: I know it's a chain, but I love Roy's and there are locations on most every island, including Ko Olina Golf Club on Oahu.

Ginella: Lei Lei's. The food also consistently delivers. They're famous for the burgers, ribs and poke bowls, but there's no weak link to the menu, which is simple and makes sense for locals and guests from all over the world.

What's your favorite beach to visit in Hawaii?

Ginella: Sunset Beach on the North Shore of Oahu. Catch it at the end of a long day in the water and you'll see why it's so appropriately named.

Tucker: Spending an afternoon watching the often violent surf at Honokahua Bay from Kapalua Beach in Maui, steps from the Ritz-Carlton at Kapalua, is mesmerizing.

Deegan: If the beautiful crescent-shaped beach behind the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel is too crowded for your tastes, spend the big bucks for seclusion to hang with the beautiful people sunbathing in the sand at the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai.

Bailey: Waikiki. It's not secluded, of course, but great for people watching.

Where's the best place to catch the sunset?

Tucker: The heavens can't possibly deliver better sunsets than in Hanalei and particularly the secluded beach at the St. Regis Princeville in Kauai.

Deegan: I've sailed on catamarans with Ocean Sports on Hawaii Island, Makani out of Honolulu and Alii Nu on Maui for whale-watching and sunset cruises. Any time you're enjoying calm seas at dusk with a drink in hand, it's a magical experience.

Bailey: Turtle Bay Resort on Oahu.

Ginella: Sunset Beach on the North Shore of Oahu.

Don't leave Hawaii before you've '_______'

Tucker: Played an ultra-casual round at the locally adored -- albeit a little scruffy -- Kukuiolono Golf Course on Kauai. $8 gets you nine holes, whether you're ka'amaina or not.

Bailey: Tried the coffee (at the plantations) if you're a coffee lover. Kona coffee on the Big Island is legendary; Maui is decent and the Kauai coffee might be as good or better as Kona.

Deegan: Taken part in some touristy stuff on Oahu: surfing lessons at Turtle Bay, a tour of Pearl Harbor, hiking Diamond Head, people watching at Waikīkī, taking the kids to Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa in Ko Olina, etc.

Once you've checked one or more of these experiences off the list, then you can explore other islands.

Ginella: Without climbing, walking or boating the Napali Coast on the North Shore of Kauai. The view from a helicopter is the ultimate way to take in one of the true wonders of the world.

Brandon Tucker is the Sr. Managing Editor for GolfPass and was the founding editor of Golf Advisor in 2014, he was the managing editor for Golf Channel Digital's Courses & Travel. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and nearly 600 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker and on Instagram at @btuck34.
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I agree with your positive comments about the Makai Course on Kauai. What a fun, playable, beautiful course it is!

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The best of Hawaii golf and travel: A roundtable of experts offer their picks