The announcement that Pacific Links International has hired Tiger Woods and Gil Hanse to design courses in the Makaha Valley of Oahu could have far reaching implications for the golf industry in the Hawaiian islands.
Although home to more courses than any other Hawaiian island, Oahu has never reached "must visit" status for traveling golfers. Oahu boasts some nice courses, notably the private Waialae Country Club that hosts the PGA Tour annually, as does the Ko Olina Golf Club with the LPGA Tour. The Arnold Palmer course at Turtle Bay Resort and the semiprivate Kapolei Golf Club are two past hosts of the PGA Tour Champions and the Ladies Hawaiian Open of the LPGA Tour. However, this foursome can't match the star power and scenery of the Plantation course at Kapalua on Maui or Mauna Kea on Hawaii Island (aka the Big Island) or the Princeville Makai Golf Club on Kauai. It's not a stretch to believe that the work of Woods and Hanse could change that dynamic.
The two new courses will be centerpieces of the Makaha Valley Resort, a 644-acre mixed-use property developed on Oahu's remote leeward side 30 miles northwest of the Honolulu Airport. The project will bring much-needed jobs and tourism to a remote part of the island, according to Hawaiinewsnow.com.
I first wrote about the potential of this portion of the island in 2013 when Pacific Links International was on a spending spree, purchasing five courses on Oahu, including the two William F. Bell courses in the valley dating to the 1960s, and launching a PGA Tour Champions event at Kapolei from 2012-2014. At that time, Pacific Links International, a Canadian company that has created an international network of 399 golf courses around the world available to its Asian membership, hired Greg Norman to revive golf in the valley and restore the shuttered Makaha West course.
The Makaha Valley Country Club (formerly Makaha East) remains open, but Golf Advisor reviews often aren't kind. The most recent review from February, 2019, by zacrush indicates marginal conditions: "The course and cart paths are in terrible shape. The cost was $67 and worth about $30. Great location with an amazing energy with the mountains and ocean (distant view). Could be good to great but actually poor. No bar just a fridge. 4 handicap - tight holes but not very tough, mostly driver wedge par 4's from the tips. Pay the extra and pay $100 to play somewhere memorable."
The good news is, despite what our reviewer saw on the ground, even he could see the potential of the whole place. I also have faint memories of the natural beauty of the valley. I played Makaha West in 1998 back when the resort was affiliated with Sheraton. I hadn't even begun writing about golf yet, so I don't have any old work photos or notes about the round. Even then, the entire operation looked run down and tired. I'm surprised the resort lasted as long as it did, eventually closing in 2011. I still have this personal photo hanging in my office.
The TGR Design website describes the setting of the future Makaha North course like this: "Nestled high above the Pacific, the championship course will meander through lush, rolling terrain where expansive ocean views contrast the strikingly powerful, emerald mountains. The routing sits at the foot of the Waianae Mountain Range where players will encounter stunning scenes of Mt. Ka’ala, an ancient volcano and the highest peak on Oahu."
No water, and few, if any, forced carries are part of the proposed 7,306-yard routing. As for its playing style: "Large, tightly mown green surrounds and intricate internal greens contours will further emphasize the highly strategic nature of the golf course."
The website for Hanse Golf Design lists the Makaha South course as pending with a "Start Date to be Determined". Hanse is currently busy doing a renovation/restoration of the famous South course at Oakland Hills Country Club in Michigan, along with new builds set to launch this year at Trimble Ranch in Nebraska; the PGA of America East Course at the new PGA Headquarters in Frisco, Texas; and Les Bordes Golf International in France.
Below is a promotional video announcing the Woods course.