Which island in Hawaii is right for your golf vacation?

At the height of winter on the snowy mainland, the sunny, green images of Hawaii appear similar from one island to the next.

It's not until you visit the islands of Hawaii that you realize the differences in each island's ecology and atmosphere. Perhaps the only consistent, the four largest islands remain a golfer's paradise for residents and vacationers alike.

Chances are, you can't visit each island on your Hawaii golf vacation, so here's a guide to the four main islands to determine which slice of paradise is right for you:

Golf on Oahu

If you're after excitement on your Hawaii golf trip, Oahu is the easy choice. Not only does this most populous island include more golf courses than any other Hawaiian island with nearly 40, it's also home to a bustling, diverse city and one of the world's greatest beaches, Waikiki. Honolulu offers a nightlife scene that can't be matched elsewhere in Hawaii, where late-night options are often limited.

Oahu golf is more affordable than at the resorts and golf courses of the other islands, with a number of quality municipal and daily fee facilities.

One of many examples of above-average public golf on the island is Ko Olina Golf Club. Royal Kunia Golf Club includes a lot of fun holes, plus great views of Pearl Harbor and Honolulu. Ewa Beach Golf Club is a championship test that offers some of the most lush conditions in the world. And Hawaii Prince Golf Club, tied into the Hawaii Prince Resort near Waikiki Beach, features 27 holes of windswept fun.

The island also includes several good military golf courses, notably the outstanding Navy-Marine Course. Players must display a military ID or come as a guest of a serviceman.

Oahu has good resort golf, too. Turtle Bay Resort on the North Shore ranks with the best. The resort itself is set against one of the great surfing spots in the world, where giant winter waves beckon the sport's best.

Golf on Kauai

Kauai includes the fewest golf courses of Hawaii's four most trafficked islands. But pound for pound, no island does it better.

Five of Golf Magazine's top 20 golf courses in Hawaii are on Kauai, thanks, in part, to the jungle and lush setting on most spots on the Garden Isle.

Kauai's golf courses have turned proactive in the past few years with renovations and upgrades. Poipu Bay, the former host of the PGA Grand Slam of Golf, reopened with paspalum greens in December 2010. Kauai Lagoons closed nine of its 36 holes but is working to improve the existing Jack Nicklaus-designed 27-hole product. The most dramatic improvement is at the oceanfront Makai Golf Club at St. Regis Princeville, which closed the golf course for more than a year to completely reseed and enhance the design, now placing it in the conversation among Hawaii's best.

Even accompanying resorts like the Marriott Kauai Lagoons and Grand Hyatt have stepped up their games. The Princeville Resort underwent the biggest overhaul, opening in 2009 as a St. Regis property, the most luxurious of the Starwood brands. Perched atop the Garden Isle, it overlooks Bali Hai.

Golf on Maui

Maui does resort golf like no other Hawaiian Island. It's also the island that welcomes the pro legends more than any other. Maui hosts the PGA Tour's Hyundai Tournament of Champions at Kapalua, as well as the Wendy's Champions Skins Game, which brings in the game's greats of past generations each winter.

Maui is a little larger and more populated than Kauai, though you're always within a drive of an hour of just about every golf course on the island, from Ka'anapali to the west or Wailea in the south. It's easy to get around, with abundant dining and lodging options.

The island boasts picture-perfect, wonderfully conditioned resort options on the south and west coasts. Some spots, like three-golf course Wailea Golf Club in south Maui, are known as the calmest among the islands. And mere minutes from the more exposed Kapalua sit Ka'anapali's two sunny, picturesque layouts that overlook the nearby island of Lanai.

Hawaii's most high-profile play may be Kapalua's Plantation course in the northwest. But one of Hawaii's most exclusive golf experiences can be had with member-for-a-day offer at King Kamehameha golf Club. It's an exclusive service- and amenity-oriented club with one of golf's most remarkable clubhouses, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Off-course activities on Maui come as fast or slow paced as you wish. Snorkel coral reefs or surf a wave. And the Mt. Haleakala Sunrise Bike Tour is a must for any vacationer.

Golf on the Big Island (Hawai'i)

The newest of the chain of Hawaiian islands, the Big Island is the most striking of all of the golf settings, too, as active volcanoes spew lava into the sea, creating new land.

The Big Island features 11 of the world's 13 climate zones, making it an ecologist's dream. Mauna Kea, at 14,000 feet, is even snow-capped in the winter. This new and changing environment produces black lava fields set against the deep, blue Pacific Ocean and the vibrant green grass of golf courses.

In all, some 20 golf courses reside on the Big Island, with the majority on the Kohala Coast, the drier side of the island that gets just a few inches of rain each yea. By comparison, Hilo receives more than 300 inches annually.

The island's top resorts wind along the sea along the Kohala Coast, featuring a mix of seaside and mountain golf courses like Mauna Kea, Mauna Lani and Waikoloa Beach. Kona Country Club even offers a choice between ocean and mountain layouts.

Chances are, you've seen pictures of a hole from the Big Island. Perhaps it's Mauna Kea's signature, par-3, 272-yard 3rd hole -- or the par-3 15th at Mauna Lani, both playing over black rocks and crashing waves.

Spectacular as they may appear, images do no justice to the feeling of standing at the tee.

Mike Bailey contributed to this article.

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.
Related Links
Taking your girlfriend or spouse on a golf vacation to Maui is a win-win for the both of you. She gets to enjoy a little fun in the sun. And you won't have fine china hurled at your head when you walk out the door for the airport alone. When selecting courses to play, forget how they would rank on a top 100 list. Instead, consider how playable they are for her and whether the atmosphere of the club is intimidating or not. If both of you can walk off the 18th green and a smile is still on her face, it's a successful afternoon. And that's easy to find on Maui.
4 Min Read
One of the smaller islands of Hawaii boasts a big reputation as one of its finest for golf: Kauai. Kauai currently has only nine golf courses, but three of them are often ranked among Hawaii's top 10. Its complimentary set is also worthy of a play. Here's a look at some of the incredibly photogenic Kauai golf courses.
10 Images
More from the author
5 Min Read
December 7, 2021
It may be the private club capital of Florida, but golfers endorse these public-access courses.
4 Min Read
December 3, 2021
It's never been easier to design custom hats, golf balls, clubs, headcovers and more.
2 Min Read
November 30, 2021
It's possible this little ditty finds you scooping up the last bit of cranberry pie crumbs out of the tray. Thanksgiving may have passed but the effects of celebratory eating around the table, and also possibly social imbibing during all the various football games throughout the weekend, are sticking with us. To our bellies and elsewhere.
4 Min Read
November 23, 2021
We scoured the web of golf and found holiday savings up to 50% off.
12 Min Read
November 18, 2021
Golfers can choose from a wide variety of portable launch monitor price points and user experiences. Here is what's new and the best ones to consider to improve your golf.
7 Min Read
November 9, 2021
Our community loves the value and experience at these popular and affordable military facilities and even book online.
2 Min Read
April 28, 2022
Famous, historic and exclusive clubs are all offering rounds to help with turf research in 2022.
6 Min Read
May 9, 2022
Here's how to play - and stay - where the pros play.
9 Min Read
May 12, 2022
Sensei Lanai, a Four Seasons Resort, can help golfers get in better shape - physically, mentally and emotionally - on and off the course.
1 Min Read
April 21, 2022
This new heavyweight just might be the king of all golf books.
Load More
Now Reading
Which island in Hawaii is right for your golf vacation?