Hawaii is an amazing, mysterious place. And given its arrangement as a tropical archipelago, each island has its own character and charms, especially when it comes to planning a Hawaii golf vacation.
That means that when it comes to the Aloha State, you have to do a little extra homework. Depending on what sort of group - family, buddies, etc. - and budget you're traveling with, and what level of relaxation and seclusion you seek, one of the five (out of eight total) Hawaiian islands with golf courses may be a considerably better fit than the others.
Here's the rundown:
First, a note on flights
Of Hawaii's five islands with golf courses - the Big Island, Maui, Oahu, Kauai, Lanai - only Lanai does not have a commercial airport with nonstop flights from the West Coast. But if you're looking for nonstop flights to Hawaii from cities like New York or Chicago, you'll have to fly to Honolulu and go from there, if your destination is one of the other islands. Numerous airlines serve the Hawaii's airports from the western half of North America, including Alaska Airlines, which is often overlooked in favor of the bigger airlines but is a great option, especially if you're traveling to Hawaii from the West Coast.
Hawaii (The Big Island)
When people call it "the Big Island," they're not kidding. Not only is it larger in land area than all the other Hawaiian Islands put together, it also features the biggest diversity of scenery and climate on any of the islands. In fact, of the 13 main climate zone types found on Earth, 11 of them exist on the Big Island. That includes snowy mountain peaks, like that of mighty Maunakea. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is here as well.
Commercial airports: Hilo (ITO); Kona (KOA)
Notable courses/resorts: Hapuna Golf Course, Hualalai, Mauna Kea Golf Course, Mauna Lani Resort, Waikoloa Beach Resort
Ideal for... Introductory trips to Hawaii, sightseeing, black-sand Punaluu Beach, significant Hawaiian historical sites
Known as "The Valley Isle," Maui is the second-largest Hawaiian Island, but with a population around 130,000, it is more sparsely populated than bustling Oahu. Still, its extensive array of luxury resorts causes some visitors to remark that it has a somewhat "touristy" feel. That said, it is home to Kapalua's Plantation Course, the Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw layout that hosts the Hyundai Tournament of Champions each year. And for aficionados of building architecture, the Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired clubhouse at the private-but-accessible King Kamehameha Golf Club is a pilgrimage destination.
Commercial airports: Kahului (OGG); Kapalua (JHM); Hana Airport (HNM)
Notable courses/resorts: Kaanapali Golf Resort, Kapalua, King Kamehameha Golf Club, Wailea Resort
Ideal for... Experiencing Hawaii's more luxurious side on a grander scale, honeymooning, whale-watching, snorkeling, mountain-biking, scenic roadways (e.g. the Hana Highway), Hawaii's best resort golf
Home to the Hawaiian capital city of Honolulu, Oahu is the third-largest Hawaiian Island but home to about two-thirds of the state population. It's perfect for those looking for a cosmopolitan experience in Hawaii, and is the place to find a huge variety of off-course experiences and activities, including the must-visit Pearl Harbor remembrance site. The golf is not the highest-quality in the state, but for those not looking to lay out too much cash, it is probably the best option due to the convenience of Honolulu's airport relative to the others in Hawaii. But if you are looking to be swallowed up by the jungle and sand in Hawaii, you will no doubt find Oahu a bit jarring.
Commercial airports: Honolulu (HNL)
Notable courses/resorts: Hawaii Prince Golf Club, Ko'olau Golf Course, Ko Olina Golf Course, Royal Hawaiian Golf Club, Turtle Bay Resort
Ideal for... Seekers of American history, shopaholics, surf bums, those wanting to experience Hawaii's nightlife, those wanting to see and be seen on Waikiki Beach, visiting Hawaii on a budget
Known as "The Garden Isle" Kauai is the destination for those looking to explore Hawaii's rainforests. Indeed, some part of the island receive more than 400 inches of rain per year. However, some of the western coastal portions of the island receive less than 20 inches. For golfers, this means lush turf year-round, and a solid roster of courses, even if the island's highest-rated layout, Princeville's Prince Course, is now going private. However, Wailua Golf Course, a municipal layout with numerous holes with ocean views, remains one of the best values in golf.
Commercial airports: Lihue (LIH)
Notable courses/resorts: Kauai Lagoons Golf Club, Kukuiolono Golf Course, Princeville Makai Golf Club at The St. Regis Princeville, Poipu Bay Golf Club, Wailua Golf Course
Ideal for... Lovers of rugged scenery, hikers, golden-sand beachcombers, hula dance practitioners
If Oahu is Hawaii's party central, Lanai is the polar opposite. Formerly the pineapple-growing domain of Dole, it is now owned almost entirely by tech company Oracle CEO Larry Ellison. This makes it the most mysterious and sparsely-populated of Hawaii's main islands (Kahoolawe is used as a Navy Bombing Range, Niihau and its roughly 200 residents are largely off-limits to tourists and Molokai has no golf courses), with only 30 total miles of paved roads. It is Hawaii's quietest island by far, and the one where pure relaxation and seclusion are the most easily attainable, but at a hefty price. (Note: Lanai is accessible by fast ferry from Maui, but in order to play golf there, you need to stay at the Four Seasons.)
Commercial airports: None - ferry service available from Maui
Notable courses/resorts: Four Seasons Resort Lanai and Manele Golf Course are open for business. Four Seasons Resort Lodge at Koele and Koele Golf Course are closed for renovations.
Ideal for... Visitors looking to drop off the map, the budget-unconscious, anglers, 4-wheeler riders, dolphin watchers
What are you looking for in a Hawaiian golf vacation? Let us know below in the comments!