Favorite Fairways: Finding Zen at Hualalai’s 17th Hole

The 17th at Hualalai is that rarest of golf holes – one where you don’t mind having to wait while the group ahead of you plays through. Seated on the teak bench set just back of the tee, it’s easy to absorb the splendor here at one of the world’s greatest golf holes. You’ll hardly mind the added time to take in the dramatic beauty before you. Inhale the fresh, briny aroma of the sea; you are lingering in a very special place that few have experienced.

Mother Nature, and Jack Nicklaus, were equally masterful with the seaside design here, on the Big Island’s Kohala Coast. The course, which begins with a tee shot aimed at the volcanic peak of Mount Hualalai (which rises to 8,171 feet before you) is an excellent skills test – and some would say Jack’s best work in Hawai’i.

Depending on tees, this par-3 plays 164-161-143-126 yards, slightly downhill across a convoluted tumble of black a’a lava that winds inexorably toward the sea. Before you, a vast “waste bunker” expanse of glimmering white sand, from which the four tees, a smidgen of fairway and the green rise like brilliant emerald islands. Kona winds, which prevail most days, blow left to right and must be factored into the tee shot. Beyond the putting green, which is protected by two ivory sand bunkers and is set on a rocky promontory slightly diagonal to the tees (thus placing a premium on club selection) is the blue Pacific and its many moods. From Hualalai’s No. 17 I’ve seen the sea placid as your morning tea, with dolphins and humpback whales leaping just off the rocky coast; and I’ve seen it raging, with huge waves erupting like oceanic geysers in thundering white explosions. As excuses go for yanking a putt, dolphins leaping and monster waves crashing aren’t bad.

The last time Hualalai erupted, in 1801, Hawaiians attributed it to the goddess of the volcano. Pele, they said, was jealous of the wealth and power of King Kamehameha the Great, the Big Island chief who had united the island archipelago under his rule. She wanted the king’s breadfruit trees from the uplands and two kinds of fish from his aquaculture ponds. As her 2,000-degree lava consumed more and more his lands and resources, Kamehameha consulted a kahuna and made an offering to the goddess. The molten flow stopped just short of the king’s residential compound. On this dazzling back swoop of black lava is Hualalai.

That teak bench, set in Pele’s lava, is the perfect locale to contemplate how you might navigate the 17th, the history of this land or the ocean’s mood. Gazing in awe and wonder at the incomparable beauty stretched out before you, we’re confident you won’t mind the wait. u

Hualalai is a semi-private course, available for play only by Hualalai Club members, their guests and guests of the adjacent Four Seasons Resort. A second course, Keolu, designed by Tom Weiskopf, is for members only. This January, the course will host the PGA Champions Tour Mitsubishi Electric Championship. * 808- 325-8480; www.hualalairesort.com

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