While Zach Johnson was crashing Tadd Fujikawa's luau at the Sony Open on Oahu last weekend, I was in my own tough golf match on the Big Island of Hawaii, just a 30-minute flight away. My course was the Waikoloa Beach Resort on the Kona-Kohala Coast. My opponent was Mo, my 50-something-year-old mother-in-law, a 30-handicapper with a knee-level hook and a swing that only a mother could love.
Our 54-hole, ready-golf, grip-and-rip-it, pick-it-up-after-eight-strokes, keep-up-no-matter-what challenge began on the Beach Course, a rolling, resort-style, par-70 track. The Robert Trent Jones Jr. design was built in 1981 on an old lava flow. We set out at 7:15 am on Jan. 14th to beat the afternoon rush, giving us plenty of room, and time for me to offer Mo instruction in case she got a bad case of the tops.
The rugged black lava is the first thing you notice about the Beach Course. Ancient Lava rocks are to these golf courses what trees are to courses in central Georgia, where I grew up playing in a tunnel of pines. The rocks guard most of the holes, and if you hit into one of these areas, a recovery shot is nearly impossible. Jones has used the solidified lava flows artfully: the third tee is set at the base of a towering mound of lava, and the par-3 fourth is framed by a green set in a lava grotto.
Mo was in lava hell, but any decent ball-striker can get around the straightforward and benign course fairly easily. Like many Hawaiian golf courses, the scenery here can overshadow the weaknesses of the layout. At the Beach course, the signature hole is the par-5, 505-yard 12th, which runs along the Pacific Ocean.
On day two, we played the King's Course, a super Tom Weiskopf and Jay Moorish links-style layout. At 7,000 yards, it's a par 72, and it's the class of the two courses at the resort. Forget ocean-side holes and postcard pictures. The King's course, opened in 1990 and rated as one of Hawaii's best, is a real player's course from the tips. There are undulating fairways, deep bunkers, a double green and enough tees to suit every skill level. Mo and I loved the course so much that we decided at the turn that we needed to play it again.
Between our second and third rounds we had a lesson with Johnny Eusebio, the head pro for both courses. A San Diego native, the 33-year-old Eusebio grew up playing junior golf with Chris Riley, Pat Perez and Tim Mickelson (Phil's brother), among others, in the celebrated San Diego Junior Golf Association. Eusebio is an easygoing fellow with a good eye for the golf swing. He moved the ball back to the center of Mo's stance, and she immediately began to hit more solid shots.
My mother-in-law took that lesson to the tee on our third day and had amazing results. I counted some 80 solidly struck shots out of the 130 or so that she had during that final round at the King's Course. The course was also better the second time around. (The first time we played it, a 20-mph wind added another 100 yards to the course and two clubs to many of my approach shots.)
All in all, I had a great time at both the Waikoloa Resort courses. In addition to the scenic and challenging courses, I got to play quickly and spend time with my mother-in-law. I think she had fun too, but she did say, "Farrell, I do like to play at a more leisurely pace." The real challenge, she said, was keeping up with me.
Still, her excitement over the coming inauguration of Barack Obama and the beauty of Hawaii seemed to make my impatience and dictatorial pace bearable. A former banker and accountant, Mo kept a precise record of our rounds: 3 hours 10 minutes for round 1 on the Beach Course; 2 hours 30 minutes for round 2 at the King's Course; 2 hours 20 minutes for round 3 at the King's course.
Fast play and twosomes: one more thing to love about the Waikoloa Resort courses.