Courses and Travel

Life's a Beach on the Big Island of Hawaii

If you want to ask Travelin' Joe a question, e-mail him at askjoe@golf.com. Ben Crenshaw is grinning like only Gentle Ben can. The subject is Hawaii golf tournaments, the question posed to him is, "How can you grind -- how can you focus on a golf competition in a setting like this?"Crenshaw smiles and says, "This is something, isn't it?" Still, he points out, that when you're one shot ahead, or one behind, at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai, on Hawaii's Big Island, the situation has your full attention. What about if you're 12 back on Sunday? "You're probably out looking for whales," chortles Crenshaw.Give Crenshaw and his over-50 brethren some credit. The kick-off event on the Champions Tour seems so stress-free, the event more closely resembles summer camp than a major championship. Here's Hale Irwin in shorts and flip-flops, bopping to the beat provided by Maui musician Willie K. There's Jeff Sluman pausing during the pro-am to check -- and confirm -- that he's got Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit" on his iPod. And there's Tom Watson, bounding into the lava rock to retrieve a breeze-blown hat and sunglasses belonging to one of his pro-am partners.Clearly, it's the setting that induces this happy trance among the Senior set. The Four Seasons Resort Hualalai at Historic Ka'upulehu (808-325-8000, fourseasons.com/hualalai) and the surrounding Hualalai development irrefutably proves the adage that in life, you get what you pay for. This slice of paradise on the dry, desert-like Kona/Kohala Coast of the Big Island is not for the faint of wallet. Make no mistake, however -- it delivers on value. The Four Seasons excels at the above and beyond stuff. Not only does a man appear at my door this morning looking to re-fill the fresh fruit bowl in the room, but he asks for preferences -- more bananas, perhaps?I always wondered what the attraction was about the Big Island's west coast. Its endless lava fields lack the tropical lushness that define say, Oahu, Kauai and even Maui to an extent. Now I know better. The weather is Hawaii's most consistent, the water is gorgeous and the nighttime skies are like gazing up at a planetarium. For the pros who bring their families to the Four Seasons, the dish is sweetened by the Hualalai Golf Club, one of Jack Nicklaus's tamer efforts -- especially on the minimally contoured greens -- but with just enough lava in play and ocean backdrops (most memorably at the par-3 17th) to keep the pros on their toes and the resort guests enthralled.What truly elevates Hualalai, however, is the people. From the folks who service the clientele at the Four Seasons to the fortunate souls that populate the multi-million dollar Hualalai homes, everybody is relentlessly cheery. Take resident Jim Schumacher, whose prowess with an old Titleist Starship metal wood, an implement that looks more at home in a museum than a golf bag, wowed Sluman in the pro-am. Schumacher exchanges jibes and swaps stories with every employee on the premises, from bartenders to golf pros, from the range attendants to the beach club crew. Smiles all around. Camaraderie among Hualalai residents is remarkable in its own right. Schumacher explains, it's "ohana," the Hawaiian word for "family." He's the fourth person here who has mentioned the word. "People actually care about one another here," says Schumacher. "It's like the old TV show ‘Cheers.' It's just good to be at a place where everybody knows your name."I'm just getting a slice of it, hanging with the veterans and enjoying a dose of pampering via the Four Seasons. I corner the usually stoic Bernhard Langer and ask him what he thinks about this tournament. Big, big grin, visual pan of the property -- and finally looks back at me. "This is great. This is really great." Hey, when you're right, you're right.               

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