There are several ways to spot luxury at a resort golf course.
Sometimes it presents itself in the form of impeccable service. Other times you might see velvet fairways. Or a state-of-the-art clubhouse. Or dramatic ocean views. Hualalai Golf Course has all of these in spades. But for me, what really shatters the luxury meter is the jar of fresh-baked cookies awaiting hungry golfers as they make the turn. Would you care for chocolate chip or oatmeal raisin? One of each? A handful? Dive right in.
I visited Hualalai on a perfect morning -- clear skies, low winds and bright Hawaiian sunshine. Some readers may recognize the course as the annual home to the Champions Tour's Mitsubishi Electric Championship. Tom Watson beat Fred Couples by a shot last year, and I remember thinking the place looked pretty sweet in HD.
It's even better in person.
With play limited to guests at the Four Seasons, neighboring Kona Village Resort or invite only, the course gets about 18,000-20,000 rounds per year, a low number for the Kohala Coast. (There's also an über-private Weiskopf-designed 18-hole course on property for Hualalai residents and their guests.) Hualalai is so pristine that guest are encouraged not to replace their divots or fill them with sand -- lest they do it improperly -- so maintenance crews swing through each evening to repair the displaced soil. I mentioned this place was luxurious, right?
Here's a look at the signature par-3 17th, which was playing 150 yards from the back tee. I can barely string together two coherent sentences and my swing stinks, but check out that ocean!
For those keeping score, I'm pleased to report that I two-putted from 60 feet; a much better result than the dastardly third hole at Mauna Kea. As for rooms, I checked in at Kona Village Resort for a couple of nights, which turned out to be one of the highlights of the week. The property is comprised of 125 thatched-roof bungalows, or "hale" (pronounced ha-lay), and 82 sit right on the beach overlooking the ocean. Kona Village opened in 1965 as the second resort hotel on the Island, and it's a throwback to a different era. To illustrate what exactly that era entails, here are three examples:
1) Rooms do not have phones. 2) Rooms do not have clocks. 3) Rooms do not have televisions. When I first arrived I found the serenity a little disorienting. What? How will I check my email? But after several hours in a hammock, a couple in the ocean and several more just listening to the waves crash around me in surround sound, I no longer gave a flying guava bean about anything happening on the mainland. The food is fantastic (see my breakfast photo below), and guests can grab a kayak or snorkel gear for no added cost, and for unlimited time. (Remember, no clocks.) As far as I could tell, the resort's only rule is to leave the turtles alone. Do that, and you're good. It's hardly a surprise that Kona Village has one of the highest return guest rates -- about 60 percent -- in all of Hawaii.
Count me among those hoping to fall into that 60 percent. But you can't plot a return trip without leaving first, so with that it's time to say aloha to the Big Island, and mahalo nui loa to those who made my trip an unforgettable experience. See you back on the mainland, America. (Photos: Hualalai, Jeff Ritter)