With one round of golf played and a couple more days into our vacation. We found ourselves ready to play again. This time playing the course we had been discussing for some time. During our prior year trip to the Big Island, we didn’t play golf at Mauna Kea. Instead choosing to play a second time at Mauna Lani. Through our year at home between trips to the island, after choosing to make a return trip to the Big Island. I came across a list of the best courses to play in the country. There are many different kinds of lists made of courses in the United States, so I went scrolling down this particular list. The list was inside a golf magazine, as I looked for courses on the Big Island of Hawaii. Thinking Mauna Lani would surely show up first for the island. To my surprise, it didn’t even make the list being read. Mauna Kea was the only Big Island course sticking out to me from the magazine. The course entered my mind as one we should look into during our next trip. This second round of golf turned into the day for playing this nationally honored place. It sat on the opposite side of the highway from Hapuna, along the coast.
We took the left hand turn off the highway, heading toward the Pacific Ocean. Through a welcoming shed we passed without hesitation. The gentleman inside pointed us in the direction of the clubhouse. The clubhouse sat across the street from the oceanfront resort. Crowded with people checking-in for their Hawaiian vacation. We got all checked-in to play, walking out the rear entrance, and getting into the golf carts. Similarly, to Hapuna just days before, the starting area was quiet. There would be plenty of time to spend on the range and putting green. Some golf balls were struck to warm the body before playing, which in the Hawaiian sun didn’t take long. A couple putts were struck on the practice green. Presenting surfaces that would most likely provide more speed than Hapuna. With our golf balls struck and familiarity of the greens accomplished, it was time for the challenge. We rolled the golf carts up to an inviting first golf hole at Mauna Kea. Without anyone around to provide any kind of hurried emotion, we relaxed into the round. The first was an inviting par-4 which sharply doglegged to the right, well beyond the teeing ground. With an open fairway, ready to accept my shot, the first swing saw the ball settle in the middle. It became quickly apparent we would be in for a treat. The course was well maintained from the start. Providing great surfaces to play from. The information not apparent from that first hole, was the unexpected challenge laying ahead.
One thing was unquestioned from this day. Mauna Kea was one of the most challenging courses I have ever played. We’re talking easily inside the top five and something I was far from expecting. By the time of realizing the battle this day would present, it was simply too late. The shot into the first green took me straight up the hill. It wasn’t known at the time, but the uphill shot into the green would be seen time and time again. One of the most challenging golf shots for me to execute, as my ball flight remains relatively low. Our second hole took us back down toward the ocean. From an elevated tee, the second was pleasing to the eye. The fairway moving from our left to right. The green was slightly elevated, but nothing like we would be challenged by throughout the day. It was one of the more comfortable holes on the golf course, leading us into our first ocean hole of the trip. The third hole at Mauna Kea provided out first look at the Pacific. The par-3 was shaped around a small inlet of water, rolling gently into the rocks. The teeing ground on one side, the shot asked to carry over the water. Much like the fifteenth at Mauna Lani. However, this short hole found the green perched atop a rather steep incline. It called for extra club to carry the ball up onto the putting surface. Good contact was made, as my ball flew up, and just long right of the putting surface. One of the more beautiful holes on the golf course, the elevated green provided a good vantage point. After taking in the view for a couple minutes, the fourth hole took us back inland.
The remainder of the first nine holes wound back up into the hill. We could peer out to see the ocean at different points along the way. Much like the hills of the Hapuna course, even being away from the ocean, we continued to watch its presence. Even with those views cropping up, there was much to hold our concentration. The undulations were dramatic at times along the first nine holes of our day. Playing away from the Pacific presented us with two holes climbing back up into the hill. Once back up the hill some, we became presented with a couple holes feeding down off elevated teeing ground. The hole would bottom out and carry us right back up another slope. The elevated greens providing much challenge on the second shots on the holes. For me, it meant taking much more club than would normally be required. As the uphill slopes adds distance to the golf shot. My shots often colliding into the slope, with the hope of being propelled upward onto the putting surface. When the ball didn’t quite make it up the hillside on these challenging holes. The situation could become interesting and challenge my disability uniquely. When required to maintain an unbalanced stance, there becomes added stress on the body. Leaving me to place more focus on my ability to balance. It provides a good challenge, but all the sloping around the greens leads to a more challenging day.
The final nine holes of Mauna Kea began with an impressive tenth. Falling from an elevated teeing ground, the hole wound upward to the right. Back up another hillside to a challenging elevated green. The designs were starting to fit into patterns. Many moving downward off the tee box, then back up to the elevated green. We finished the wonderfully complex tenth, the eleventh took us to the ocean for a final time. A par-3 hole moving directly down the hill. The green sitting on a bluff above the water. Once standing on the green, we could look down on the beach of the Mauna Kea resort. There was a small bay and we could see people having fun on their vacation. After taking in some of the fun, we ventured back up the hill for the teeing area of the twelfth. The final nine holes of Mauna Kea were designed a little differently. We still had some of the drastic uphill shots into greens, though not as many. The teeing grounds weren’t as consistently elevated. However, most holes moved uphill to some extent. They were all more interesting on the final nine. Using undulations of smaller degrees and unique curvatures around the greens to challenge the player. Until we hit the eighteenth tee box, which stole the show of the day. Walking off seventeen, I was exhausted from a day of brutal challenge. We came driving up a slight hill to an elevated teeing ground. With the fairway drastically dropped below. As we looked out over the resort, with a breathtaking panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean. It was worth every bit of patience this golf course required.
My final tee shot at Mauna Kea flew into the blue sky, resting in the middle. The eighteenth took us back down the hill. Back down to the clubhouse where our day had begun. The golf course was far different than expected. I hadn’t thought it would be as challenging as it had been. Mother Nature also kept us on our toes during the round. Wind blew so furiously at points; my hat was removed. Attempting to hold it in position while playing golf became problematic. The wind was another element challenging my balance that day. Which in turn became one of things appreciated about Mauna Kea. The course challenged many aspects of my golf game and disability. Heavily sloping terrain made standing in places challenging, then maintaining that balance to swing added elements. My idea of a relaxing round of golf in Hawaii was sorely misguided. This golf course felt designed to challenge many aspects of the ability of the golfer. While providing some incredible views of the ocean and holes interesting to the eye. If venturing back to the Big Island occurs Mauna Kea will be on the list. This time understanding every ounce of my golf game would be required.