Magic must pervade these most striking of all islands because I’m back here again in Hawaii and wonder of wonder – I’ve hit one under. This time my travels have brought me to the Beach Course of the Hilton Waikoloa Village on the Kona Coast of the Big Island of Hawaii and another brief perusal of what paradise might look like, if I ever get there. For me, this glimpse of heaven looks like the clubhouse at dawn where the shuttle has deposited me for the first tee time of the day. You might grasp a paltry reflection of this reality in the first picture, but take my word for it, if opportunity permits – just go there for yourself.
With no one before me I stripe a good drive off of number one, a 350 yard par four whose only challenge lies in the forbidding lake that sits between you and dry land. But I’ve been hitting the big stick well recently and even though these are rented Callaway RAZR’s I put it safely on the short grass with only 120 yards to happiness. Happiness is short lived however, and a brief trip to the beach follows; but I blast out to two feet and a solid par to begin. Number two dispels visions of scratch golf. It is 180 all across water to a shallow green. I shot wide left and am chipping again. One of the strong assets of this course is the greens which are straight and true and I garner a second one putt green – no shots dropped so far. The third is a vanilla par 4, so vanilla that I drop a shot with a poor chip. I’m fuming at myself more than the world. But now we come to number four, perhaps one of the most photogenic holes of my acquaintance. I provide the attached picture to let you know where my second shot landed. It is a 550 yard par 5 and I loved it even though I bogeyed – there can’t be too many holes you can say that about.
Then I got lost! Somewhere in the crossover I went to 14 not 5 and backtracked only when I realized on the following hole. Five is no gimme. You hit down a volcanic chute, with no sign of the green in sight. The second is to a pinpoint green and again I had to rely on the putter to par up. Now you get a breather, a shorter par three and I’m on the dance floor and looking on these greens for the tweet of an avian friend. But only silence followed and an opportunity again went begging. No chance on the next hole, an almost perfect par 5. You hit toward the ocean, then you hit toward the ocean, then you hit toward the ocean again. I’ve shown the second shot here, it features much lava and little fairway. It is the signature hole of the course and one of the most picturesque you can possibly play. I escaped with a one putt five – I was glad to do so.
Eight is an uphill par 3. No break here and I had to fight hard even for my bogey. This course will fool you with its looks and palm trees but there are issues out here as you fall for the distraction of Island breezes. The front nine finishes with a hole called “round the corner” about as apt a description as you can get. It is a savage dog-leg left. From the tee it is really hard to see where the ball should go and the card is no help, having no hole diagrams, only pin positions. I eke out a GIR and with two puts I am only three over for the front nine – it must be the atmosphere and the rental clubs because I can’t play this well! Let’s see what the home leg brings.
There’s no let up at the start of this nine. Ten is a long par 5 and despite hitting the fairway it breaks me with another bogey, and that a one putt rescue. But eleven is a very different proposition. A short 320 yard par 4 it looks inviting and even drivable from the tee. I let a good one go and am only 40 yards off the green (well it was downhill for the drive). I dream again of my winged friends, a pitch and putt for transient immortality. The pitch is fine and I’m looking at 12 feet to take me home. But then the greatest danger of this course rises up and grabs me. The picture says it all. There’s my cart, there’s the swaying trees, the magnificent scenery, the majestic volcanic mountain. My mind drifted off of the putt and that’s the way the putt went. Lipping out as my attention was distracted by the ambient perfection. Truly I was where “all of nature pleases and only putters vile.”
“Live in the present -live in the present,” I intone as I addressed the tee shot at the twelfth. I didn’t, I lived in the past of that birdie miss and missed the tee shot here. It dribbled 100 yards and left me scrambling for another bogey. Do the pros really have no memory – of course not, they remember every stroke – just like you and me. I reach 13 and it’s a challenge. For a start you have to find your way around the lava tube just to get to the tee.
Taking a ‘mental margarita’ I hit a fair drive of 200 yards, but at least it’s straight. And now comes what we all know is the sneaky seduction of the game. I hit a groin-pounding, mind-altering, arm-singing hybrid 172 yards, lasered on to the pin which curls up eight feet from the hole just like the Bobby Jones tapes tell us it should. The ride to the green is all about breathing, concentration and all that other rubbish the talking-heads peddle on the televisual window to insanity. But now I’m standing over the putt and even worse, it’s straight. I have no excuses left, it’s just me, the stick, the ball, and the hole. And I win! Birdie, birdie, birdie, somehow the financial crisis fades into insignificance, somehow my scoped left knee no longer groans – I’ve captured another birdie in paradise! I linger, trying to stretch the moment but the 14th tee awaits and off I go. I get lost again. I’m back at that same cross-over and scout round to find the next tee. Finally, it’s déjà vu all over again because I’ve played this one before – and played it better. I take a bogey to placate the golf gods and then it’s on to 15. A good drive faces me up to my rojo monstruo, a second all across water to a sloping green. I’m on, but barely, and it takes two good putts for the par.
Now we turn for the final stretch. Sixteen is volcano alley: walls of lava to the right, no fun to the left. A challenge of a par four and only my second saved the par which the green looked to rob me of. The penultimate hole is a short but fun par 3; 120 and guarded by water. I’m really liking these clubs, they hit solid and really only ask me not to interfere. My accountant-like, regimented nine iron shot lands 20 feet past – I am happy. Walking off with a par it is up the hill to the closing hole. Sad to say, despite an open driving hole, I bogey again leaving that deprived and dissatisfied feeling in the pit of my stomach – when will I ever conquer this game? The answer, of course, is never. But it has brought me here – and I hope it takes you there too.