Unlike on the other Hawaiian Islands, the majority of Oahu's golf courses are not associated with hotels and resorts. In fact, of the island's three dozen–plus courses, only five are tied to lodging; none is in the tourist hub of Waikiki.
Municipal courses are a good choice for budget-conscious golfers but are more crowded and are not always maintained to the same standard as the private courses. Your best bet is to call the day you want to play and inquire about walk-on availability. Greens fees are standard at city courses: walking rate $66 for visitors, riding cart $20 for 18 holes, pull carts $4.
Greens fees listed here are the highest course rates per round on weekdays and weekends for U.S. residents. (Some courses charge non–U.S. residents higher prices.) Discounts are often available for resort guests and for those who book tee times online. Twilight fees are usually offered; call individual courses for information.
There is only one spot to golf near Waikiki and it is the busiest course in America. Although not a very imaginative layout, the price is right and the advantage of walking from your hotel to the course is not to be overlooked. Unless you make a reservation, make sure you bring a newspaper because it will be a little while before you tee off.
Ala Wai Municipal Golf Course. Just across the Ala Wai Canal from Waikiki, this municipal golf course is said to host more rounds than any other U.S. course—up to 500 per day. Not that it's a great course, just really convenient. The best bet for a visitor is to show up and expect to wait at least an hour or call up to three days in advance for a tee-time reservation. When reserving, the automated system will ask for an ID code—simply enter your phone number and give that number and your tee time when checking in. The course itself is flat; Robin Nelson did some redesign work in the 1990s, adding mounding, trees, and a lake. The Ala Wai Canal comes into play on several holes on the back nine, including the treacherous 18th. There's also an on-site restaurant and bar. 404 Kapahulu Ave., Waikiki, Honolulu, Hawaii, 96815. 808/733–7387; 808/738–4652; 808/296–2000; www.honolulu.gov/des/golf/alawai.htm. $66.
Moanalua Golf Club. Said to be (not without dispute) the oldest golf club west of the Rockies, this 9-holer is semiprivate, allowing public play except on weekend and holiday mornings. Near Pearl Harbor and nestled in the hardwoods, this course will remind you more of golf in Pennsylvania than in the tropics, but it offers the lowest greens fees in the area, and by the time you get here, you'll probably be over the whole palm tree theme anyway. The course is a bit quirky, but the final two holes, a par 3 off a cliff to a smallish tree-rimmed green and a par 4 with an approach to a green set snugly between stream and jungle, are classic. Although carts are not required, they are recommended, as this course is a bit steep in places. 1250 Ala Aolani St., Salt Lake, Honolulu, Hawaii, 96819. 808/839–2411; 808/839–2311. $30–$45 for 9 holes; $45–$55 for 18 holes.
Prepare to keep your ball down on this windy corner of Oahu. You'll get beautiful ocean vistas, but you may need them to soothe you once your perfect drive gets blown 40 yards off course by a gusting trade wind.
Hawaii Kai Golf Course. The Championship Golf Course (William F. Bell, 1973) winds through a Honolulu suburb at the foot of Koko Crater. Homes (and the liability of a broken window) come into play on many holes, but they are offset by views of the nearby Pacific and a crafty routing of holes. With several lakes, lots of trees, and bunkers in all the wrong places, Hawaii Kai really is a "championship" golf course, especially when the trade winds howl. Greens fees for this course include mandatory cart. The Executive Course (1962), a par-54 track, is the first of only three courses in Hawaii built by Robert Trent Jones Sr. Although a few changes have been made to his original design, you can find the usual Jones attributes, including raised greens and lots of risk-reward options. You may walk or use a cart on this course for an additional fee. 8902 Kalanianaole Hwy., Hawaii Kai, Hawaii, 96825. 808/395–2358; hawaiikaigolf.com. Championship Course $150, Executive Course $50.
Windward Oahu is what you expect when you think of golfing in the Islands. Lush, tropical foliage will surround you, with towering mountains framing one shot and the crystal-blue Pacific framing the next. Although it's a bit more expensive to golf on this side, and a good deal wetter, the memories and pictures you take on these courses will last a lifetime.
Koolau Golf Club. Koolau Golf Club is marketed as the toughest golf course in Hawaii and one of the most challenging in the country. Dick Nugent and Jack Tuthill (1992) routed 10 holes over jungle ravines that require at least a 110-yard carry. The par-4 18th may be the most difficult closing hole in golf. The tee shot from this hole's regular tees must carry 200 yards of ravine, 250 from the blue tees. The approach shot is back across the ravine, 200 yards to a well-bunkered green. Set at the windward base of the Koolau Mountains, the course is as much beauty as beast. Kaneohe Bay is visible from most holes, orchids and yellow ginger bloom, the shama thrush (Hawaii's best singer since Don Ho) chirps, and waterfalls flute down the sheer, green mountains above. The greens fee includes a (required) cart. 45-550 Kionaole Rd., Kaneohe, Hawaii, 96744. 808/236–4653; www.koolaugolfclub.com. $155.
Olomana Golf Links. Bob and Robert L. Baldock are the architects of record for this layout, but so much has changed since it opened in 1969 that they would recognize little of it. A turf specialist was brought in to improve fairways and greens, tees were rebuilt, new bunkers added, and mangroves cut back to make better use of natural wetlands. But what really puts Olomana on the map is that this is where wunderkind Michelle Wie learned the game. A cart is required at this course and is included in the greens fee. 41-1801 Kalanianaole Hwy., Waimanalo, Hawaii, 96795. 808/259–7926; olomana.golf. $50 for 9 holes, $89 for 18 holes.
Royal Hawaiian Golf Club. In the cool, lush Maunawili Valley, Pete and Perry Dye created what can only be called target jungle golf. In other words, the rough is usually dense jungle, and you may not hit a driver on three of the four par 5s, or several par 4s, including the perilous 18th that plays off a cliff to a narrow green protected by a creek. Mt. Olomana's twin peaks tower over the course. The back nine wanders deep into the valley, and includes an island green (par-3 11th) and perhaps the loveliest inland hole in Hawaii (par-4 12th). 770 Auloa Rd., at Luana Hills Rd., Kailua, Hawaii, 96734. 808/262–2139; royalhawaiiangc.com. $160.
Pali Golf Course. Panoramic views of the Koolau Mountains and Kaneohe Bay enhance the many challenges at this popular municipal course between Kaneohe and Kailua. 45-050 Kamehameha Hwy., Kaneohe, Hawaii, 96744. 808/266–7612; 808/262–2911; www.honolulu.gov/des/golf/pali.html. $66.
The North Shore has both the cheapest and the most expensive courses on the island. You can play nine holes in your bare feet, and you can chunk up the course played by both the LPGA and Champions Tour here, too. Don't try to go the barefoot route on the LPGA course, or the only course in the Islands you may be allowed on will be the Kahuku muni.
Kahuku Municipal Golf Course. The only true links course in Hawaii, this 9-hole municipal course is not for everyone. Maintenance is an ongoing issue, and in summer it can look a bit like the Serengeti. It's walking-only (a few pull-carts are available for rent); there's no pro shop, just a starter who sells lost-and-found balls; and the 19th hole is a soda machine and a covered picnic bench. And yet the course stretches out along the blue Pacific where surf crashes on the shore, the turf underfoot is spongy, sea mist drifts across the links, and wildflowers bloom in the rough. 56-501 Kamehameha Hwy., Kahuku, Hawaii, 96731. 808/293–5842; www.honolulu.gov/des/golf/kahuku.html. $19.
Turtle Bay Resort & Spa. When the Lazarus of golf courses, the Fazio Course (George Fazio, 1971), rose from the dead in 2002, Turtle Bay on Oahu's rugged North Shore became a premier golf destination. Two holes had been plowed under when the Palmer Course (Arnold Palmer and Ed Seay, 1992) was built, while the other seven lay fallow, and the front nine remained open. Then new owners came along and re-created holes 13 and 14 using Fazio's original plans, and the Fazio became whole again. It's a terrific track with 90 bunkers. The gem at Turtle Bay, though, is the Palmer. The front nine is mostly open as it skirts Punahoolapa Marsh, a nature sanctuary, while the back nine plunges into the wetlands and winds along the coast. The short par-4 17th runs along the rocky shore, with a diabolical string of bunkers cutting diagonally across the fairway from tee to green. Carts are required for both courses and are included in the greens fee. 57-049 Kuilima Dr., Kahuku, Hawaii, 96731. 808/293–8574; www.turtlebaygolf.com. Fazio Course: $115 for 18 holes, $65 for 9 holes. Palmer Course: $165 for 18 holes, $95 for 9 holes.
Golf courses are densest here in Central Oahu, where plantations morphed into tract housing and golf courses were added to anchor communities. The vegetation is much sparser, but some of the best greens around can be found here. Play early to avoid the hot afternoons, but if you can handle the heat, note that most courses offer substantial discounts for twilight hours.
Hawaii Country Club. Also known as Kunia—but not to be confused with Royal Kunia a few miles away—this course is in the middle of former sugarcane fields and dates to plantation times. Several par 4s are drivable, including the 9th and 18th holes. This is a fun course, but it's a bit rough around the edges. You can walk the course on weekdays only. 94-1211 Kunia Rd., Waipahu, Hawaii, 96797. 808/621–5654. $50.
Mililani Golf Course. Located on Oahu's central plain, Mililani is usually a few degrees cooler than downtown, 25 minutes away. The eucalyptus trees through which the course plays add to the cool factor, and stands of Norfolk pines give Mililani a "mainland course" feel. Bob and Robert L. Baldock (1966) make good use of an old irrigation ditch reminiscent of a Scottish burn. Carts are required and are included in the greens fee. 95-176 Kuahelani Ave., Mililani, Hawaii, 96789. 808/623–2222; www.mililanigolf.com. $160.
Pearl Country Club. Carved in the hillside high above Pearl Harbor, the 18 holes here are really two courses. The front nine rambles out along gently sloping terrain, while the back nine zigzags up and down a steeper portion of the slope as it rises into the Koolau Mountains. The views of Pearl Harbor are breathtaking. Carts are required and are included in the greens fee. 98-535 Kaonohi St., Aiea, Hawaii, 96701. 808/487–3802; www.pearlcc.com. $55 for 9 holes, $150 for 18 holes.
Royal Kunia Country Club. At one time, the PGA Tour considered buying the Royal Kunia Country Club and hosting the Sony Open here. It's that good. Every hole offers fabulous views from Diamond Head to Pearl Harbor to the nearby Waianae Mountains.Robin Nelson's eye for natural sight lines and his dexterity with water features add to the visual pleasure. Carts are required and are included in the greens fee. 94-1509 Anonui St., Waipahu, Hawaii, 96759. 808/688–9222; www.royalkuniacc.com. $60 for 9 holes, $150 for 18 holes.
Waikele Country Club. Outlet stores are not the only bargain at Waikele. The adjacent golf course is a daily-fee course that offers a private club–like atmosphere and a terrific Ted Robinson (1992) layout. Robinson's water features are less distinctive here but define the short par-4 4th hole, with a lake running down the left side of the fairway and guarding the green; and the par-3 17th, which plays across a lake. The par-4 18th is a terrific closing hole, with a lake lurking on the right side of the green. Carts are required and are included in the greens fee. 94-200 Paioa Pl., Waipahu, Hawaii, 96797. 808/676–9000; www.golfwaikele.com. $170.
Ted Makalena Golf Course. The flat layout of this bare-bones municipal course with Bermuda grass fairways appeals to all levels of players, but especially those just starting to learn the sport. 93-059 Waipio Point Access Rd., Waipahu, Hawaii, 96797. 808/675–6052; www.honolulu.gov/des/golf/makalena.html. $30 for 9 holes; $66 for 18 holes.
West (Leeward) Oahu
On the leeward side of the mountains, shielded from the rains that drench the Kaneohe side, West Oahu is arid and sunny and has a unique kind of beauty. The Ewa area is dotted with golf courses and new development, so you'll have your pick of a number of different options—golfers generally choose courses in Ewa and Kapolei because they provide a totally different landscape from Waikiki or the North Shore. The resort courses on the west side are a long drive from town, but the beaches are magnificent and you can find deals if you’re combining a room with a round or two on the greens.
Coral Creek Golf Course. On the Ewa Plain, 4 miles inland, Coral Creek is cut from ancient coral left from when this area was still underwater. Robin Nelson (1999) did some of his best work in making use of the coral—and of some dynamite, blasting out portions to create dramatic lakes and tee and green sites. They could just as easily call it Coral Cliffs, because of the 30- to 40-foot cliffs Nelson created. They include the par-3 10th green's grotto and waterfall, and the vertical drop-off on the right side of the par-4 18th green. An ancient creek meanders across the course, but there's not much water, just enough to be a babbling nuisance. Carts are required and are included in the greens fee. 91-1111 Geiger Rd., Ewa Beach, Hawaii, 96706. 808/441–4653; www.coralcreekgolfhawaii.com. $70 for 9 holes, $140 for 18 holes.
Ewa Beach Golf Club. A private course open to the public, Ewa is one of the delightful products of the too-brief collaboration of Robin Nelson and Rodney Wright (1992). Trees are very much part of the character here, but there are also elements of links golf, such as a double green shared by the 2nd and 16th holes. Carts are required and are included in the greens fee. 91-050 Fort Weaver Rd., Ewa Beach, Hawaii, 96706. 808/689–6565; www.ewabeachgc.com. $165.
Hawaii Prince Golf Course. Affiliated with the Hawaii Prince Hotel in Waikiki, the Hawaii Prince Golf Course (not to be confused with the Prince Course at Princeville, Kauai) has a links feel to it, and it is popular with local-charity fund-raiser golf tournaments. Arnold Palmer and Ed Seay (1991) took what had been flat, featureless sugarcane fields and sculpted 27 challenging, varied holes. Mounding breaks up the landscape, as do 10 lakes. Water comes into play on six holes of the A course, three of B, and seven of C. The most difficult combination is A and C (A and B from the forward tees). Carts are required and are included in the greens fee. 91-1200 Fort Weaver Rd., Ewa Beach, Hawaii, 96706. 808/944–4567; www.hawaiiprincegolf.com. $87 for 9 holes, $170 for 18 holes.
Kapolei Golf Course. This is a Ted Robinson water wonderland with waterfalls and four lakes—three so big they have names—coming into play on 10 holes. Set on rolling terrain, Kapolei is a serious golf course, especially when the wind blows. Carts are required and are included in the greens fee. 91-701 Farrington Hwy., Kapolei, Hawaii, 96707. 808/674–2227; www.kapoleigolf.com. $185.
Ko Olina Golf Club. Hawaii's golden age of golf-course architecture came to Oahu when Ko Olina Golf Club opened in 1989. Ted Robinson, king of the water features, went splash-happy here, creating nine lakes that come into play on eight holes, including the par-3 12th, where you reach the tee by driving behind a Disney-like waterfall. Tactically, though, the most dramatic is the par-4 18th, where the approach is a minimum 120 yards across a lake to a two-tiered green guarded on the left by a cascading waterfall. Today Ko Olina has matured into one of Hawaii's top courses. You can niggle about routing issues—the first three holes play into the trade winds (and the morning sun), as do two consecutive par 5s on the back nine play—but Robinson does enough solid design to make those of passing concern. The course provides free transportation from Waikiki hotels. 92-1220 Aliinui Dr., Ko Olina, Hawaii, 96797. 808/676–5300; www.koolinagolf.com. $115 for 9 holes, $225 for 18 holes.
Makaha Valley Country Club. This course (William F. Bell, 1968), known locally as Makaha East, is indeed a valley course, taking great advantage of the steep valley walls and natural terrain. The double-dogleg, downhill-uphill, par-5 18th is a doozy of a closer. Carts are required and are included in the greens fee. 84-627 Makaha Valley Rd., Waianae, Hawaii, 96792. 808/695–7111; www.pacificlinks.com/makahaeast. $42 for 9 holes, $97 for 18 holes.
West Loch Municipal Golf Course. The best of Honolulu's municipal courses, this Robin Nelson (1991) design plays along Pearl Harbor's West Loch. In the process of building the course, wetlands were actually expanded, increasing bird habitat. 91-1126 Okupe St., Ewa Beach, Hawaii, 96706. 808/675–6076; www.honolulu.gov/des/golf/westloch.html. $66.