I managed to squeeze some R&R time in my trip to Hawaii recently. As I did not know the right people at the time, I kind of went blindly in choosing a course to play there. My first gut instinct was to play at Waialae which as some of you should know, it is THE Sony Open Course. It was in a good location around Diamond Head but I found out that it was an exclusive Member's club and one cannot get to play there unless you are a guest of a member there. I also heard that Turtle bay is good but considering that my time is squeezed, I do not think I will be able to make the time to drive up all the way to North Shore since I am staying around the Waikiki area only. The next course that came to my head was "the Michelle Wie course"; Waikele Country Club.
Although it is relatively near to Waikiki and the Airport, Honolulu's traffic has gotten so bad in the recent years that some people and a radio station already claims that its traffic is worse than California's! I found it a little hard to believe at first but after driving there for a week, I found it to be rather true but I would say that traffic conditions are comparable to California but definitely not worse. It took about an hour to get there in 7am traffic. But finally we were there.
Its a Par 72 course and distances were pretty decent. I found that it had a good balance of varying distances. There were risk and reward holes for long hitters and short hitters would also find it easy to reach the greens in regulation. The course actually spreads out quite widely and it is in-between a couple of roads and housing estates. There is a significant difference between the blue tee box and white/red tee boxes.
The buggies were all equipped with GPS which allows you to choose languages; Japanese or English and also for you to select imperial or metric distances. Distances are displayed up to center of the green and there was another card that showed you the pin positions of the day. The other cool thing about the buggy is that it has an automatic speed limiter which cuts the buggy top speed on its own when you are entering certain parts of the course. As mentioned earlier, due to the spread of the course, there were certain portions where you have the drive the buggy through a tunnel which actually goes under a main road. When you are entering these tunnels which are two-way, the GPS display would beep and warn you of the two-way tunnel and the buggy immediately cut its speed so that you can drive through the tunnel safely.
Going up to the first hole, which is quite a distance away from the buggy station, there is actually a practice putting green next to the tee boxes. We found time to use the practice green as we were just behind another local group. Practice green was actually well maintained but I was surprised to find the speed a little slow. I would say between 7 to 8 or Keppel and Kranji. The speed is later found to be true on the actual greens as well.
The course is nestled in between housing communities and roads which makes it feel abit less exclusive, you can see the houses here just right next to the fairway. It makes you wonder how much trust this Americans have in each other. I wonder what is the stopping the residents there for popping over to the next hole for a quick 5 to 7 min practice at that hole.
The tee box here is next to H1, which is the main highway in Honolulu and in the distance from the tee box, you can see a couple of US warships docked in West Loch.
There is an interesting variation to the course of a couple of deceivingly tight holes on tee off and wide fairways for you to attack. I do find the course quite relaxing to play at. I would almost say that it is relatively easy but I did not do too well myself there.
The two things I got to complain is that green speeds are pretty inconsistent, there are some greens which are really slow and soft and some greens are hard and fast. It took a while to realized that conditions of the green is very much dependent on where the holes are located. I guess drainage is not really that solid here and the lower sitting holes tend to be a little more wet than the elevated greens.
The other thing which I did not like but am too familiar with is "red earth". This is very common in these pacific islands where it is in its natural volcanic soil properties to be iron-rich and a little harder than the brown soil here in the tropics. It makes me wonder really how did they managed to grow the grass there. Its not so much trouble for "sweepers" but it just irritated me a little when I am attacking those greens in my approaches.
There was an interesting feature in one of the holes here at Waikele. Hole 11 has 2 greens for you to land on. The green on the left is a normal 2 tier green which you are better off landing at either ends of the green depending on the pin position. If you are not sure what I mean, think of either Keppel's Hole 1 or 16. The green on the right is different all together.
Its "a hole for a special hole-in-one experience". I took the above picture from the back and the green in the middle of the picture if the special green and the green on the right of the picture is the normal green. The special green is bowl-shaped with the pin in the middle of the green. As long as you are able to land on the green, the ball should be able to slowly roll into the hole.
I did not have the pleasure of trying it myself as I did not see the green from the Blue Tee Box. Only managed to see it and understand the concept at the white tee box. I was too shy to give it a go as the behind flight was already waiting. I will perhaps give it a go the next time and post back my experience here.
It was an overall pleasant experience. The course was very pleasant to play in, in no way, we were chewed and taken apart by the course but definitely got punished for not pulling off risky shots. It is a good balance of golf difficulty and certain holes do have decent scenery and view. I would definitely be going back to the course one more time to try Hole 11.
The other plus point of the course is that it is right next to the only Premium Outlet on Honolulu. Oh. Yes. That's the other reason for choosing the golf course this time.