The Royal Hawaiian Golf Club in Windward Oahu is a stunningly beautiful and maddeningly challenging eighteen holes sculpted into the rainforest. It was opened in 1993, with the venerable architects Perry and Pete Dye providing the design. A recent redesign was masterminded by Aussie golf legend Greg Norman. For golfers it is a singular, savage beauty. And beast.
You’ll likely pass hikers of Mount Olomana on the winding road to the clubhouse. The hikers on the descent are easy to identify: winded, muddy, and smiling. You might resemble them after a round in the woods. The course is settled between the triple peaks of Olomana and the towering, purple Koolau Mountains to the west.
It’s a difficult course. While it is certainly possible to the make it through all 18 holes without losing a ball as some have surely done, we’ve never met a golfer who has. But that’s not the point. It’ll “pad your handicap” if you are a golfer who keeps track. It will also startle you into taking in the sublime sights and sounds of the forest. It is unique in the world of golf courses in its raw nature.
The path from the first to second tee meanders for minutes through the trees. Without a cart, it would take fifteen minutes to walk the paved path. Cart rentals are included with green fees (because obviously).
The front nine is entirely in the forest. Out of bounds is pretty much everywhere other than the fairways and the roughs. We’d advise against playing with spendy name brand or personalized golf balls. They vanish quickly into the trees at Royal Hawaiian.
The back nine is slightly more open. But the jungle is always in play. When the wind whips down the backslope of Mount Olomana you are not just battling the course, you’re battling the elements. Those trade winds often carry passing sheets of rain, so put a rain jacket in your bag.
There are drastic elevation changes throughout the course, beginning with the uphill par-4 first hole. There are forced-carries, withering par-5s, and island greens. Blind fairways bend up, down, and around. Most of the course is hidden, visible only if you are playing it or you happen to be in an aircraft above it. It’s Jurassic.
Royal Hawaiian Golf Course isn’t the kind of course to play if you are looking to work on your golf game. Unless, of course, patience and humility are the parts of your game you want to work on. You’ll get plenty of opportunities to demonstrate them over eighteen holes. You’ll also know the thrill of triumph when you land on the green beneath a forest canopy and a glorious chorus of birdsong.
With an early tee time, you’ll be able to grab a fine breakfast at The Olena restaurant or enjoy well deserved lunch and refreshments after a round of golf that will feel like an adventure. If club rentals are unavailable (check with the clubhouse when making a tee time), Hawaii Aloha Travel can connect you with Oahu’s best golf outfitters.
Your smartphone’s camera may be the most important item in your golf bag at Royal Hawaiian Golf Club. You might need photographic proof for yourself that you played such a dreamlike eighteen holes in the teeming jungle.
Posted by: Jamie Winpenny