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Discover the beautiful Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, which was originally designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr.

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Mauna Kea Beach Hotel’s golf heritage dates back to the mid-1960s.


Mauna Kea Golf Course Virtual Tour

Learn about the amazing Mauna Kea Golf Course via the corresponding digital tour.


Mauna Kea Beach Hotel Championship Golf Course is an award-winning course located on Mauna Kea Beach and has led the way in golf course beauty and design since its debut along the Kohala Coast in 1964. Mauna Kea Golf Course was the first resort-based golf course on the island of Hawaii, as well as the first to be built on an ancient lava flow. Designed by famous golf course architect Robert Trent Jones Sr.—and updated by son Rees Jones in 2008—the course’s fantastic landscaping presents an imposing challenge for even the most seasoned golfers. Indeed, its well-placed bunkers and undulating greens have enticed all who have experienced them. The golf course was part of Laurance S. Rockefeller’s strategy to turn Kauna‘oa Bay into one of America’s best holiday destinations. Hiring Robert Trent Jones Sr. to oversee its construction, Rockefeller hoped that both his new resort hotel and the golf course would attract countless guests from across the nation. Jones shared his employer’s enthusiasm, too. In fact, one story even alleged that Robert Trent Jones Sr. told Rockefeller: “allow me to build a golf course here, it will be the most beautiful hole in the world.” To that end, Jones invented a new technique to turn the rocky terrain into stunning fairways and verdant greens. The work was regarded as an engineering marvel. Trent’s team specifically mixed the soil from the lava with crushed limestone and coral to create a foundation for the course. Amazingly, they found a way to drill deeply into the ground to better irrigate the newly formed land.

After a prolonged period of continuous construction, both Rockefeller and Jones Sr. debuted the beautiful new golf course six months before the resort itself opened in 1965. To celebrate its grand opening, Rockefeller held a special televised tournament on the course that December. The tournament specifically hosted golf’s “Big Three” of the age—Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, and Gary Player. The climax of the competition came when the trio teed-off on hole three. The hole was incredibly difficult for even the three men, as two-thirds of the fairway was covered completely by water. Despite their collective talent, only Palmer succeeded in reaching the green. Since that premier, the course has welcomed celebrities, professionals, and avid golf enthusiasts who have it on their bucket list. The previously unplayable lava field has been further transformed to offer extraordinary views of dramatic seaside cliffs that loom over the Pacific Ocean. All the fairways were even re-landscaped to feature a terrific layout of elite TifEagle bermudagrass. But the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel also installed a second course called the Hapuna Golf Course in 1992. Like the Mauna Kea Golf Course, the Hapuna features carpet-like greens flanked by the picturesque natural landscapes of the surrounding Kohala Coast. Both courses also have access to world-class practice facilities, thoughtful amenities, and services, which have helped secure its rightful place among America’s most historical places to play a round of golf.

  • About the Location +

    The region of Kohala resides on the northern end of the Island of Hawai’i within the greater Hawaiian archipelago. Local Hawaiians cultivated the countryside for centuries, using a system of terraced farming and ditch irrigation to grow such products like taro, bananas, and sweet potatoes. Dozens of historical Hawaiian settlements also dotted the landscape, including an ancient fishing village named “Lapakahi.” But plantation farming and sustenance fishing were gradually replaced with a commercialized agricultural society that appeared with the arrival of foreigners at the end of the 18th century. The very first recorded traveler to visit was Captain James Cook, an English mariner hired by the Earl of Sandwich to explore the Pacific Ocean. (Although there is some dispute today as to whether the Spanish navigator Ruy López de Villalobos found the islands first.) In the years following Cook’s landing, many Europeans—and later Americans—started settling the Hawaiian Islands, including Hawai’i and its Kohala region. The new inhabitants erected massive estates that specialized in growing cash crops like sugarcane. Cattle raising also emerged in popularity on Hawai’i around the same time, too, with the first ranches opening in 1793. Unlike the American and European plantation owners, the people who established the earliest ranches were from Mexico. They trained the native Hawaiians in the art of cattle ranching, giving rise to the culture of the “paniolos.” Regarded as the Hawaiian “cowboy,” many paniolos still call Hawai’i home to this very day.

    Perhaps the greatest historical accolade of the Kohala region is that it was once home to Paiʻea Kamehameha, otherwise known as “Kamehameha the Great.” Born in Kohala during the 1750s, Kamehameha was responsible for uniting the Hawaiian archipelago into a single society. Upon the death of his uncle, King Kalaniopuu, in 1782, the island of Hawai’i was effectively split between Kamehameha and his cousin, Kiwalao. While the two relatives lived in peace for some time, the actions of their supporters eventually forced both men to go to war. In what became known as the “Battle of Mokuʻōhai,” Kamehameha’s army routed Kiwalao’s forces. Nevertheless, Kamehameha struggled to control the eastern half of the island, which was under the influence of Kiwalao’s half-brother, Keōua Kuahuʻula. After a series of inconclusive battles, Kamehameha constructed a massive temple complex called “Puʻukoholā Heiau” to reinforce his political power. (It is currently federally protected as a National Historic Landmark.) He then attacked Kuahuʻula’s men a final time at the Battle of Kawaihae and won. Now the suzerain of Hawai’i, Kamehameha subsequently embarked on a great crusade to seize the other neighboring islands. Conquering places like Maui and Oahu, Kamehameha managed to forge a unified kingdom by 1810. King Kamehameha proceeded to lead the region into a cultural renaissance, instituting a system of laws and founding a well-funded treasury. Kamehameha even protected Hawaii’s sovereignty by facilitating peaceful diplomatic relations with a few European nations and the young United States.

    Kohala itself was named after the main dominating geological feature in the region—Kohala Mountain. The first of Hawai’i’s five major volcanoes to manifest, Kohala is currently believed to have existed for centuries. According to geologists, the volcano has been around so long that it experienced the flip of the Earth’s magnetic field some 780,000 years ago! (Kohala Mountain has laid dormant for over 120,000 years, posing no real threat to the surrounding environs.) Not only is Kohala Mountain ancient, it is also incredibly large. Shaped like a foot, the volcano covers some 234 square miles and 3,400 cubic miles in volume. Amazingly, Kohala Mountain constitutes just under 6% of Hawai’i’s total land mass. But experts hypothesize that the volcano may have stood even larger, as recent evidence has suggested that a landslide reduced its summit by 3,300 feet. Contributing to the mountain’s unique shape has been extreme erosion, which occurred over the course of millennia. The activity has created subsequently several other amazing geological features, too, including the verdant Polulu and Waipiʻo valleys. Scientists have even uncovered a wealth of historic maritime fossils imbedded into the crust of Kohala Mountain, offering a fascinating glimpse into Hawaii’s prehistoric environment. Contemporary local conservationists have since taken great pains to preserve the area’s rich ecology for future generations to appreciate.

  • About the Architect +

    Robert Trent Jones Sr.: In terms of golf course design, few have had as much an impact as the celebrated Robert Trent Jones Sr. Born in England to Welsh parents at the start of the 20th century, Jones immigrated to the United States while still a young boy. Settling down in East Rochester, New York, Jones took a job caddying at the neighboring Country Club of Rochester when he had grown a bit older. The experience was a formative one for Jones, as it instilled a deep love of the game that would never fade. Indeed, he eventually entered a youth tournament that the Country Club of Rochester and shot a record-setting score of 69! He even took a position as the club professional at the Sodus Bay Heights Country Club not long thereafter, where he further honed his skills. Unfortunately, poor health forced Jones to abandon his plans of competing again. But Jones found another opportunity to pursue golf after a wealthy friend arranged to have him visit Cornell University. Enchanted with the school, Jones enrolled to study a customized series of agricultural courses that would help him develop championship-caliber golf courses in the future. In fact, Jones got to even practice some golf course architecture at Cornell, designing nine fairways to serve as its official golf course. (Now known as the “Robert Trent Jones Golf Course,” he later expanded the size of the course to 18 holes in 1954.)

    Upon completing his studies in the early 1930s, Jones attempted to find work on his own. He managed to secure a commission with the Midvale Golf and Country Club on the condition that a more experienced golf course architect act as a supervisor. As such, the club’s president brought the renowned Canadian landscaper Stanley Thompson to function as Jones’ mentor. While Jones’ work at Midvale was an eventual failure—the club actually went bankrupt—the experience inspired Jones and Thompson to form a business partnership that would last for several years. The two created numerous golf courses in both Canada and the United States, despite the onset of the Great Depression. In some cases, the men even had to rely on labor provided directly by the Works Progress Administration to finish their assignments. (Historians today point to Jones’ designs at the Green Lakes State Park as the best example of how the Works Progress Administration enabled him to complete his projects.) Nevertheless, they had managed to create some of the best golf courses in all North America, including the Capilano Golf Club outside of Vancouver and the fairways at today’s Fairmont Banff Springs. But the relationship between them began to sour over time, especially as Jones began to have his own strong opinions regarding golf course design. Thompson and Jones thus parted ways at the end of the decade.

    Jones’ first real break as an independent designer occurred when the renowned golfer Bobby Jones asked for his assistance creating the Peachtree Golf Club during the 1940s. Bobby Jones was deeply impressed with Jones’ talents and invited him to redesign the 11th and 16th holes at Augusta National Golf Club. The work on both Peachtree and Augusta generated significant national acclaim for Jones, which helped him get a wealth of additional projects. (Jones had to start using his middle name “Trent” to better distinguish himself from Bobby Jones, however.) Jones proceeded to construct and/or restore several hundred courses over the next five decades, including well-regarded renovations to the Oakland Hills Country Club, the Southern Hills Country Club, and the Baltusrol Golf Club. Perhaps the greatest work that Jones accomplished was the creation of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in the late 1980s. (The trail consisted of 378 public holes at eight different sites throughout Alabama.) The popularity of Jones’ work was so great that he even had his two sons—Robert Jr. and Rees—operate satellite offices on his behalf. Jones was even enlisted to craft private courses for royal dignitaries, prominent businesspeople, and even President Dwight D. Eisenhower. In all, Jones eventually worked on a total of more than 500 golf courses in 45 U.S. states and 35 other countries! Now enshrined in the World Golf Hall of Fame, Jones is remembered fondly for his wonderful designs.

  • Famous Historic Golfers +

    Jack Nicklaus, winner of 18 major golf championships—the most of any professional golfer.

    Arnold Palmer, winner of seven major golf championships that include the PGA Championship and the Masters Tournament.

    Gary Player, winner of nine major golf championships that include all four of the major tournaments.

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