Mauna Kea Beach Hotel

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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.

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Mauna Kea Golf Course Virtual Tour

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The award-winning championship Mauna Kea Golf Course at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel in Kohala Coast, Hawaii, has led the way in golf course beauty and design since its debut in 1964. Its attending Mauna Kea Golf Course was actually 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 99 well-placed fantastic landscaping presents an imposing challenge for the most seasoned golfers. Indeed, its well-placed bunkers and undulating greens have enticed all who have experienced them. The resort’s 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 developed a new technique to turn the rocky lava flow into stunning fairways and verdant greens. The work was nonetheless an engineering marvel. They engineered the soil from the lava with crushed limestone and coral, while also drilling deeply into the ground to better irrigate the course.

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 later that December. The tournament specifically hosted golf’s “Big Three” of the day—Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, and Gary Player. The climax of the competition came when the trio teed-off on the 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 has 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 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 dot the landscape, including a 600-year-old fishing village named “Lapakahi.” But plantation farming and sustenance fishing were gradually replaced with a commercialized plantation society that appeared with the arrival of westerners at the end of the 18th century. The very first recorded foreigner to travel to the area was Captain James Cook, an English explorer 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 transplants erected massive estates that specialized in growing cash crops like sugarcane and employed many of the natives as farmhands. Cattle raising also emerged in popularity on Hawai’i around the same time, with the first ranches opening in 1793. Unlike the American and European plantation owners, the cowboys who established the earliest ranches were, in fact, from Mexico. They trained the 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 is home to Paiʻea Kamehameha, otherwise known as Kamehameha the Great. Born in Kohala during the 1750s, Kamehameha is remembered in Hawaiian history as the sole person responsible for uniting the disparate societies of the archipelago into one people. 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, with Kiwalao himself dying amid the fighting. Still, 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,” as a way of currying favor with the gods. (It is currently federally protected as a National Historic Landmark.) Reinvigorated, he attacked Kuahuʻula’s men once more 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 single kingdom by 1810. Now the undisputed monarch of the Hawaii Islands, King Kamehameha led the region into a cultural renaissance. He instituted a system of laws and ordinances and created a well-funded treasury. Kamehameha also protected Hawaii’s sovereignty by facilitating diplomatic relations with European nations and the young United States.

    Kohala itself is 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 an estimated one million years old. 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! Yet, 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 in total area, as well as 3,400 cubic miles in volume. Amazingly, Kohala Mountain constitutes just under six percent of Hawai’i’s total land mass. Yet, experts hypothesize that the volcano may have stood even larger, as recent evidence suggested that a landslide centuries ago reduced its summit by 3,300 feet. Contributing to the mountain’s unique shape are the multiple gorges that cut deep into its sides, caused over the course of millennia by extreme erosion. The corrosion of the mountain has created several other amazing geological features, too, including the verdant Polulu and Waipiʻo valleys. Scientists have also uncovered a wealth of historic maritime fossils imbedded into the crust of Kohala Mountain, offering a fascinating glimpse into Hawaii’s prehistoric environment. Today, local conservationists have taken great pains to preserve the rich ecology of the area, so that future generations may appreciate its tranquil beauty for years to come.


  • 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 for the game that would never fade. Indeed, he eventually entered a youth tournament that the Country Club of Rochester had hosted 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 future plans of competing again. But Jones found another opportunity to pursue golf in a professional manner when a wealthy friend at Sodus Bay arranged to have him visit Cornell University. Enchanted with the school, Jones subsequently enrolled to study a customized series of agricultural courses that would train him to develop championship-caliber golf courses. In fact, Jones got to practice his education at Cornell, too, as he designed 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 crafting golf courses 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 oversaw his work. As such, the club’s president brought the renowned Canadian landscaper Stanley Thompson to act as Jones’ mentor. While Jones’ work at Midvale was an eventual failure—the club actually went bankrupt—the experience resulted in Jones and Thompson forming a business partnership that would last for several years. The two proceeded to create numerous golf courses in both Canada and the United States, despite experiencing financial hardships from to the Great Depression. In some cases, the men had to rely on labor provided directly by the Works Progress Administration. (Historians today point to Jones’ designs at the Green Lakes State Park as the best example of how the Works Progress Administration helped him complete his projects.) Nevertheless, the men 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 with 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 enabled him to gain 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 renovate 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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