Big Easy

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Since Hoakalei’s 25,000-square-foot clubhouse opened in April, member- ship benefits—open to residents and non-residents—have expanded (photos courtesy Hoakalei Country Club).

Ernie Els wows with the expansive and entertaining Hoakalei.

Hoakalei Country Club in ‘Ewa Beach has Ernie Els’ fingerprints all over it— and not solely because he designed the golf course a decade ago.

Hoakalei is “Big,” as in PGA Tour big, but hardly “Easy,” stretching more than 7,400 yards. Still, this South African major championship winner has created a course in his own “Big Easy” style.

Despite all the obstacles (its jaw-dropping length includes more than 100 bunkers and nine bodies of water that touch all but five holes), you are in laid- back, beautiful Hawai‘i; hence,

Hoakalei is serene and welcoming … for everyone.

Els opened his Hawai‘i course on Jan. 12, 2009. The week before, he played in the Mercedes Championships (now called the Sentry Tournament of Champions) on Maui. After Hoakalei’s grand opening, he headed east for Hawai‘i’s Sony Open. He won both tournaments in 2003, which only enhanced his passion for paradise.

“Couldn’t be better really, could it?” Els told the Advertiser as Hoakalei got close to becoming reality. “I love starting my PGA Tour year with these back-to-back tournaments in Hawai‘i. And we’re all very excited about the new golf course at Hoakalei. We’ve got a great mix of holes, incredible views, and the way we’ve designed the hole routings, the course will never play the same from one day to the next.

“I think Hoakalei would be a wonderful venue for any PGA event in the future. There’s no doubt that the golf course is good enough. We’re some ways [away from] getting to the point where we have firm plans, but we’re very optimistic.”

Hoakalei is still talking about bringing a tour event to the course. For now, it hosts the Sony Open qualifier and First Tee Hawai‘i’s annual Shootout and Pro-Am, which offers one of the bigger purses for local pros and is also one of First Tee’s primary fundraisers.

The University of Hawai‘i inaugurated its Hoakalei Collegiate Invitational this October, the Rainbows and Rainbow Wahine practice, along with Campbell High School.

Several of Hawai‘i’s greatest golfers are members at Hoakalei, including Hawai‘i Golf Hall of Famers David Ishii and Brandan Kop, former LPGA player Patricia Schremmer and 1987 U.S. Open champ Scott Simpson, who also teaches there.

“It’s also a really fun course to play,” Simpson says. “It has a great mix of holes with long ones and short ones. They can stretch out to 7,500 yards, which makes it pretty unique in Hawai‘i. I like the fact that the short holes are interesting with small greens, and the long holes give you a little more room. The course has water that comes into play on a few holes, but the main defense is how well it is bunkered.”

Hoakalei offers the challenge seri- ous golfers crave, touting some of the best practice facilities in the Islands. Kop characterizes the practice areas as “immaculate,” with two practice putting greens, a pitching green, two bunkers and the rare all-grass driving range that runs 350 yards, and comes with Titleist NXT Tour S balls to bash.

He became a social member because of it, finding Hoakalei an ideal place to work on his game–in the practice area and on the course, which has four sets of tees that range from just under 5,100 to just over 7,000 yards.

“Not too many courses in Hawai‘i are designed to play that long, and the layout was made to test even the best PGA players,” Kop says. “The course also has a lot of bunkers–not only around the greens, but a lot of fairway bunkers as well. All of the above makes it a very unique course in Hawai‘i and a great course to test and improve one’s game.”

But it is not just for the big boys. The range of tees and what Simpson calls “fantastic” conditions make this course fun for anyone. So does Hoakalei’s sheer beauty, with hundreds of Palm, Kiawe and Hala trees, and native grasslands.

It was voted one of the “Best New Courses of 2009 in the U.S.“ by Links magazine, and “Best New Golf Course in 2010” at the Americas Property Awards, in association with Bloomberg Television.

Now, since Hoakalei’s 25,000-square- foot clubhouse opened in April, membership benefits—open to residents and non-residents—have expanded.

Its Reflections restaurant can seat 130 indoors. Reflections includes a private dining room that can expand outdoors— more than doubling its capacity—with views of the first and second holes.

There also is a new wine cellar fit for 1,500 bottles, including private space for personal bottles, a bar lounge, infinity pool, whirlpool hot tub, poolside bar with cabanas, locker room with showers and a golf shop.

It was worth the wait. Hoakalei, which means reflection of a lei, is still “Big” and now even more “Easy” to enjoy, just the way Ernie Els likes it. hoakaleicountryclub.com

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