THERE IS NOTHING UNLUCKY ABOUT THE 13TH HOLE AT KANEOHE KLIPPER GOLF COURSE. Maybe unbelievable or unimaginable, because the view as you walk to the tee takes your breath away.
That immense hazard on the right of the elevated tee, beyond the stunning and stunningly empty beach, is more commonly known as the Pacific Ocean.
“People pay big money to go to courses in California,” says veteran Hal Okita, former General Manager of the Army Golf Association and Executive Director of the Hawaii State Golf Association and Aloha Section PGA, “and you won’t have a better view than Klipper.”
Folks on golf websites agree, often comparing it to the iconic course host- ing this year’s U.S. Open
“Holes 13 and 14 gave me the impression I was playing conditions similar to what the pros face at Pebble Beach,” a golfer wrote on Golf Advisor. “Pacific Ocean to the right, with winds coming offshore. Beautiful course, challenging elevation changes.”
No matter how you are playing, it is worth the wait to reach Nos. 13-16, which run along the ocean, then offer one last jaw-dropping look before heading home to the clubhouse.
“There is no doubt, the back nine is what everyone talks about,” Klipper Director of Golf Todd Murata says. “Holes 13 to 16 bring you right up against the beach. It is quite intimidating hitting a shot along those holes knowing that the largest water hazard in the world is waiting for your ball to go astray.”
Klipper, the name of a naval plane, is one of Hawai‘i’s handfull of cherished military courses. It is located at Marine Corp Base Hawaii and accessible to the military and through military sponsors. It also offers a Public Partners Program that provides an annual access pass to the course, bowling center and Officer’s Club for those not in the military who pass a thorough background check.
Klipper also accommodates civilian tournaments and club play. It averages six large events a year and has been home to PGA Tour Senior satellite Pro-Ams and, for most of its 34 years, the University of Hawai‘i Rainbow Wahine’s Dr. Donnis Thompson Invitational.
Its primary focus remains providing a country club setting for Marines and their families at an affordable price.
“The Klipper provides them a viable option to recreate and re-energize,” Murata says, “so that they can return to their daily lives prepared for the mission ahead. This is our goal.”
It was seventh on the PGA of America’s 2011 list of best military courses.
“It’s not the longest course you’ll ever play,” the PGA of America acknowledged, “but it might be one of the most scenic.”
The view of the Ko‘olau mountain range is your first hint on a 6,500-yard layout that requires a precise short game.
Then that back-nine stretch along the serene Mokapu (Sacred Lands) Peninsula hits you in the face. The course was built on sand dunes that are protected land and listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Many consider No. 13 the best hole on any Department of Defense layout.
Murata has been at Klipper 20 years, overseeing major course renovations along with the base’s marina, outdoor recreation, auto skills center, bowling, theater and travel.
Colleagues Ryan Wood (Course Superintendent) and Kevin Kashiwai (Head Pro) are heading into their second decade. Klipper offers exceptional practice facilities, rotating specials, a year-round junior program and instruction for golfers of every age and level of experience.
Teachers include the PGA’s Mo and John Radke, and Leland Lindsay, a former State Senior Champion whose students include the Obamas.
Before then-President Barack Obama’s annual holiday golf assault on Klipper began (and still continues), regular visitors included former Presidents Bill Clinton and, in the 1950s, Dwight Eisenhower.
“There was a tree on the fourth hole, near the green, that he used to hit all the time,” Murata says. “That tree became known as the ‘Eisenhower Tree.’ Ironically, it was blown down in a storm, but was replaced by a Royal Palm. Everyone still refers to it as the ‘Eisenhower Tree.’”
The course was managed by Kaneohe Naval Air Station when it opened in January of 1949. The architect was William Bell. Hawaii Golf Hall of Famer Jimmy Ukauka, Klipper’s second head pro after Leon Pounders, followed Bell’s gifted lead when he designed the second nine. The full 18 opened in 1952, under the command of the Marine Corps.
“The architects accomplished a wonderful design that is challenging, fair, very appealing to the eye, and most of all,” Murata says, “fun to play.” mccshawaii.com/golf