An exclusive golfing retreat on the west coast of Hawaii's Big Island, the Nanea Golf Club is situated around 15 miles north of Kailua Kona and set amongst dark lava fields on the seaward side of the volcanic Mount Hualalai. The course was designed by Scottish architect David McLay Kidd and first opened for play in 2003.
Despite the unsuitability of its soil, and the fact the property’s elevation ranged from 700 to 1,300 feet, Kidd’s clients wanted him to shape the land into an authentic British-style links course. They gave him the budget and freedom to cap the entire site in cinder sand and cover all the tees, greens and fairways with a drought tolerant Paspalum grass that would permit the firm and fast conditions his shaping required. He also had his choice of 8,000 acres upon which to build his holes, the chosen parcel more than 1,000 acres in size with much of it used as a buffer to ensure the membership enjoyed their golf totally undisturbed.
Blessed with panoramic views of the Pacific from virtually every corner of this windswept property, Kidd arranged his holes in a large figure eight with the opening nine routed across the lower portion of the site and the back nine heading into the higher ground. Full of deep hollows and crimped ridges, the linksy playing areas are relatively generous and attractively framed by shimmering meadow grasses and black volcanic rock. The large, undulating green complexes are particularly good while the sprawling grass-faced bunkers are generally well positioned and nicely cut into the rolling ground.
The course opens with three downhill holes that bend to the left, each offering long hitters a big advantage not only in terms of getting into wider landing areas but also being able to access preferred approach angles. Tracking back up the slope, the bumpy and bunkerless mid-length 5th is the first real standout, its green set on a ledge and protected by a deep frontal depression and a significant left-to-right gradient. The other cool mid-length hole is the 16th, which rises impressively into a shelf green falling severely at the front and divided by a vertical tier. The par fives are also very good, the last half of the 6th climbing dramatically beyond a bunkered ridge and the 13th with its green also set beyond a ridge but angled across the fairway and benched between deep bunkers. The plunging 18th is another exciting three-shot challenge with a wildly shaped putting surface and plenty of gambling options. Other quality features include the tiered plateau target at the 7th, the built-up back ledge on the 10th green and the nasty dogleg 12th, which turns and tumbles along a lumpy fairway. The approach into the 15th is also really good, the shot pointing toward the ocean and heading down through a valley and into a unique half plateau-half punchbowl target.
Nanea is an impressive layout on a difficult site, and a pleasant break from much of the other golf available across the Hawaiian Islands. Kidd clearly had his issues here, yet he did well to fashion a convincing golf course out of this steep and inhospitable terrain. It isn’t really a genuine links course, but the holes are fun to play, the views are outstanding and the superior turf conditions will make it a pretty memorable experience for most visiting golfers.
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