HONOLULU -- Oahu, Hawaii's most populated island, has more affordable public golf options than any other island in Hawaii. Not cheap, mind you, but more affordable than the big-name resorts you might find on the Big Island, Maui or Kauai.
The difference is that public golf on Oahu isn't dominated by resorts, but by daily fees. Some of the rack rates are certainly well more than $100, but you can usually negotiate tee times for far less online or during less peak times.
Here's a look at seven of my favorites:
Simply put, Ko Olina is fun. This former home of LPGA Tour and Champions Tour events has waterfalls, a great 19th hole, terrific locker room facilities and wide fairways. Designed by Ted Robinson, this 6,800-yard, par-72 layout has a number of memorable holes, including a pair of cool par 3s. The eighth is arguably the golf course's signature hole, with cascading water filling up a hazard that guards an elevated green. And to get to the 12th hole you have to drive your cart under a waterfall. An added bonus -- the outdoor Roy's Restaurant at the clubhouse, which is perfect for some sushi and a beer after the round.
If you're looking for supreme challenge, look no further than Ko'olau Golf Club. Carved out of a tropical forest, Ko'olau Golf Club is considered one of the most difficult golf courses in Hawaii. It's also one of the most beautiful. Designed by Dick Nugent and Jack Tuthill, the 7,310-yard, par-72 layout has a slope/rating of 152/75.7 from the back tees, but the mountain views and lush tropical setting are what really get your attention.
Located on the Ewa Plain a few hundred yards from the beach, Ewa Beach Golf Club was the first golf course in Hawaii to feature Seashore Paspalum grass, an environmentally friendly turf that can be irrigated with effluent water. Designed by Robin Nelson, the layout is routed through a Kiawe forest. There is also a double green on No. 2 and No. 16, the only such feature on the entire island. Conditions are always good, and there are no homes on the course.
Okay, this one is a resort, located on Oahu's famous North Shore, but play it late in the day, and you can get on for a pretty fair price. The Palmer Course is the more challenging of the two 18-hole layouts at the resort, and it features fewer ocean views -- the Pacific Ocean doesn't come into view until the signature par-4 17th hole -- well thought out and beautiful in its own right with lagoons and Ironwood trees throughout. It's also the former home of PGA Tour and LPGA Tour events, as well as the annual Turtle Bay Resort Hawaii State Open. And don't pass up the older George Fazio Course, which has been renovated and features plenty of Pacific views.
At Royal Kunia Country Club, it's not only about the good layout, but also the views. Behind the ninth green, for example, is the backdrop of Pearl Harbor, downtown Honolulu and Diamond Head. As the most recent Oahu golf course to open, Royal Kunia Country Club, another Nelson design, marks the last of six new courses that emerged along the Kunia Road/Ft. Weaver Road corridor. Moving across gently rolling terrain, the golf course has a variety of par 4s and demanding par 5s.
Designed by Nelson and Neil Haworth, Coral Creek Golf Course makes its way through trees and around numerous water hazards. Opened in 1999, the 6,808-yard golf course also has elevated greens that are well protected by bunkers. Water comes into play on at least 13 holes, mostly in the form of natural spring-fed lakes or coral creeks.
Also located on Ewa Plain, this 27-hole Arnold Palmer/Ed Seay layout used to be nothing but waving fields of sugar cane. Today, it's a diverse golf layout that's more challenging than it looks with plenty of mounding, water in play, scores of bunkers, and, on one nine, tree-lined fairways. Offered as an amenity to the Hawaii Prince Hotel Waikiki, the golf course is spread over 270 acres, offering great views of the rain-carved Waianae Mountains.