KOHALA COAST, Hawaii -- There are moments on the golf courses of Hawaii that overshadow the game. When a whale surfaces offshore or a crashing wave splashes up some spray, it's hard to concentrate on just golf.
The island of Hawaii (called "the Big Island" by many tourists) provides an ocean backdrop as good as any in the world. It all started with the island's first course, Mauna Kea, built in 1964 by Robert Trent Jones Sr.
Hapuna G.C., a sister course to Mauna Kea, sits in the hillsides with panoramic views of the Pacific. The Waikoloa Beach Resort development delivers two more affordable options on flatter ground, the Kings' Course and Beach Course. Only the Beach skirts the coast.
Both the Francis H. I'i Brown South Course and North Course at Mauna Lani Resort explore the shore. Two great par 3s on the water highlight rounds on the more playable South Course. The much tougher North Course heads toward the water on three holes, notably the demanding ninth hole.
The Jack Nicklaus Course at Hualalai Golf Club annually hosts the Champions Tour, serving as a great TV commercial for what the island has to offer.
The Big Island also boasts a private club scene more extravagant than the other islands. The new exclusive Kohanaiki Club opened its oceanfront Rees Jones course in 2013 and allows some access to locals who have a Hawaii driver's license.