Ko'olau Golf Club - hole 16
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Ko'olau Golf Club - hole 16
The setting around the 16th green shows off how beautiful Ko'olau Golf Club can be. Jason Scott Deegan/Golf Advisor
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Ko'olau Golf Club - hole 18
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Ko'olau Golf Club - hole 18
The finishing hole at Ko'olau Golf Club is an absolute beast of a par 4. Jason Scott Deegan/Golf Advisor
Ko'olau Golf Club - hole 15
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Ko'olau Golf Club - hole 15
Make sure you visit the back tee on the 15th hole for this view of Ko'olau Golf Club. Jason Scott Deegan/Golf Advisor
Ko'olau Golf Club - hole 13
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Ko'olau Golf Club - hole 13
Hazards guard the 13th green at Ko'olau Golf Club on Oahu. Jason Scott Deegan/Golf Advisor
Ko'olau Golf Club - hole 11
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Ko'olau Golf Club - hole 11
Mountains tower over the 11th green at Ko'olau Golf Club in Kaneohe, Hawaii. Jason Scott Deegan/Golf Advisor
Ko'olau Golf Club - hole 3
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Ko'olau Golf Club - hole 3
The third hole at Ko'olau Golf Club, a par-4, 442-yard test, features a dogleg right and trouble that lines the right side. Courtesy of Ko'olau G.C.
Ko'olau Golf Club - hole 10
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Ko'olau Golf Club - hole 10
Hitting the 10th green in regulation is difficult at Ko'olau Golf Club on Oahu. Jason Scott Deegan/Golf Advisor
Ko'olau Golf Club - Hawaii
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Ko'olau Golf Club - Hawaii
Ko'olau Golf Club is known as one of the toughest courses in the country. Courtesy of Ko'olau G.C.
Ko'olau Golf Club - hole 8
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Ko'olau Golf Club - hole 8
A deep bunker runs up the left side of the eighth green at Ko'olau Golf Club on Oahu. Jason Scott Deegan/Golf Advisor
Ko'olau Golf Club - hole 6
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Ko'olau Golf Club - hole 6
Mountains and jungle dominate the difficult sixth hole at Ko'olau Golf Club in Kaneohe, Hawaii. Jason Scott Deegan/Golf Advisor
Ko'olau Golf Club - clubhouse
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Ko'olau Golf Club - clubhouse
The Ko'olau clubhouse also serves as the home of the First Presbyterian Church of Honolulu. Courtesy of Ko'olau G.C.

Welcome to the jungle at Ko'olau Golf Club on Oahu in Hawaii

KANEOHE, Oahu, Hawaii -- Carved from a tropical rain forest in the shadow of majestic mountains, Ko'olau Golf Club remains one of the most difficult golf courses in the world.

Ko'olau's sheer beauty -- and challenge -- attracts just as many players as it repels. Ko'olau, built for $82 million, opened as a private club in 1992. It fell steadily into disrepair until the First Presbyterian Church of Honolulu bought the 7,310-yard golf course and the sprawling 1,100-square-foot clubhouse in 2006.

American Golf, the course operator, has steadily made it more playable since then, clearing back jungle underbrush and taking out bunkers. In 2012, Golf Digest rated Ko'olau No. 25 on its list of the nation's toughest golf courses, down from third in 2007.

Losing balls in the ravines and thick jungle lining many fairways will frustrate first-timers who think they can slay one of golf's Goliaths. Soggy conditions, the curse of such a rainy climate, also contributes to its difficulty.

To enjoy the day, come for the scenery -- not a score. Ko'olau Golf Club's first hole, a tight and winding downhill par 5, and the demanding 18th hole, a par 4 highlighted by epic carries on the tee and approach shots, combine to form arguably the toughest bookends in golf.

Putting the driver away or playing it safe on the quirkiest holes -- par 4s at No. 5, No. 6 and No. 10 and the par-5 16th -- will reward players. Hawaiian-born PGA Tour pro Dean Wilson owns the course record with a 67, a score some high-handicappers might threaten in nine holes.

Ko'olau General Manager Ken Terao recommends players bring as many balls as the number of their handicap.

"Either you sacrifice length for accuracy or you come with a bunch of balls," added Ron Mathieu, the executive director of the church.

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 700 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
Related Links
The First Presbyterian Church of Honolulu overcame improbable odds in 2006 to become the only church in the world to own a golf course on site: Ko'olau Golf Club. Built for $82 million, Ko'olau sits on heavenly land roughly 45 minutes from downtown Honolulu. The course was carved from a tropical rain forest designated as a nature conservancy in the shadow of the Ko'olau Mountains.
Despite sitting in one of the driest sports on Oahu, the Ewa Beach Golf Club is wall-to-wall green like it's located in Ireland instead of Hawaii. The course is always in terrific condition, with impeccable greens, and has been one of Oahu's best-kept secrets. Not anymore.
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Welcome to the jungle at Ko'olau Golf Club on Oahu in Hawaii
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