A World-Class Golf Course by Design

Aug 4, 2012 by Ernie Els

I’d enjoyed going to Hawaii on family vacations and to play in golf tournaments for probably 10 or 12 years when I first heard of the opportunity to be involved in the design of the golf course at Hoakalei. Saying ‘yes’ was one of the easier decisions I’ve had to make in my professional career! It is just the most beautiful piece of land and as soon as Greg Letsche and I made our initial site visits we began thinking about how we could make the most of all that stunning scenery. That was really an exciting prospect.

In terms of construction, I would say Hoakalei was one of our most challenging projects to date. I think that makes it all the more satisfying when you see what’s been achieved. The course looks fantastic and is every bit as beautiful as its surroundings.

The layout has a great mix of holes and the way we designed the hole-routings means that players get wonderful views of the 'Ewa plains and the mountains, all bathed in glorious sunshine almost every day of the year. With the winds off the ocean or from the mountains, this course seldom plays the same from one day to the next and the guys at Hoakalei tell me that the members and their guests love the course and can’t wait to play it again. As a golf course designer, it’s very gratifying to get that kind of feedback. It’s a fun challenge from holes 1 to 18 and the other great thing is players of all standards can enjoy this golf course. That’s something I believe in very strongly.

Another thing we are passionate about at Ernie Els Design is leaving a soft footprint on the environment, which is why Hoakalei is the first golf course on the island to use SeaDwarf seashore paspalum turf. This is one of the most sought-after turf grasses in the golf industry. It has a tighter knit and delivers faster green speeds than other varieties of this type of grass, which is obviously good news for golfers. What’s more, it is extremely environmentally friendly. The salt-tolerant, warm-season turf requires much less water and significantly less fertilization. And, it can be irrigated with brackish or reclaimed water, and even seawater can be used under the right conditions. It saves time and money and it contributes to a cleaner environment by putting fewer chemicals into the ecosystem. These things really matter to us.

During my last visit I was so impressed with how nicely the course has matured and grown-in since we opened in 2009. The playing surfaces on the tees, greens and fairways are exceptional and it is obvious that the course is in great hands. It will need to mature a little more before it can host a world-class professional tournament, maybe even a PGA Tour event, but we’re optimistic. We have the Sony Open on Oahu, so why not another event here, too. Two weeks in Honolulu would be fantastic. Hey, I don’t think any of the players would mind!

Hoakalei has already won awards. It won best new golf course in the US at the CNBC International Property Awards. It was also voted one of the best new courses of 2009 by the prestigious Links magazine. They review literally hundreds of golf courses every year, so that kind of recognition is a big pat on the back for everyone involved.

For me personally, it was a pleasure to be involved from start to finish. And the thing is, our relationship didn’t come to an end when we finished the golf course. There is a sense of family and friendship about the way Haseko does business and I really value that. We’ve stayed in touch and I enjoy visiting whenever I’m in Hawaii and I often come and practise at Hoakalei during the weeks when I’m playing the Sony Open.

Hoakalei is also hosting one of the Els for Autism Golf Days later this year. I send my personal thanks and best wishes to everyone taking part. We’re anticipating a great day’s golf where the focus is on fun and fundraising. The whole team at Hoakalei does so much for local charities in Hawaii and it means a lot to Liezl and me that they also choose to support Els for Autism in this way.