Best golf courses in Hawaii, according to GOLF Magazine’s expert course raters

nanea golf club

Nanea Golf Club is No. 1 in Hawaii, according to our course raters.

Jon Cavalier

For every great course that made GOLF’s 2020-21 ranking of the Top 100 Courses in the U.S., dozens of more must-plays were left on the outside looking in — including at least a handful in your home state. Some of these designs just missed out on a Top 100 nomination, others finished deeper down the ranking, but all are worthy of your time. To shed light on the best courses in every state, we broke out the full results of our Top 100 Courses polling into state-by-state lists. Here’s a closer look at Hawaii.

Hawaii golf by the numbers:

Number of courses and U.S. rank: 85 (45)*
Number of golfers per capita rank: 7*
Average public-course greens fees: $$$ out of $$$*
Average daily temp and rank: 70 (2)
Annual precipitation and rank: 63.7 in. (1)

*Source: National Golf Foundation

Best Hawaii golf courses (2020/2021)

1. Nanea (Kailua-Kona) [1]

Count members of the local high school team among the lucky few who enjoy access to this private Shangri-La, which was designed by David McLay Kidd on behalf of Charles Schwab and investment giant George Roberts. Working on a hardened-lava site that commands an ocean panoramic, McLay Kidd threaded fairways along the black-rock flows, and fringed them with fountain grasses that call to mind the fescue of a British links. The rest of the place is pure Hawaii. Five copper domes on the low-slung clubhouse mimic the island’s five volcanos, while the short par-4 14th has a split fairway that invites you to play over or around a mini-crater’s dormant rim.

2. Kapalua – Plantation (Kapalua) [3, P]

Book a tee time at Kapalua.

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3. Mauna Kea (Waimea) [P]

Book a tee time at Mauna Kea.

4. Princeville Makai (Princeville) [3, P]

Book a tee time at Princeville.

5. Hualalai (Kailua-Kona) [3, P]

Book a tee time at Hualalai.

6. Hokulia (Kealakekua)

7. Turtle Bay – Palmer Course (Kahuku) [P]

Book a tee time at Turtle Bay.

8. Kuki’o G and Beach Club (Kailua-Kona)

9. Challenge at Manele Bay (Lanai City) [P]

Book at tee time at Manele Bay.

10. Kohanaiki (Kailua-Kona)


1 = GOLF Top 100 Course in the U.S.
2 = GOLF Top 100 Course in the World
3 = GOLF Top 100 Resort
P = Resort/public golf course

Ed. note: Some courses were omitted from our rankings because they did not receive enough votes.

Course spotlight: Kapalua – Plantation Course (Lahaina), ranked 2nd in Hawaii. This early Coore/Crenshaw collaboration foreshadowed the remarkable talent that this pair would then demonstrate over the ensuing decades. Set across severe land punctuated by ravines, the golf could have easily been over the top. Instead the brilliant routing yields a number of one-off shots and opportunities that the golfer won’t soon forget. With several greens that slope from front to back (including the final two), this design was always about the interaction between the ball and the ground. The recent re-grassing of the course has it playing again at its fiercest best. — GOLF Top 100 Course Rater

kapalua plantation course
The finishing hole at Kapalua is a treat for the PGA Tour each year. Getty Images

How we rank America’s best golf courses

For the newly released 2020-21 U.S. list, each panelist was provided a list of 489 courses. Beside that list of courses were 11 “buckets,” or groupings. If our panelists considered a course to be among the top three in the country, they ticked that box. If they believed the course to be among Nos. 4-10 in the U.S., they checked that box, followed by 11-25, 26-50, and so on.

Panelists were also free to write in courses that they felt should have been included on the ballot (we had fewer than a handful of such additions in the U.S. vote).

Points were assigned to each bucket; to arrive at an average score for each course, we divide its aggregate score by the number of votes. From those point tallies, the courses are then ranked accordingly. It is an intentionally simple and straightforward process. Why? Because it invariably produces results that are widely lauded. Like the game itself, there’s no need to unnecessarily overcomplicate things.

For much more on how we rate courses, click or tap here.

Manele Bay
Manele Bay is a treasure. Brian Oar

Meet our course raters

We empower and hold accountable a group of 97 well-traveled — and well-connected — golfers/aficionados, each capable of expressing their own sense of design excellence at the highest level. The group is seasoned and experienced — we look for raters who know what’s out there, what’s changing and what’s coming down the pike. And from judging posts across four continents, our panelists are positioned to place courses from different regions around the globe into proper context, one of the main reasons GOLF’s Top 100 Courses rankings are the most esteemed in the game.

Other ranking outlets employ thousands of raters. Our less-is-more approach creates a more meaningful and thoughtful list. Think about it: When you plan a golf trip, do you call every golfer you know for their take? No. You contact a handful of people whose opinions you value most.

Meet our full crew of panelists here.

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