Hawaii's Grand Dame Turns 50 - Global Trade Magazine
  June 13th, 2015 | Written by

Hawaii’s Grand Dame Turns 50

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  • Mauna Kea Golf Course turns 50, still a prime location for transpacific business meetings
  • Hawaii became the “meet-you-halfway” destination and both U.S. and Japanese executives conducting global trade

Global traders over 50 will remember that back in the ’80s, the news was all about Japan this and Japan that. China was still a trading afterthought unless you were importing Piccolo Petes and sparklers for the Fourth of July. The conversation was all Japan, and more to the point, how to build working relationships with these Far Eastern barons of trade.

That’s when golf became a tool for trade. The closest really good golf courses to Japan were in Hawaii, which suited American executives just fine. Hawaii became the “meet-you-halfway” destination and both U.S. and Japanese executives readily embraced these working vacations, aloha style.

Grand dame of all the Hawaiian courses back then, and still today, is the Mauna Kea, which just celebrated its 50th anniversary. Oahu may mean “the gathering place” in the Hawaiian language but the Big Island, and in particular the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, is most definitely the gathering place for executives and their families and where deals still get done on the links.

If you have never been to the Mauna Kea, just go. Book it. It is truly the best Hawaiian resort to be found on any of Hawaii’s spectacular islands. For starters, the beach is amazing. The resort is situated on a quarter-mile sandy cove that seems to get sunshine all day long. You can walk out through the gentle waves and your feet will never touch a rock or piece of coral. Exceptional snorkeling is found at either ends of the beach. It’s like swimming in an aquarium, and the beach boys will set you up with all the gear. Mornings are best with 70 feet of visibility not uncommon.

Lunch at their beachside restaurant, the Hau Tree, is a special setting; there is a 62-foot Offshore Yacht docked in Newport Harbor that was named after the restaurant. At Hau Tree you can order the most amazing grass-fed hamburgers from Wagyu and Angus-crossed cattle raised right there on the Big Island. Put a slice of Maui onion and a big ripe tomato slice and this must have been what Jimmy Buffet had in mind. Breakfast and dinners are served at the resort’s Manta restaurant, perched on a hill with a drop-dead gorgeous view that takes in not only the entire cove but the scene all the way down the coast.

When making a reservation, ask for a beach-facing room. The extra $100 to $150 per night is well worth it. You’ll enjoy starting the morning on your private lanai with terry cloth-covered chairs (so “Sixties” but so comfortable), a cup of Kona coffee in hand and just listening to the symphony of birds in the magnificent old growth trees that crown the resort’s expansive acreage. Indeed, there are hundreds of mature plumeria, coral, banyan and palm trees set on acres of lawn that it makes a morning stroll a visual delight.

EAT IT UP The resort’s Manta restaurant is perched on a hill with a drop-dead gorgeous view that takes in not only the entire cove but the scene all the way down the coast.
EAT IT UP The resort’s Manta restaurant is perched on a hill with a drop-dead gorgeous view that takes in not only the entire cove but the scene all the way down the coast.

All this and it’s still only 8 a.m., plenty of time to have a breakfast and work your way over to the golf course for your morning tee time. Where most people saw a barren lava field destined to be, well, pretty much just that, Laurance Rockefeller saw a hugely unique opportunity. What was once a remote piece of property covered with black lava is now the highly coveted Golf Course at Mauna Kea, with the world renowned third-hole site.

While Rockefeller was the one who sought out the location in the early 1960s—as the story goes, he chartered a helicopter and flew the entire coastlines of all the islands before deciding the Mauna Kea site was the best in all of Hawaii—it was the leading golf architect of his time, Robert Trent Jones Sr., who designed the original course. The rugged terrain brought opportunities for natural drops of more than 100 feet, plunging ocean views, huge greens and tough shots. However, Jones knew there needed to be one exceptionally unique aspect to this course if it were to stand the test of time. What Jones envisioned is now what some consider the “most beautiful hole in the world.”

The third hole, a par 3, starts from a cliff-side tee and plays across the ocean to a cliff-side green, surrounded by seven bunkers and the pounding of ocean waves. You can just about kiss your ball goodbye as you position it on the tee. I’ve played that hole a half dozen times and never expected to hit the green, much less make it across the wide expanse of ocean, especially from the blues. On my most recent visit however, I uncharacteristically chose a brand new ball, used a three wood and landed safely on the green. Making the third hole green from the tee will keep you coming back, as I consider landing anywhere on the green to be a huge victory.

While the course is as rich in views as it is tradition. Each year, the Golf Course at Mauna Kea hosts a pro-am tournament, an event for which club professionals and amateurs come together for a week of golfing festivities. The views, challenging course and unique history bring people from all over the world to take in the spectacular Golf Course at Mauna Kea.

Why not make the resort the setting for your next transpacific business meeting? And while you’re at it, bring the family along as it will be one of your most memorable vacations ever.

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