Going to church on America's toughest golf course, Hawaii's Koolau Golf Club on Oahu
KANEOHE, Oahu, Hawaii – I survived the toughest golf assignment I’ve ever had in my nearly two decades as a golf writer.
But it wasn’t pretty.
I had to sprint through LAX to make my connecting flight to Oahu last night, but that 11-hour journey through the air from Michigan to Hawaii was nothing compared to my wild ride today. I woke up at 5 a.m. from the cozy confines at Turtle Bay Resort on the North Shore to make the hour-long trek to Koolau Golf Club, considered by some to be the toughest golf course in America.
I haven’t been playing well lately, so I didn’t set any goals heading into the round. Thank goodness. I might have jumped into one of the dozens of ravines on this difficult course.
I wisely used the “Tee it Forward” motto and avoided the tips and its 154 slope rating (the maximum according to the USGA). The blues tees were a mere 141 slope. Teeing off at 7 a.m. with a pre-dawn mist still hanging in the air, my first tee shot hooked into the woods. A perfect breakfast ball down the middle set up my third swing, which flew wildly out of bounds into the jungle lining the fairway. By the fifth hole, I’d lost four balls with a pair of triples on the card.
Yep, Koolau was claiming another victim. I actually played quite well from there, but this is a golf course that punishes even good shots. I ended up losing eight balls – one that plugged in the fairway and one that plugged near the green because of the wet, muddy winter conditions. I somehow still stayed under 100 with a smooth 99. Go ahead and laugh. I’ll bet you won’t break 100 here, either. There are too many forced carries, narrow fairways and awkward side-hill and downhill lies.
I found it incredibly ironic that as I finished my round, the church that shares the Koolau clubhouse was letting out too. Hundreds of good-to-do churchgoers were walking out of the service in their Sunday best, while I limped off the course, muddied, bloodied and ego-bruised. I felt a little guilty.
I think the man upstairs was trying to send a message. There’s a higher power than those cruel golf gods. Next Sunday I better be heading to church not the course. Especially one as difficult as Koolau.
Life on and off the course gets simpler the rest of the week. I spent the afternoon relaxing at the beautiful beach back at Turtle Bay (check out the picture below). My next four rounds will be significantly less stressful. Oahu is a great place to be in January. It makes just barely breaking triple digits much easier to swallow.
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