KAILUA-KONA — A facelift is underway at a gorgeous golf course that carried the local name but lacked almost everything else.
All of that is changing at Makani Golf Club,where an investment group out of California acquired the Big Island Country Club from another firm that had owned the property for five years.
The changes are going to be big.
Big, as in an entire top-to-bottom radical makeover that will include new roads to a new clubhouse, pro shop and townhouses; virtually everything will be redone.
Except for the land itself, which is spectacular.
“That’s maybe the best part about it,” said Jeff Keeler, managing director of the new venture, “we are different from most all of the coast courses because we didn’t have to haul in hundreds of tons of rock to carve out a good golf course, it was already here, courtesy of mother nature.”
The long term goal is to transform the location into a fully functional 18-hole course on 150 acres of jaw-dropping views, including rolling hills with changes of elevation and a variety of challenging shots, including the replica of TPC Sawgrass Hills with its green in the middle of a large pond. Apart from the course, an additional 250 acres will be used for constructions of homes, condos and townhouses.
The short term goal is more modest.
“We want to be the go-to course for locals,” Keeler said. “Whether it’s company outings, tournaments for local charities, fund raising events for community service groups, we are here and we can be that place.”
The beauty of the course, located off Mamalahoa Highway near the turnoff from Saddle Road, is striking and immediate, but at the moment, or for the last several years of “moments,” it has been that beautiful course with few, if any other amenities.
“To me, it’s a great place that is just beginning to grow,” said Kevin Hayashi, the pro at Hilo Municipal who is splitting times these days between that job and a new one at Makani, where he is the teaching pro twice a week.
“If you haven’t been there,” Hayashi said, “be prepared for a challenge and some nice cool weather. It is really a nice relief to play in comfortable weather and not be such high humidity that you’re sweating all day.
“I would say the last two holes are as challenging as any we have in the state of Hawaii.”
That would be No. 17, a replica of the iconic TPC Sawgrass hole in which famed course architect Perry Dye (who designed Makani), situated a green in the middle of a large pond with a walkway to the green. Then on to No. 18, a long par 4 that is “a monster of a hole,” according to Hayashi.
The whole development also happens to be a nene sanctuary, and if you only rarely get to see the state bird, an added bonus is the profusion of nene here, enough that any one time you might see a dozen or more strolling through the fairways.
Keeler, who came from Jacaranda West, a golf club outside of Sarasota, Fla., laughed when he first visited Makani after seeing so many flowering jacaranda on the property.
“We had one,” he said, “and I come her and they’re all over the place.”
Work has begun in its earliest stages, with the name change just a month old, but the project will likely pick up momentum when news gets out and after golfers hear that Hayashi is working twice a week for now at Makani.
“I think of him as a local legend and it’s a great addition to bring Kevin in with us,” Keeler said. “In the future, of course, we’d like to have here full time.”
Hayashi is open to that idea but at the moment his days are spent at home with his 2-year-old daughter while mom works.
“Give me a little time with my daughter and for things to start developing (at Makani),” he said.
In the meantime, Steve Bruton, Makani’s director of agronomy, is tweaking the playing conditions, making changes on some greens, re-doing tee boxes and promoting kikuyu grass on all the fairways.
The course doesn’t need a radical makeover, but once the construction starts in earnest with the clubhouses, restaurants and amenities, it might look even better.