Inside Hawaii’s stunning Kohanaiki resort

PGA of America
There are a number of reasons why Kohanaiki is considered such a special place.
By
Tony L. Starks
PGA.com

Series: News Feature

Published: Tuesday, July 18, 2017 | 2:51 p.m.

Kohanaiki is the true definition of a hidden gem. Few know the private real estate community on Hawaii’s Big Island exists, but its world-class offerings are second to none. The property features the state’s only Rees Jones designed golf course and a luxury beachfront atmosphere that gives you that “little slice of heaven” vibe.

Kohanaiki has been up and running for the last three years, but original plans for the property began in the 2007. However, when the housing market took a turn of the worse developers put their plans on hold. Despite the setback, those involved knew that Kohanaiki was going to be a special place. So much so, that when plans resumed all of the original playmakers (from developers to golf operations leaders and even the executive chef) dropped what they were doing and came back.

I recently had the chance to spend a few days inside the gates at the high-end private golf community. It’s evident that there’s something different, special and unique. It goes beyond what you can see and touch. It’s something you feel. The Kohanaiki culture and spirit of Aloha is apparent in the people and throughout the property.

With that said, I’ll do my best to put into words “10 Reasons Why Kohanaiki is a Special Place.”

The People

It’s hard to believe that Rees Jones never designed a golf course in Hawaii prior to Kohanaiki. It wasn’t due to a lack of opportunity. Over the 40-plus years of operating his own golf course design firm, he fielded numerous proposals for projects on the chain of Pacific islands. But what made Kohanaiki different? “The big factor for me was the people, the management team specifically,” says Jones. “Joe Root (Founding President and CEO), George Punoose (General Manager) and Marty Keiter (Director of Golf) had a vision and philosophy for the property that was special. The people who work there are on the same level as the member’s who own multi-million dollar property. You’ll notice that immediately. They’re just a great big family – and the leaderships’ mentality is what enables that to happen.” Want an example? One of the club’s original members, Rich Olazaba, recently got married on property. When he discovered that some Kohanaiki staffers would not be able to attend as guest because they were off island, he offered to fly them in and cover any costs they incurred.

The Course

It’s difficult to draw a bad lie at Kohanaiki – unless your ball nestles into one of the strategically placed white-sand fairway bunkers. The SeaDwarf paspalum turf leaves the ball perfectly perched, even in the rough. Overall, you be hard pressed to find better conditions anywhere.

The front nine is a fair but challenging introduction. Kohanaiki tips its cap to you with a reachable par-5 opening hole, before extending a firm handshake with the rest of the front nine. Interesting green complexes are the front’s major defense. Large greens provide lots of options for pin placements, and you must place your tee ball in the proper position in order to have the best approach angle if you want to get close to the flag. Overall, the front nine (the first 11 holes in fact) builds a sense of anticipation. You’re never more than a mile or so from the ocean at any point on the property. However, you don’t see the powerful Pacific at all on the first nine holes. But trust me, it’s worth the wait.

“The Best Left-Hand Turn in Golf”

Just when you think the anticipation is too much to bear, you make the “Best Left-Hand Turn in Golf” – termed by Director of Golf Marty Keiter. Coming off the green at the short par-4 11th, you whip your golf car to the left and stare down a 637-yard par 5 that leads directly out to the Pacific Ocean. The scene is breathtaking, but you only have a few moments to soak it in before you realize the challenge that awaits. It’s the property’s signature hole, and perhaps the most daunting. Even the longest hitters will find it tough to reach the green in two, especially if the wind is coming off the ocean (which it usually is). For most golfers, it’s a pure three-shotter. Over the course of three days, I was 9-over-par on that one hole alone (as a 6 handicap). The landing area off the tee is fairly generous, but if you’re not careful the lava rocks on the right will gladly collect your ball. The second shot is where the real challenge comes it. Electing for a fairway metal leaves an extremely narrow landing area. I tried 3-wood for my second shot all three days. After each swing, I never saw my ball again. Laying up, however, leaves you with a mid- to long-iron into an uphill green complex with the wind in your face. Simply put, not easy. The good news is you have the beauty of the Pacific, caress of the ocean breeze and soothing sounds of waves crashing to keep you at peace. The par-5 12th begins a stretch of six stunning ocean side golf holes. According to Jones, the six holes account for the longest stretch of oceanfront golf in all of Hawaii.

Unique Course Design Elements

Rees Jones implemented a minimalist approach on the scenic back nine, preserving the natural beauty of the oceanside plot. The combination of naturally formed lava fields and anchialine ponds make up some of the most unique hazards you’ll find on any golf course. There are more than 200 anchialine ponds where water levels rise and fall with the tide, and the property has a dedicated team of individuals whose sole job is to maintain and protect these native areas. The greenside bunker complex on the par-3 16th is another example of Jones’ minimalist approach – it flows directly into the adjacent beach, and encapsulates the goal of preserving conservation areas such as the anchialine ponds, lava fields and shoreline.

The Clubhouse of Your Dreams

A 67,000 square foot clubhouse is the centerpiece of Kohanaiki. The expansive structure encapsulates authentic Hawaiian motifs and was designed by renowned architect Shay Zak – who is popular for his contemporary work throughout Hawaii and California. The $65 million clubhouse was completed in December and includes a full-service spa, a gym overlooking the Pacific, infinity pool, restaurant, business center, golf shop, wine cellar, a movie theater, a game room that will bring out anyone’s inner child and more.

Game Room

Ok, let’s talk about this game room. Firstly, you walk down the steps surrounded by artfully crafted stonewalls and you’re met by a beautifully shaped longboard hanging on the wall. It was handmade by Kohanaiki’s very own Bonga Perkins – who oversees ocean adventures on the sprawling property – a two-time ASP World Longboard Champion. Walking a little farther you’ll find a wine cellar with dedicated storage racks for each Kohanaiki member. Then things get really cool. There’s a 21-seat movie theater adjacent to the game room, with a full schedule of show times. The will even stream special events such as the Masters or PGA Championship on the big screen. Did I mention the fully-stocked snack bar that has everything you can imagine? Venture inside the game room to find four bowling lanes, two gaming stations with Xbox and Playstation, pool tables, a shuffleboard table, throwback arcade games and a full-service bar. The game room is a great place for families to hang out, as there’s something for everyone. But just a few steps away there’s a hidden cigar lounge and poker room with a scotch bar where the grownups like to play.

Adventure Team

Kohanaiki’s onsite Adventure Team is a crew dedicated to leading fun ocean experiences such as snorkeling, fishing, paddle boarding, kayaking, beachside yoga and more. They are essentially personal guides to all the island’s attractions, active experiences, culture and history. If you want to climb a volcano, swim with manta rays, go deep-sea fishing or find a secret waterfall, the Adventure Team can make it happen.

Onsite Craft Brewery

How many golf clubs have their own brewery? This is perhaps the thing I love the most about Kohanaiki, and it’s not just because I live in Southern California where craft beer is king. The story behind the brewery is what makes it special. Garratt Fitts is one of the best waiters at Kohanaiki. He’s well known among the membership for his friendly demeanor, knowledge of beers and food, and his overall Aloha spirit. What they didn’t know was that Garratt was also popular on the Big Island for his garage-brewed craft beer. As the word spread and Kohanaiki members got to taste the crafted creations, something unexpected happened. They invested in him. The club applied for the proper certifications and began purchasing top-notch brewery equipment. They built a brewery on the on the bottom level of the clubhouse and promoted Garratt to Kohanaiki Master Brewer. At the time of this article, Garratt was almost set to begin producing craft beers that will be exclusive to Kohanaiki. This story epitomizes the culture of Kohanaiki. The leadership, the members and the staff are a family that supports one another. When they learned about Garratt’s hidden talent for producing craft beers, they invested in him and gave him an opportunity to expand his skillset and align his passion with his work at Kohanaiki.

Preservation of Hawaiian Culture and History

 “We wanted to pay tribute to those who were here before us,” says PGA Professional David Reese, Kohanaiki’s Assistant General Manager. “We’ve worked very hard to preserve Hawaiian culture and be respectful to the local community, as well as adhere to natural and historical presidencies.” The club enlisted local families to serve on a cultural committee and advise them on how to best-fit Kohanaiki into the native Hawaiian landscape. “Early on in the development stages the families would have weekly meetings here to talk about the development and if we were staying true to our goal of preserving the culture and the land,” Reese continues. “If we came across an archeological site, we would consult the families to see what we had and how to work around it respectfully.” For instance, there are 14 Ahu Shrines marked and preserved at Kohanaiki – some of which are on course. These historic rock structures were used to signal a significant act as well as notifications to travelers that they were entering a new people’s land. Furthermore, there are the Loko I’a Fish Ponds – where the reminisces of rock walls line anchialine ponds which native Hawaiians would use to trap fish during high tide. Local officials have pointed to Kohanaiki as a model for future developments not only on the Big Island, but throughout the state.

Amazing Real Estate and Architecture

There are 383 real estate offerings planned at Kohanaiki and becoming a member requires the purchasing of onsite property. Approximately 100 sites have been sold to date, with lots/homes ranging in price from $1.3 to $20 million. The club is projected to reach full capacity by 2025. Just a handful of members call Kohanaiki home year round, while the majority of the members come from west coast markets such as Los Angeles and Seattle. While real estate sales were slow initially, within 50 days after the clubhouse was completed approximately $45 million in sales rolled in. “The luxury housing market is beginning to get back on solid ground,” says Howard Kruschke, the facility’s Director of Sales. “Before people make the major decision to invest, they want to know that the developers are committed to the project and that their vision will be a reality. After the $65 million clubhouse was complete, our prospective members knew that the Kohanaiki development team and our staff were committed to the success of this very special property. The current market is demanding to see long-term commitment and strong leadership before they invest, and we have both of those at Kohanaiki.” For homebuyers, Kohanaiki offers a team of four renowned architects they can select from in the creation of custom designed homes – Shay Zak, Warren Sunnland, Jim McLaughin and Khoi Le. There is also a catalogue of existing designs from the architects that potential homeowners can browse, or the option to create something purely unique.