Hawaii Honored: The King Kamehameha Golf Club

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I will never forget the first time I drove up the hill toward the landmark Frank Lloyd Wright-designed, 75,000 square-foot clubhouse that is now The King Kamehameha Golf Club. It was the early ‘90s, and as the ultra-modern clubhouse came into full view, my eye drifted toward the right, where at its base still remains one of the most serene sights a golfer in search of heaven is ever likely to find: the most lavish, tightly mowed, neatly kept practice facility I have ever seen—and without a soul on it! That was what made it so supreme. It, the clubhouse, and the distant north shore were all that my eyes saw. No people. No crowds. No housing developments. No hotels. As I looked more closely, I noticed the perfectly straight row of green grassed tees, bag stands, a table, a clock, and the brilliant morning light streaming across the expanse of green before me. It was a thing of beauty. That first impression of what is now The King Kamehameha Golf Club, has never escaped me. When I drive up that same hill today, the views, the practice tee, and even the clock are still there. And it’s still as serene as ever.

Nothing was spared in the creation of what the members of The King Kamehameha Golf Club enjoy today. The word ‘Grand’, part of its original name, is, in the case of this particular place, not a hyperbole, but fact. It was an epic undertaking. It had zero limits. Taliesin West’s John Rattenbury, Mr. Wright’s apprentice (and the clubhouse’s architect of record) was told that visionary co-developer Takeshi Sekiguchi, the man who also created the Grand Wailea Resort & Spa, though no longer affiliated with the property, said: “…don’t worry about money; you only worry about design.” As Rattenbury put it later, “It was unbelievable. That’s the only time in my life that has ever happened.” $35 million dollars, and 14 years later, Frank Lloyd Wright’s design for what was to be the “Marilyn Monroe” house is now the home of The King Kamehameha Golf Club, Maui’s premiere, members-only, 18-hole golf club.

Since memberships at The King Kamehameha Golf Club have opened, the smart money has followed. There is nothing like it anywhere in Hawaii—or the world for that matter—because it is here, on Maui, and it is a rarity, a treasure, and something no one will ever be able to duplicate. We have great clubs in Hawaii, but nothing so superbly separated from housing, or with such a famed Wright-designed clubhouse. Hence, The King Kamehameha Golf Club is set in a completely natural setting—unique in this day and age.

The Frank Lloyd Wright-designed clubhouse is impressive from outside and even more so upon entering. The interiors are giant expanses. The floors, walls, ceilings, doors, and windows are stunning examples of Wright’s design genius. But this is only part of the story. While this brilliant and imposing clubhouse indeed helps to make The King Kamehameha Golf Club unique among others, what really makes it special is who it is named for: Kamehameha the Great.

King Kamehameha I was Hawaii’s greatest warrior-king. In 1810, he unified the islands into the Hawaiian Kingdom. He is historically the most significant Hawaiian man to have ever existed. When Tokyo tycoon Makoto Kaneko purchased the Waikapu golf courses four years ago, he made a commitment to honor the culture and history of Hawaii, and in doing so, named what is now the members only club where the upper course and clubhouse exist as: The King Kamehameha Golf Club.

Mr. Kaneko and his management team at The King Kamehameha Golf Club, go beyond honoring the Hawaiian culture with Kamehameha the Great’s name; they have also backed their words with important deeds. First, they consulted with a descendant of The King himself: Rubellite Kawena Johnson. Ms. Johnson was first asked to consult on the cultural significance of the Waikapu area and The Club’s relationship to it. Then, The King Kamehameha Golf Club retained the counsel of Clifford Naeole as a key part of The Club’s cultural pledge. Through their joint guidance, The King Kamehameha Golf Club has strived to honor Hawaii, the island culture, and our history further through the commissioning of a collection of important artistic works in Hawaiian themes by Hawaii’s “living treasures.” Together, they have transformed The King Kamehameha Golf Club’s clubhouse into something of a cultural museum. Artists of great stature here in Hawaii such as: painter Herb Kawainui Kane, traditional kapa maker Puanani Van Dorpe, and featherworker Jo-Anne Kahanamoku-Sterling, have combined to help The King Kamehameha Golf Club honor the Hawaiian culture in a truly significant way. Additionally, The King Kamehameha Golf Club commissioned sculptor, Dale Zarella, whose work clearly reflects a true bond with our culture, to create five unique sculptures to supplement the fine work of the great Hawaiian artists. The result shows in the details, in the deeds, and in the combined totality of the physical attributes of everything that is The King Kamehameha Golf Club. Together, it makes it all so unique. Like I said: there is nothing like it in the world.

As those in the know make this golf club a part of their lives, and the ranks of The King Kamehameha Golf Club’s membership continue to swell, what will ultimately make this Maui treasure the envy of all non-members in the years to come will be the powerful, awe-inspiring, sublime, almost surreal experience that it is to actually play this golf club’s 18-hole, 7,060-yard, par-72 Ted Robinson Sr. and Jr.-designed golf course. Fear and glory are just a small sampling of the emotions one will feel by the time they are done playing this natural, impeccably maintained collection of golf holes. No matter how many times you play it, something is bound to occur that you will never forget.

Members and their guests may never admit it, but most are certain to show an indelible number of pars, birdies, eagles, and quadruple bogeys on their scorecards, as they face not only 18 individually unique tests of golf, but are continuously challenged, visually and emotionally by the shots they must play; the breezy trades; the aesthetics of the course’s curving, sloping, undulating fairways; its waterfalls, ponds, and streams that flow down from the hillsides; the unobstructed, bicoastal views from virtually every perch; the gigantic, looming cliffs of the West Maui mountains; the magnitude of Mt. Haleakala; the squares of cane fields that cover the valley; and the cape-like curvature of Maalaea Bay, where Molokini peeks through the left edge of the hills along the West; and the length of shoreline that makes its way all the way down the South Maui coast to the Puu Olai cinder cone in Makena. If there is one word that summarizes what it is like to play golf at The King Kamehameha Golf Club, it’s “exhilarating!”

The Robinsons’ course design philosophy is threefold: flexibility, in that the course needs to be playable for all levels; memorability, in that when you leave the course, you won’t forget it; and natural surroundings, in that they try to impact the environment as little as possible when they create a golf course. In the case of The King Kamehameha Golf Club, they have succeeded in accomplishing all three of their goals: it plays to the fade, the draw, the long hitter and the short hitter. It has water features that blend into the surroundings and appear as though they belong. And with both nines facing either the North or the South shore, the views alone are memorable.

But most golfers who are lucky enough to play The King Kamehameha Golf Club will be busy focusing on the task at hand: trying to hit the fairways, greens and to make the putts. They may not notice that the TifEagle bermudagrass greens roll faster and are greener than anything in the islands. They may not notice that the Tifton 328 used in the fairways is the same stuff that putting greens are made of. They may not even notice the first and second cuts of rough, the brilliant decorative landscaping, or the nenes that are the only true residents of this course.

Because when they step up to the first tee and see that rolling, sweeping, downhill, downwind par 5 in front of them, all that they will be thinking is eagle. Birdie at worst. When they reach the 18th tee, they may not be able to remember anything. They may be in utter awe. But they’ll see what PGA pro, Rick Castillo, The King Kamehameha Golf Club’s director of golf operations and memberships calls “the best finishing hole Maui.” They’ll see that rolling, sweeping, downhill, downwind par 5 in front of them, and all that they will be thinking is eagle. Birdie at worst. Isn’t that how it always is?

When The King Kamehameha Golf Club’s members and guests play their final approach shots into the 18th green, looming behind it is the most incredible clubhouse on the planet. The moment they putt out, there awaits utter royal treatment. Warm and cold towels are immediately offered. Clubs are shined and whisked away. Then it’s time to enter a world within that clubhouse that few will ever get to experience. Of course, the public is welcome to come and see the pro shop, the banquet rooms, and the art collection. But only members and their guests are allowed into the locker rooms. Only members have their own white members’ jackets, stored inside their own African mahogany lockers. Only members and their guests are allowed to hit the spas, watch the game in the sauna, soak in the Japanese furo tubs, have a massage, and when their lunch or dinner is prepared, enjoy it in their own lounge, white robes and all. And as new golfers continue to flow in, and the availability of memberships begin to dwindle, only those who joined will know how wise they were to have joined when the opportunity was truly right.

So, I’ll say this only once: The opportunity to join The King Kamehameha Golf Club, for a short time, is still right. But if you rest on your laurels… mark my words: you’ll regret it. If I was looking to join a golf club any golf club, I’d sign up in a heartbeat at The King Kamehameha Golf Club.

The “Marilyn Monroe” House

In 1949, a wealthy Ft. Worth, TX family hired Frank Lloyd Wright to design a luxury home called “Crownfield.” Mysteriously, after the plans were completed, it fell through. Three years later, a Mexican cabinet official asked him to design a vacation home on the cliffs of Acapulco Bay. Wright proposed the Crownfield house and it was modified and expanded to fit the terrain. But after a family tragedy, the project was cancelled. Five years later, Marilyn Monroe and her playwright husband, Arthur Miller, asked Wright to design a dream home for them in Roxbury, CT. He showed them the original plans for Crownfield, and they loved them. Wright expanded the home further to allow for a private theatre, a wardrobe vault, and more. A year later, it all fell through after Monroe’s marriage failed. Wright died the next year. Fate would have it that it would be his apprentice, John Rattenbury, at the behest of Hawaii entrepreneurs Howard Hamamoto, Masaru “Pundy” Yokouchi, and Takeshi Sekiguchi, who would bring the design to fruition when the three men developed what is now the home of The King Kamehameha Golf Club.

The Legend of Waikapu

The blowing of the Pu (conch shell trumpet) in ancient Hawaii often signified a heralded event that was to occur. Legends of magical Pu are found throughout Hawaii. The area of Waikapu (waters of the conch), located within the ahupuaa (land division) of Na Wai Eha (The Four Waters) is not excluded from these moolelo (stories). At an entrance to a lava tube located somewhere in the deep valleys of Waikapu—that stretched to the other end of the island—there existed a Pu that, when sounded correctly within the cave, could be heard for miles. So well known was this moolelo that a prophet from the island of Kauai journeyed to Maui in search of this shell. One of the residents of this area was a very mischievous dog named “Puapualenalena.” He lived near a cliff that faced the lava tube where the magical Pu was kept. Puapualenalena found the shell and whisked it to safety, silencing the shell forever… but keeping the pu on Maui. The King Kamehameha Golf Club makes it known that they are proud to recognize the stories of old and the accomplishments of Hawaii’s forefathers.


  1. Original Frank Lloyd Wright-designed geometric patterns adorn glasswork, ceilings, doors, windows, walls, stairways and are carried over to other areas, such as the solid brass elevator doors.
  2. Members, guests, and special events participants are in for a treat when it comes to the culinary artistry of the chefs at The King Kamehameha Golf Club. From the most cutting-edge in Hawaii-regional cuisine to Maui’s best sandwich in golf at the pro shop snack bar where savory fare is assured.
  3. When Marilyn Monroe first saw Frank Lloyd Wright’s plans for what was to be her and Arthur Miller’s Roxbury, CT home, she envisioned what is now the Hanohano Room, a private, members only dining room, as the nursery for her future children. The clubhouse is an expanded version of that home, which was never built.
  4. The sacred ahu which stands at the gateway to both The King Kamehameha Golf Club, and the Kahili Golf Course, is a solemn and revered place reserved for Hawaiian ceremony.
  5. The resident nenes, or Hawaiian Geese, are not only honorary members of the club, they are also members of the family that includes the whistling ducks, swans, and true geese. The nene is Hawaii’s state bird; a symbol of native Hawaiian wildlife. It is the only goose native to the Hawaiian archipelago.
  6. Hawaii’s “living treasure,” Herb Kawainui Kane, painted a stunning 15-by-7-foot mural, “Na Alii — A Gathering of Chiefs,” for The King Kamehameha Golf Club clubhouse. Says Herb, “This assemblage of figures is conjectural, but we know that such meetings of ruling chiefs were frequently held. Kamehameha wears a cloak made entirely of yellow feathers, an emblem of his supreme status as The King of Hawaii Island.”
  7. A luxe environment of saunas and spas exists, and there are in fact two: one for the ladies, and one for the gentlemen who visit The King Kamehameha Golf Club. Extensive menus of treatments, services, and facilities await.
  8. What was originally designed by Wright to be Marilyn Monroe’s private theatre, is now The King Kamehameha Golf Club’s Waikapu Room, capable of seating 400 members and guests.
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