Royalty Revered

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The King Kamehameha Golf Club is a historic, serene, beautiful place. You are invited to be a part of it all.

Story by: John Byrne
Photos by: Bob Bagerter

The landmark Frank Lloyd Wright-designed, 75,000 square-foot clubhouse, home to The King Kamehameha Golf Club, is known throughout Hawai‘i for its ultra-modern design. Its peach-colored exterior stands out from afar, and within its confines is a world of passionate artistry and award-winning interior design that includes Hawai‘ian art treasures, and luxurious rooms that befit a club that bears the name of Hawai‘i’s greatest chief: King Kamehameha. With its commanding views of both shorelines and the majestic Mt. Haleakala, this clubhouse is nestled within the lush foothills of the West Maui mountains, and below it lie the verdant Ted Robinson-designed fairways and greens of the club’s golf course, all meticuously maintained and available to its members. This is a golf club unlike any other in Hawai‘i; with the finest of everything imaginable all polished and buffed and ready for the people who are fortunate enough to call it their Maui home course. Interestingly, while it does have members who are indeed famous, people from all walks of life have joined and the club has gone to great lengths to welcome businesses, families, and golfers young and old to join its roster with a varied and attractive offering of memberships to fit just about every need and budget. For the money, it is unquestionably the best membership opportunity for golf in Hawai‘i, and despite the prestige and exclusive feel that emanates from its imposing, fortress-like compound, it is actually an exceptionally inviting club, with convivial members and staffers alike, who share a love for the game, and Maui’s no ka ‘oi aloha spirit.

Just like its many membership offerings, nothing was spared back in 1993 during the 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 15 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 expanded to include a variety of levels and types, the smart golfers have followed. There is nothing like it anywhere in Hawai‘i—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 Hawai‘i, but nothing so superbly separated from the hustle and bustle, or with such a famed Wright-designed clubhouse.

The Frank Lloyd Wright-designed clubhouse features interiors that 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 of what makes The King Kamehameha Golf Club unique among others: what really separates it is who it is named for: Kamehameha the Great.

King Kamehameha I was Hawai‘i’s greatest warrior-king. In 1810, he unified the islands into the Hawai‘ian Kingdom. He is historically the most significant Hawai‘ian 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 Hawai‘i, and in doing so, named the members-only club as: The King Kamehameha Golf Club.

Mr. Kaneko and his management team at The King Kamehameha Golf Club go beyond honoring the Hawai‘ian 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 Hawai‘i, the island culture, and our history further through the commissioning of a collection of important artistic works in Hawai‘ian themes by Hawai‘i’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 Hawai‘i 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 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 its 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 ‘others’ on their scorecards, as they not only face 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 Ma‘alaea 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 and 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 Hawaiian nenes that are the only permanent residents of this incredible golf course.

Because when they step up to the first tee and see that rolling, sweeping, downhill, downwind par 5 in front of them, they may be in utter awe. They’ll see what PGA pro, Rick Castillo, The King Kamehameha Golf Club’s director of golf, calls “one of the most stunning opening holes on Maui.” They’ll see that rolling, sweeping, downhill, downwind par 5 in front of them, and sigh.

When The King Kamehameha Golf Club’s members and guests putt out, there awaits utter royal treatment. Warm and cold towels are immediately offered. Clubs are shined and whisked away. It’s time to enter a world of luxury, where African mahogany lockers house the white members’ jackets, and the spas await, with their plasma TV in their sauna, their Japanese furo tubs, their private massage rooms, and exclusive lounges and dining areas.

The King Kamehameha Golf Club is Hawaii’s finest and most inviting golf membership club. The club has gone the distance to ensure that families, businesses, and individuals from all walks of life have the opportunity to call this club their own. The course, clubhouse, and philosophy behind the club are truly unique to the islands and represent the very essense of what a golf club should be.

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.

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