As Hawaii’s economy transformed from agriculture to tourism, the Mauna Kea Resort benchmark has remained a constant by which other Hawaiian resorts are measured.

KOHALA COAST, BIG ISLAND OF HAWAII: In folklore, Pele, the goddess of fire and volcanoes, travels throughout the islands, appearing to mankind as a beautiful woman, sometimes accompanied by a white dog. An important note: if you are looking for authentic souvenirs of your Hawaiian vacation, never remove and take home a lava rock from the islands. Lava is a sacred piece of the fire goddess, and bad luck will befall anyone who dares to remove it from Pele’s home.

During last year’s Mauna Kea Pro-Am, Mauna Loa Volcano (the largest volcano on earth) was active and many players had a once in a lifetime opportunity to take helicopter rides for a clear view of its fiery, molten magma flowing on the other side of the island.

Team Marcella, from Park City, Utah, had “fire in their belly” after winning the 49th annual Mauna Kea Pro-Am.

“This was our sixth year competing in the tournament,” said Ryan Kartchner, PGA professional on Team Marcella. “Management really takes care of the golf professionals, allowing us to enjoy perks that we likely can’t afford on our own. I’ve had the opportunity to travel with teams to some of the finest Pro-Ams in the country—from Pebble Beach to Pinehurst—and I can safely say Mauna Kea is tops in my mind. Golf is front and center, but the beach amenities and service standards certainly add to the experience. Even the little things, from the freshly baked banana bread at breakfast to a strong Frederico drink at the Copper Bar during sunset, enhance the week.

“Our room was only 70 steps from our patio to the powdery beach,” described Kartchner. “Whether you prefer to take a nap in a hammock swaying among the palm trees, or be more active by kayaking with Manta Rays feeding on shoreline plankton, you quickly understand why Mauna Kea’s beach is considered one of the best in the world.”

Duane Otte, director of golf at Mauna Kea Resort, utilized Golf Genius so teams could follow their standings in real time.

“When we made the turn on the final day of competition, we were one back,” recalled Kartchner. “We nicknamed holes 10-13 the gauntlet for their strong risk/reward opportunities. Finishing those four holes two under par was critical to our big win. For those considering competing, I have two tips: play the par-3s well and you will leapfrog other teams, and if the Kona Trades are blowing, a low boring ball flight in the wind is your best friend.

“Our team had never won the Mauna Kea Pro-Am before. We were so giddy on the flight back to the mainland that we held our trophies in our laps on the plane.”

Double Dipping

Eight years after the resort opened in 1965, the Mauna Kea Pro-Am was established and, in short order, became the golf event of the year in all of Hawaii. “We registered early to guarantee our spot,” remembered Steve Sear, PGA professional representing Team Montreux in Reno, Nevada. “Visiting the Big Island is like traveling to a different planet. Its rugged topography and colorful scenery might just make Mauna Kea the best resort I’ve ever had the pleasure to stay at.”

Steve did double duty by winning the low gross golf professional title and his team won the popular Horse Race Shootout competition. “Northern Nevada is known for wind. It’s what I’m very used to playing in,” continued Sear. “I feel this gave me a competitive advantage over a large portion of the field.” His deft play allowed him to have a wire-to-wire win. “It was much closer than you would imagine. The Kona Trades stopped blowing just as we were finishing the final round with at least a dozen teams still on the course. The calm weather allowed others to close the gap and, if I hadn’t sunk a six-foot, downhill, snaking putt on the 18th hole, there very likely may have been a different outcome,” winced Sear.

An impressive 25 two-person teams competed in the Horse Race Shootout. Players enjoyed an open bar in a fun, relaxed atmosphere. Pars on the first three holes allowed teams to “fight another day.” On the last hole—Mauna Kea Resort’s signature par-3—the final five teams approached the elevated tee box in pensive moods.

“Two teams hit it out of play, eliminating them quickly,” recalled Sear. “We were closest to the pin off the tee but remained about four feet off the fringe. Facing a putt with a 15-foot break, we knocked it to within nine feet of the cup. If we sunk the putt, we win.

“My partner, David Vanacore, and I disagreed on how the putt would break. My recommendation was two cups outside left edge,” detailed Sear. “David thought it was left edge. I believe ‘confidence overrules alignment,’ so I didn’t press my opinion. His putt couldn’t have been more perfect, providing us a big win, and even bigger hug as the sun slowly disappeared into the Pacific Ocean.”

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