Opened in 1949, Leilehua Golf Course has always been considered one of the finest military golf courses worldwide, and a favorite to the local Hawaiian golfing community.
So one might ask, “If Leilehua is such a great golf course, why was it recently renovated?” The answer is a simple. Although the golf course layout was solid, Leilehua had been showing its age for many years and it was evident that it was time for a change. The large trees had overtaken the fairways, bunkers were holding water, putting surfaces were slow and uninteresting and more tee space was needed.
So, in 2010 a professional design/ build team was hired to work with the Army and Leilehua personnel to refurbish the golf course and bring it up to high quality, modern-day standards. The team comprised of Stellar, golf course architect Mark Miller and DHR Construction, was given a “wish list” and a budget. Although the task seemed daunting, the team’s main focus from the start was to deliver the entire wish list within the given budget.
The wish list consisted of four main items. In order of priority, the request was for new full-length concrete cart paths, the removal of 160 large trees, 18 new teeing complexes and, if at all possible, 18 new green complexes. Led by Stellar, the team quickly realized that some inventive value engineering would be required, and sacrificing the quality of the project, in any way, was not an option. Resourceful and environmentally sustainable solutions would be a primary focus as well.
Tree removal would to be a major expense, so the team hired Steve Nimz, a prominent arborist in Hawaii, to consult on the project. Working closely with Steve Takashige, golf course superintendant, and Mark Miller, Nimz took a more detailed approach to the overall tree removal picture. Collectively, they determined that many of the trees could be pruned and others could be saved, resulting in a major construction cost savings.
Next, the team focused on the concrete cart paths. Danny and Joy Ramos of DHR Construction had established their business in cart path installation, and brought their valuable expertise to the table. Through minor design adjustments and creative construction techniques, additional construction costs savings were realized.
The team’s next focus was on the construction of USGA style greens and tees. Of which was the most significant and costly portion of the project would be the greens construction. A USGA green is considered the optimum root zone environment for growing turfgrass, and is the most widely used construction method. This method requires a very specific root zone mixture consisting of silica sand, blended with peat moss. For Hawaiian golf courses, this can be expensive because everything must be imported. The sand for example was imported from Vietnam, the peat from the mainland. Additionally the irrigation system needed to be remodeled to accommodate the changes in these features.
Leilehua’s original layout was kept intact, bestowing its welcoming charm and calming beauty, but the course now defiantly has sharper teeth that make the course more challenging yet fun to play.
Tees, for the most part, have been reestablished in their original location. The most notable difference is they are now ample in size, with a wide variety of teeing areas, along with newly introduced forward tees on every hole.
Trees canopies are now pulled back and cart path locations are much improved, welcoming golfers to grip it and rip it. The difficulty of Leilehua now lies in the all-important approach shot. The new greens can be described as subtlety undulating to uniquely contoured, with a couple of surprises in store for first timers (beware of holes 8 and 15). Menacing, yet delightfully shaped bunkering, guards the greens.
The turfgrass chosen for the new Leilehua greens is MiniVerde Ultra Dwarf Bermudagrass, recently introduced to the islands. MiniVerde is considered a superior turfgrass for putting greens and tees; known for its dark green color, salt and shade tolerance, and resistance to disease and rapid recovery from injury. The fine blades of this grass can be closely mowed, allowing these new greens to roll fast, if desired.
So warm up your approach game, and come out and enjoy the newly remodeled classic, Leilehua Golf Course. You will love the new look, and the new challenges that compliment this timeless beauty.
Mark Miller, formerly with Belt Collins Hawaii/ Nelson and Haworth Golf Course Architects, has operated as an independent golf course architect since 1999, DBA Miller Design, LLC from his office in Arvada, Colorado.