Golf in Hawaii: no penalty if Madame Pele moves the ball

According to Hawaiian legend, Madame Pele, the fiery-tempered volcano goddess , lives here in Kilauea crater on the slope of Mauna Loa. It's probably the only volcanic mountain in the world that when erupting people run to see rather than run from.

You peer down into the smoldering, sulfurous Halemaumau fire pit and find yourself shivering. Perhaps she'll choose to erupt today?

Not to worry. She always gives plenty of warning. First to feel it are players out on the course at the Volcano Golf and Country Club. Being just a mile down the road from the pit, they have a local rule. If the ground should shake, rattle, and move your ball, no penalty.

Lying at a chilly 4,200-foot altitude, the Volcano course oozes with atmosphere. Thick Scotch-like bush hides in the rough, ready to grab wild balls. Spooky dark windbreaks of trees tempt you to try shooting over. Here and there smoking fumaroles lurk, and every now and then clouds of steam drift over from the volcano, wiping out vision for a moment or two.

Carts come equipped with windshields and roofs, a welcome refuge from sudden winds, rain, and whatever else Pele feels like doing.

Most of the time, though, the silence is blissful. Soft pastoral sounds like the coo of a dove, the call of quail. Let your eyes stray to the snow-capped peaks of Mauna Loa. After the game, huddle around the circular fireplace in the cozy clubhouse restaurant. It's a whole different aspect of Hawaii.

For men it's a par 72 with a 67.3 rating. Women will find it a bit tougher at 73 par, rated 71.1. Green fees are $10, electric carts also $10.

Down the backside of Kilauea, a half-hour's drive past the Volcano course, is a setting much more expected of Hawaii -- the lush, warm, tropical SeaMountain course. Five years ago, when it was brand new, a tidal wave nearly wiped it out. Nature has been busy making amends. It's exceptionally beautiful now: green velvety fairways, dry rivers of lava, wondrous spreads of monkeypod trees. Green fees $10, carts also $10. Rated 71 championship, 69 regular, 72 for women.

Before tackling Volcano or SeaMountain, have yourself a warmup at the Hilo Municipal Golf Course on Haihai Street in the hills above Hilo. Sensational views of Hilo Bay, the ocean, and slumbering massive Mauna Loa.

You'll find rock-hard greens (they're just a thin layer of grass over an ancient lava flow). But no sand traps, and not a single water hole. Jack Snyder, the golf course architect from Arizona who redesigned the course, figured that 15 wide ditches of lava rock (another Pele legacy) were sufficient trouble for anyone. They are.

Call before coming (959-7711) to make sure it's not a tournament day. For 60 (yes, 60!) local golf clubs use this as their home course. The Hilo muni is no cinch. Par is 72 for men, 74 for women, with ratings of 72 championship, 70 regular, and 70.5 for women. Green fees are $3 weekdays, $4 weekends, with electric carts $10.

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