By Marc Witter
Welcome to the premiere Maui Golf Guide, a new biannual section devoted to hittin’ the greens, Maui style. “In Par Advice For Paradise,” you’ll visit 13 different courses spanning the island, discovering how each one is unique in terrain and playability. To help you navigate these different course attributes and other variables, such as those infamous Maui trade winds, we pestered our friendly island pros for their tricks of the trade. And look no further than our handy “Golf at a Glance” chart for a side-by-side course comparison. Fore!
If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. This holds true, perhaps, for dollar bills and yellow No. 2 pencils. But just like golf balls, putters, and drivers—which merely share nomenclature—golf courses on Maui are only similar to each other in offering 18 holes of glorious entertainment. A trip around any of the 13 thoughtfully placed public and resort golf courses of your choice here on the Valley Isle will undoubtedly delight many of your senses.
In Central Maui lies a golf course with a distinctive terrain mimicking the birthplace of golf—one could imagine it in the rotation for the British Open. The Dunes at Maui Lani golf course occupies one of the few spots in Hawai‘i where true dunes exist.
The course winds up, down, over, and around ancient sand dunes—but not through them. The real test here is the placement of each shot, as you must aim for and hit narrow gaps formed by Mother Nature. Classic courses generally contain water hazards; when you play at The Dunes at Maui Lani, which isn’t anywhere near water, you’ll feel as if you are on an Irish or Scottish tract.
Uniquely located in the same neighborhood on the slopes of the West Maui Mountains are the newly renovated 18 holes at Kahili Golf Club. This hillside layout, although not long, is challenging in that the short holes are shot into the wind, and the course has plenty of watery graves awaiting errant shots. A morning tee time—when the trade winds are calmer—is advised.
Just a few short miles away from Central Maui, skirting the coastline between Kihei and Makena, are six courses that, while sharing the same general vicinity, run an array of characteristics and style of play. Here you’ll find ocean-side, mountain, and flatter inland layouts. There are courses here to suit every golfer’s level of play.
Formerly known as Silversword Golf Course, the newly named Elleair Golf Club will deliver a round full of fun and great vistas for the average golfer at a great value. Elleair prides itself in its constant course improvement with “golfer-friendliness” in mind. Recent upgrades include broader fairways, reshaped and larger greens, and new hybrid Bermuda turf grasses all around.
Moving on past Kihei, you’ll find the resort areas of Wailea and Makena, where golf is an important addition to the region’s fancy hotels. At Wailea, you’ll find three layouts that run the gamut from most enjoyable to most challenging. If your goal is to play all three, we suggest starting with the easiest of the three, the Blue Course, with its stunning views. Its generous fairways are wide and straight, and its lakes are placed for scenic beauty rather than as hazards. This grand dame will be a gracious host for your game.
The Wailea Emerald Course is one of the newer courses in South Maui. Designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr., it is a par-72, stretching 6,825 yards, and was designed to be a “pure golf” experience, with a backdrop resembling a tropical garden. On the Emerald layout, you may be dazzled by the blazing array of extraordinary flowers in bloom, including plumeria, bird of paradise, bougainvillea, and morning glory.
Not to be chauvinist, but this is the course a woman will thoroughly love, as it has been touted as one of America’s most women-friendly layouts. The women’s tee box areas are situated in a friendly pattern for drives down the middle of the fairway. The Emerald Course features four to six tee boxes on every hole, allowing the player to select the tee ground that best suits his or her game.
Before you venture over to the Gold Course, we recommend taking some time to enjoy the excellent practice facility with a target range and three chipping and putting areas, as the Gold layout is by far the most demanding and challenging of the three layouts at Wailea. This classical, rugged course was built on a natural sloping terrain, and world-famous designer Robert Trent Jones II has used several types of hazards, from the traditional lake and bunkers to native Hawaiian lava rock walls, and of course the distraction of the vistas.
The elevation change on the Gold allows for countless ocean and mountain views from almost every hole. As beautiful as they are, try not to get overly distracted; this is truly a course that demands your full attention. A good day on the Gold is like nothing you’ve ever experienced.
Heck, I was so excited by my play on the Gold that I indulged my traveling partner with an extraordinary spa day at Grand Wailea Resort—and followed that up with a relaxing meal at The Shops at Wailea’s Tommy Bahama Restaurant. The option for great dining or a day at the spa for your non-golfing significant other is one of the most pleasant side attractions to golfing on Maui. At any location, from Wailea to Kapalua, you’ll find an array of first-class restaurants, spas, and shopping within minutes of the course. The stellar cuisine options on Maui set it far above any other golfing destination—even on the islands. Check this issue’s Restaurant Guide (page 54) for recommendations.
After lunch, however, I was ready to resume my Valley Isle golf tour. Just past Wailea is one of the most popular golf courses on the island of Maui (I’m not including Lana‘i in this statement) among both the local crowd and visitors to our islands. I’ve never spoken to anyone who didn’t have Makena’s North Course at the top of their list after playing the 6,914-yard layout boasting natural beauty and excellent playing conditions.
Both the North and South Courses at Makena seem to always be in “tournament-ready” condition. The two courses came about in 1993, when the first 18-hole course at Makena was split in two with a new 9 added to each original side to create two “new” courses.
What makes the North Course so spectacular is its design with the intent of making the golfer feel one with the natural surroundings. When you reach the 14th tee box, you’re greeted by a view of four nearby islands. This is truly an exciting day of golf.
The South Course’s 18 holes are also spectacular, with their various twists and turns and doglegs that will keep you thinking throughout your round. The course features many water holes, which definitely come into play.
Some on the Valley Isle believe that the best golf courses on the island lie between Lahaina and Kapalua. It’s hard to argue against this thought; West Side courses are beautiful and exciting to play.
At Ka‘anapali, just outside Lahaina, the two courses are undergoing major renovations. In 2005, designer Robin Nelson oversaw changes to the Resort South Course and is now doing the same for the Tournament North Course. This is part of a two-year, $13-million-dollar enhancement to both the courses and the golf facilities.
Golf at Ka‘anapali features astounding coastal views of Moloka‘i and Lana‘i, and the Resort South Course is regarded as a truly fun day on the links. The course is not considered long and is very inviting for all levels of players.
The Tournament North Course renovation promises to bring a whole new look and feel to the Ka‘anapali experience. Word is that the course should be ready for play in November ‘06.
And now for something simply awesome: the Kapalua Resort area, where you’ll find three championship courses—The Bay, The Village, and The Plantation—set amidst West Maui’s magnificent landscape. This is world-class golf at its finest.
The Bay Course was Kapalua’s first course, built in 1975. Designers Arnold Palmer and Francis Duane fashioned a layout that takes in the ocean view as part of the play on the front nine. Truly a resort course, the Bay Course sports rolling fairways and large greens along a route that passes the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua. But don’t be fooled; when the trade winds pick up, the back nine can be a real test of patience.
The 18 holes at The Village Course give the island visitor a different perspective on what one might expect from an island golf course. The Village Course layout runs upward away from the ocean through stands of Cook and Norfolk pines in the West Maui foothills; various elevation changes from tee to green make this a pretty straightforward layout, and a favorite with locals.
If you’ve never played the Village, now is the time. Kapalua Land company, Ltd., has announced an agreement with renowned course architect Tom Fazio to create Kapalua Resort’s first members-only course, which will replace the Village Course. Fazio has designed 14 courses ranked on Golf Digest’s list of America’s 100 Greatest Courses—more than any other designer. Closure of the Village Course and construction of the new Mauka Course are scheduled for early 2007. Look for details in Maui N¯o Ka ‘Oi’s January 2007 Special Golf edition.
Let’s say you can only play once during your visit to Kapalua. Your first stop should be the new Golf Academy, one of the most functional practice areas you’ll ever visit. Take advantage of the super service you’ll receive at the Academy, and plan to spend some time there. Of course, you will want to play the course that has enjoyed worldwide visibility from hosting the PGA TOUR’s Mercedes Championships each year; The Plantation Course is truly everything you’d want in a golf course. Expect spectacular views and a challenging layout on this course that the pros play. (You might see Tiger Woods reach the 663-plus-yard-long 18th hole in two for an eagle, and want to try it yourself).
But I must say, for all The Plantation Course’s beauty and breathtaking vistas, it also has everything you may not wish to see, unless you love the unexpected: trade winds that can go from benign to ridiculous in a flash, waist-high native grasses that golf balls disappear in, and elevation changes that can challenge your every shot and allow for creativity on your tee shots. I suggest playing this course with a lot of patience—and please don’t expect to shoot your handicap here. Just be thankful you get to play the course and experience walking in the footsteps of the greats who have played here. It’s a lot like playing Pebble Beach on the Monterey Peninsula: you have to do it at least once in your life, so enjoy it for the experience.
Golfers on Maui are truly blessed with courses offering panoramic island and ocean views, spanning our gorgeous coastline, climbing the slopes of Haleakala, and running into our foothills. We just about have it all, and we are proud to share all of this with the world.