Best Golf in Hawaii Maui
Hitting greens is paramount at King Kahehameha Golf Club (King Kahehameha G.C.)
When it comes to golf in Hawaii you can’t go wrong with any of the four main islands – Maui, Oahu, Kauai and the Big Island. In fact, each island has such great golf that you could argue any one of them is best of the bunch. With the kickoff of the 2011 PGA Tour season at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions at Kapalua's Plantation course, we begin this month making a case for Maui.
LAHAINA, Hawaii – Once a playground for royalty, these days golf's elite set comes to Maui more than any other Hawaiian island.
The PGA Tour rewards the previous year's event winners with an invitation to the season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions at Kapalua’s Plantation course. The limited-field event welcomes players with a guaranteed paycheck and Hawaiian hospitality to go with a par-73 design with jumbo jet-sized fairways.
Beyond hosting the game's current best at Kapalua, golf’s legends are regular visitors to Maui at the Wendy's Champions Skins Game at Royal Ka'anapali. This year's four-team, two-man field includes regulars Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson, who will go after a piece of $770,000 in prize money Jan. 29-30.
The pros have a lot of cash up for grabs in Maui in January, but when they leave, Maui's wealth of golf awaits the rest of us. The island serves up more than a dozen worthy golf courses to sample, and the top plays are all within about an hour's drive of one another. Each offers a different experience from the next, though there is one constant: panoramic views bringing together green mountain and sparkling blue ocean backdrops. The former seat of the King Kamehameha dynasty, the town of Lahaina near Ka'anapali was once known as 'lele,' meaning 'relentless sun' and that's what you can expect on your vacation.
Maui's best resort golf rivals any Hawaiian island
As the island's PGA Tour host, Kapalua is Maui's highest profile facility, and the seaside Bay course hosted an LPGA event in 2008. But Kapalua's lush jungle environment is hardly indicative of the rest of Maui's golf scene.
The shift toward drier terrain happens just a few miles south in Ka'anapali.
Though most of Maui's golf courses have opened since the 1990s Royal Ka'anapali debuted in 1962 with a bang: A tee shot from Bing Crosby welcomed a new era in Maui golf with a championship-caliber Robert Trent Jones Sr. design.
Ka'anapali Kai opened beside the Royal and features a shorter course with plenty of its own spectacular holes overlooking the neighboring island of Lanai and during the winter the occasional whale breach. While Kapalua was built amongst a pineapple plantation, the Kai runs along old railroad tracks once used by the Sugar Cane Train, which now shuttles tourists along the mountainside along former fields.
Continue south along the coastal road from Lahaina towards the eastern side of the West Maui Mountains, and you'll come across King Kamehameha Golf Club. Set at 700 feet above sea level along the mountain slopes, you can see the pinkish, Frank Lloyd Wright-designed clubhouse from miles around. With a member-for-a-day rate that includes lunch, it's an affordable luxury and makes for the island's best all-day experience after including the luxurious clubhouse and locker room amenities.
Wailea Golf Club, the resort community that features three golf courses, lies at the base of the 10,000-foot Mt. Haleakala. Not only is the dormant volcano instrumental in helping to protect the three courses from some of the island's more inclement weather and higher winds, it's given the Gold Course and Emerald Course at Wailea G.C. an unmistakable setting.
The two courses were built without attached residential plans and atop black volcanic rock and around native rock walls, creating a sharp contrast with green grass and blue ocean. The Gold Course hosted the Wendy's Skins Game before it moved to Royal Ka'anapali in 2008, and rivals King Kamehameha and the Kapalua Plantation as the island's toughest test from the championship tees. Wailea’s Old Blue Course is also as worthy challenge.
Golf on Maui's daily-fee courses
Every bartender, bellman and driver you meet in Maui seems to have a regular golf habit – when they're not getting preferred 'kama'aina' local access on the resort courses they head for one of the island's more affordable daily fees.
Just below King Kamehameha is where many locals and seasonal residents have their weekly game: Kahili Golf Course. The club opened in 1991 as Grand Waikapu Golf Club, but its brightest are here and now with new ownership and a commitment to service and conditions to go along with the Robin Nelson and Rodney Wright mountainside design.
Down the mountain, the Dunes at Maui Lani boasts a location that is central to the majority of Maui's population and accommodates them with a lighted driving range. The course itself has a rare setting on the sandy dunes land of the Kahului Istmus. The Robin Nelson design utilizes the links-like terrain with Scottish-type pot bunkering and bump-and-run playing style when the tradewinds are up.
McIlroy gets back on track
There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:
He is well ahead of schedule.
Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.
“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”
To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”
And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.
After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out.
Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.
“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”
The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.
The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)
But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.
Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.
Everything in his life is lined up.
Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.
Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore
Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.
Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.
There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.
Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.
The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.
Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again
Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.
Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.
It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.
Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.
While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.
McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call
Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.
Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.
The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.
McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.
McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.