Hawaiis Maui the perfect beginning to the golf season or any golf vacation

By Mike BaileyJanuary 4, 2010, 6:24 pm
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The 15th hole at Wailea Gold (Photo courtesy Erica Chan)

As most of the mainland U.S. resides in a post-holiday, winter-induced coma in January, the 50th state, Hawaii, is wide awake, blossoming in all its glory. It's no wonder then that the PGA Tour begins each season on one of Hawaii's most cherished golf destinations: Maui.

More specifically, the PGA Tour embarks at Kapalua Resort with the SBS Championship, an invitational for the previous year's tournament champions. The limited field dukes it out on the Plantation Course at Kapalua, often setting up dramatic drives, second shots and eagle putts on the severely downhill 18th, the longest par 5 on the Tour at 663 yards.

For more golf in Hawaii, or to plan your next trip, visit HawaiiGolf.com

The Plantation Course is one of a dozen courses or so on Hawaii's second-largest island, ranging from good to spectacular. It's not as if the Big Island, Oahu or Kauai are subpar golf options, but Maui has really come into its own over the past 25 years.

'Each of the islands is unique,' said Brenda Rego, PGA head professional at the Old Blue Course at Wailea Golf Club. 'But Maui really does have outstanding ocean and mountain views. And all the courses are in excellent shape.'

The SBS Championship also signals the height of the season on Maui. While there really isn't a bad time to be on the island – or anywhere in Hawaii for that matter – winter is especially pleasant. That's when temperatures top out around 80 – perfect for golf or whale watching – and at night, visitors are greeted by cool ocean breezes in the 60s.

Maui has three major golf resorts. They are all special in their own right and self-inclusive. And while you could spend all of your time at any one of them, it would be a shame to make it all the way to Maui and camp out on only one side of the island.

Known as the Valley Island, Maui features a wide variety of landscapes. Maui is actually part of a much larger land mass that includes the islands of Lanai, Kahoolawe and Molokai. There's the West Maui Mountains of which Puu Kukui is the highest of the peaks at 5,788 feet. Haleakala, the larger, younger volcano to the east, rises to more than 10,000 feet above sea level, but measures 5 miles from seafloor to summit.

Like its neighbor, the Big Island of Hawaii to the southeast, climate can vary greatly from one side to the other, which is due to the mountainous terrain. On the northwest side where Kapalua is located, you'll find a little more rain and wind. On the southwest coast down by Wailea, rain can be as little as 10-15 inches a year.

Here, then is a look at Maui's golf resorts and courses:

Ka’anapali Golf Resort

One of the island's golf cornerstones, the Ka’anapali Golf Resort features two golf courses. The Robert Trent Jones-designed Royal Ka'anapali Golf Course has nearly a half century of history that includes the Wendy's Champions Skins Game (2008-2010), Shell's Wonderful World of Golf, the Canada Cup, LPGA Kemper Open and the Champions Tour's Kaanapali Classic. Big Break Kaanapali (Golf Channel 2008) was also played on the 6,700-yard par-71 layout that features views of the Pacific Ocean, West Maui Mountains and Lanai.

The Kai Course is a 1962 Jack Snyder classic ideal for novice golfers with its large fairways and greens.

The golf resort, which earned a 4.5-star rating (out of five) by Golf Digest, also underwent a recent $13 million renovation by architect Robin Nelson, who has worked on more than 40 courses across the state.

It's all part of the Ka’anapali Beach Resort, which features more than three miles of golden beaches, 11 different luxury hotel and condo complexes (including the Westin Maui Resort and Spa), 40 restaurants and three world-class spas.

Kapalua Resort

Located on the island's northwest shore, Kapalua Resort is the site of the aforementioned SBS Championship. The event takes place on Kapalua's Plantation Course, a par-73 layout sprawled over 7,411 yards. Designed by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore, the course traverses natural geographic formations and pineapple plantation fields. K.J. Choi set the course record with a 62 in the 2003 event.

Somewhat overlooked is the newly renovated Bay Course, the older of the two layouts at Kapalua. Designed by Arnold Palmer Golf, the 6,600-yard, par-72 Bay, arguably has the best views of the two, especially gazing out into the blue Pacific Ocean.

The 23,000-acre Kapalua Resort features award-winning accommodations, flawless beaches, ancient lava flows and fields of fresh pineapple.

Wailea Golf Resort

With a trio of terrific golf courses, five white-sand beaches, six luxury hotels, numerous on-site restaurants and endless panoramic views, this 1,500-acre resort is a complete golf vacation unto itself.

Designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr., the par-72 Wailea Gold is the most challenging of Wailea's layouts. The former home of the Champions Skins Game, it was lauded by major golf publications as one of the country's best new resort courses when it opened in 1994. The course was also singled out by the Maui Historical Society for its preservation of prehistoric lava rock walls during construction.

Also designed by Jones, the Emerald Course offers magnificent ocean views from every hole.

And then there's the long-time favorite, Wailea's Old Blue. The resort's original golf course, the Blue was created by Jack Snyder in 1972. This classic Hawaiian resort layout features wide fairways, coral sand bunkers, fountains, tropical blossoms, and graceful mountain and ocean views.

Other golf courses on Maui

The Dunes at Maui Lani is a links-style layout designed by Nelson that might evoke a feeling of Ireland if it weren't for the tropical climate. A little out of the way in Kahula, the Dunes is a perfect excursion before heading out to the airport for your trip home.

Designed by RTJ Jr., there are 36 holes that make up Makena's North,  and South courses, home of the Hawaii State Open. Located on 1,800 acres of unspoiled natural beauty, the venue boasts great weather and tournament conditions golf.

For unforgettable panoramic coast-to-coast views, you can't beat the Nelson/Rodney Wright-designed Kahili Golf Course. Located 20 minutes from the Kahului Airport, and 30 minutes from the Kaanapali and Wailea resort areas, this former private club built on the side of the West Mountains offers the best views on the island. Visible are the entire north shore of the island as well as the north face of Mt. Haleakala all the way to the tip of Makena Beach to the southwest.

Where to stay on Maui

From resorts with golf to lavish independent accommodations, here are a few more choices on Maui:

Best Western Pioneer Inn. Built in 1901, the Pioneer Inn is the oldest hotel in Hawaii and located on historic Lahaina Harbor, once the whaling capital of the Pacific. (808-661-3636)

Four Seasons Maui at Wailea. A 380-room Mobil Five-Star and AAA Five Diamond resort situated on 15 acres of Wailea beachfront. (808-874-8000)

Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa. Located on 40 oceanfront acres on famed Kaanapali Beach, this standout offers something for everyone. (808-661-1234)

Napili Kai Resort. Ten acres of tropical seclusion with comfortably elegant accommodations.  View the spectacular sunsets is the Sea House Restaurant. (808-669-6271)

Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa. Sprawls across 23 ocean-front acres on world famous Kaanapali Beach. Over 80 percent of the 508 rooms feature ocean views. (808-661-0031)

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Simpson, Noren share Honda lead after challenging Rd. 1

By Doug FergusonFebruary 23, 2018, 1:25 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. - Tiger Woods had what he called ''easily'' his best round hitting the ball, and he didn't even break par at the Honda Classic.

Alex Noren and Webb Simpson shared the lead at 4-under 66 in steady wind on a penal PGA National golf course, and felt as though they had to work hard for it. Both dropped only one shot Thursday, which might have been as great an accomplishment as any of their birdies.

''When you stand on certain tee boxes or certain approach shots, you remember that, 'Man, this is one of the hardest courses we play all year, including majors,''' said Simpson, who is playing the Honda Classic for the first time in seven years.

Only 20 players broke par, and just as many were at 76 or worse.

Woods had only one big blunder - a double bogey on the par-5 third hole when he missed the green and missed a 3-foot putt - in an otherwise stress-free round. He had one other bogey against three birdies, and was rarely out of position. Even one of his two wild drives, when his ball landed behind two carts that were selling frozen lemonade and soft pretzels, he still had a good angle to the green.

''It was very positive today,'' Woods said. ''It was a tough day out there for all of us, and even par is a good score.''

It was plenty tough for Adam Scott, who again stumbled his way through the closing stretch of holes that feature water, water and more water. Scott went into the water on the par-3 15th and made double bogey, and then hit into the water on the par-3 17th and made triple bogey. He shot 73.

Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Rory McIlroy was at even par deep into the back nine when he figured his last chance at birdie would be the par-5 18th. Once he got there, he figured his best chance at birdie was to hit 3-wood on or near the green. Instead, he came up a yard short and into the water, made double bogey and shot 72.

Noren, who lost in a playoff at Torrey Pines last month, shot 31 on the front nine and finished with a 6-foot birdie on the ninth hole into a strong wind for his 66.

The Swede is a nine-time winner on the European Tour who is No. 16 in the world, though he has yet to make a connection among American golf fans - outside of Stillwater, Oklahoma, from his college days at Oklahoma State - from not having fared well at big events. Noren spends time in South Florida during the winter, so he's getting used to this variety of putting surfaces.

''I came over here to try to play some more American-style courses, get firmer greens, more rough, and to improve my driving and improve my long game,'' Noren said. ''So it's been great.''

PGA champion Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger and Morgan Hoffmann - who all live up the road in Jupiter - opened with a 67. There's not much of an advantage because hardly anyone plays PGA National the other 51 weeks of the year. It's a resort that gets plenty of traffic, and conditions aren't quite the same.

Louis Oosthuizen, the South African who now lives primarily in West Palm Beach, also came out to PGA National a few weeks ago to get a feel for the course. He was just like everyone else that day - carts on paths only. Not everyone can hole a bunker shot on the final hole at No. 9 for a 67. Mackenzie Hughes of Canada shot his 67 with a bogey from a bunker on No. 9.

Woods, in his third PGA Tour event since returning from a fourth back surgery, appears to be making progress.

''One bad hole,'' he said. ''That's the way it goes.''

It came on the easiest hole on the course. Woods drove into a fairway bunker on the par-5 third, laid up and put his third shot in a bunker. He barely got it out to the collar, used the edge of his sand wedge to putt it down toward the hole and missed the 3-foot par putt.

He answered with a birdie and made pars the rest of the way.

''I'm trying to get better, more efficient at what I'm doing,'' Woods said. ''And also I'm actually doing it under the gun, under the pressure of having to hit golf shots, and this golf course is not forgiving whatsoever. I was very happy with the way I hit it today.''

Woods played with Patton Kizzire, who already has won twice on the PGA Tour season this year. Kizzire had never met Woods until Thursday, and he yanked his opening tee shot into a palmetto bush. No one could find it, so he had to return to the tee to play his third shot. Kizzire covered the 505 yards in three shots, an outstanding bogey considering the two-shot penalty.

Later, he laughed about the moment.

''I was so nervous,'' Kizzire said. ''I said to Tiger, 'Why did you have to make me so nervous?'''

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Players battle 'crusty' greens on Day 1 at Honda

By Randall MellFebruary 22, 2018, 11:52 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tiger Woods called the greens “scratchy” on PGA National’s Champion Course.

Rory McIlroy said there is “not a lot of grass on them.”

Morgan Hoffmann said they are “pretty dicey in spots, like a lot of dirt.”

The first round of the Honda Classic left players talking almost as much about the challenge of navigating the greens as they did the challenge of Florida’s blustery, winter winds.

“They looked more like Sunday greens than Thursday,” McIlroy said. “They are pretty crusty. They are going to have a job keeping a couple of them alive.”

The Champion Course always plays tough, ranking annually among the most challenging on the PGA Tour. With a very dry February, the course is firmer and faster than it typically plays.

“Today was not easy,” Woods said. “It's going to get more difficult because these greens are not the best . . . Some of these putts are a bit bouncy . . . There's no root structure. You hit shots and you see this big puff of sand on the greens, so that shows you there's not a lot of root structure.”

Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Brad Nelson, PGA National’s director of agronomy, said the Champion Course’s TifEagle Bermuda greens are 18 years old, and they are dealing with some contamination, in spots, of other strains of grasses.

“As it’s been so warm and dry, and as we are trying to get the greens so firm, those areas that are not a true Tifeagle variety anymore, they get unhappy,” Nelson said. “What I mean by unhappy is that they open up a little bit . . . It gives them the appearance of being a little bit thin in some areas.”

Nelson said the greens are scheduled for re-grassing in the summer of 2019. He said the greens do have a “crusty” quality, but . . .

“Our goal is to be really, really firm, and we feel like we are in a good place for where we want them to be going into the weekend,” he said.

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McIlroy, Scott have forgettable finish at Honda

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 22, 2018, 11:03 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Rory McIlroy and the rest of his group had a forgettable end to their rounds Thursday at the Honda Classic.

McIlroy was even par for the day and looking for one final birdie to end his opening round. Only two players had reached the par-5 finishing hole, but McIlroy tried to hold a 3-wood up against the wind from 268 yards away. It found the water, leading to a double bogey and a round of 2-over 72.  

“It was the right shot,” McIlroy said. “I just didn’t execute it the right way.”

He wasn’t the only player to struggle coming home.

Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Adam Scott, who won here in 2016, found the water on both par 3s in the Bear Trap, Nos. 15 and 17. He made double on 15, then triple on 17, after his shot from the drop area went long, then he failed to get up and down. He shot 73, spoiling a solid round.

The third player in the group, Padraig Harrington, made a mess of the 16th hole, taking a triple.

The group played the last four holes in a combined 10 over.

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Woods (70) better in every way on Day 1 at Honda

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 22, 2018, 8:40 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Consider it a sign of the times that Tiger Woods was ecstatic about an even-par score Thursday at the Honda Classic.

It was by far his most impressive round in this nascent comeback.

Playing in a steady 20-mph wind, Woods was better in all facets of the game Thursday at PGA National. Better off the tee. Better with his irons. And better on and around the “scratchy” greens.

He hung tough to shoot 70 – four shots better than his playing partner, Patton Kizzire, a two-time winner this season and the current FedExCup leader – and afterward Woods said that it was a “very positive” day and that he was “very solid.”

It’s a small sample size, of course – seven rounds – but Woods didn’t hesitate in declaring this “easily” his best ball-striking round of the year.

And indeed it was, even if the stats don’t jump off the page.

Officially, he hit only seven of 14 fairways and just 10 greens, but some of those misses off the tee were a few paces into the rough, and some of those iron shots finished just off the edge of the green.

The more telling stat was this: His proximity to the hole (28 feet) was more than an 11-foot improvement over his first two starts this year. And also this: He was 11th among the early starters in strokes gained-tee to green, which measures a player’s all-around ball-striking. Last week, at Riviera, he ranked 121st.

“I felt very comfortable,” he said. “I felt like I hit the ball really well, and it was tough out there. I had to hit a lot of knockdown shots. I had to work the golf ball both ways, and occasionally downwind, straight up in the air.

“I was able to do all that today, so that was very pleasing.”

The Champion Course here at PGA National is the kind of course that magnifies misses and exposes a player if he’s slightly off with his game. There is water on 15 of the 18 holes, and there are countless bunkers, and it’s almost always – as it was Thursday – played in a one- or two-club wind. Even though it’s played a half hour from Woods’ compound in Hobe Sound, the Honda wasn’t thought to be an ideal tune-up for Woods’ rebuilt game.

But maybe this was just what he needed. He had to hit every conceivable shot Thursday, to shape it both ways, high and low, and he executed nearly every one of them.

The only hole he butchered was the par-5 third. With 165 yards for his third shot, he tried to draw a 6-iron into a stiff wind. He turned it over a touch too much, and it dropped into the bunker. He hit what he thought was a perfect bunker shot, but it got caught in the overseeded rye grass around the green and stayed short. He chipped to 3 feet and then was blown off-balance by a wind gust. Double.

Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos

But what pleased Woods most was what he did next. Steaming from those unforced errors, he was between a 2- and 3-iron off the tee. He wanted to leave himself a 60-degree wedge for his approach into the short fourth hole, but a full 2-iron would have put him too close to the green.

So he took a little off and “threw it up in the air” – 292 yards.

“That felt really good,” Woods said, smiling. And so did the 6-footer that dropped for a bounce-back birdie.

"I feel like I'm really not that far away," he said. 

To illustrate just how much Woods’ game has evolved in seven rounds, consider this perspective from Brandt Snedeker.

They played together at Torrey Pines, where Woods somehow made the cut despite driving it all over the map. In the third round, Woods scraped together a 70 while Snedeker turned in a 74, and afterward Snedeker said that Woods’ short game was “probably as good or better than I ever remember it being.”

A month later, Snedeker saw significant changes. Woods’ short game is still tidy, but he said that his iron play is vastly improved, and it needed to be, given the challenging conditions in the first round.

“He controlled his ball flight really well and hit a bunch of really good shots that he wasn’t able to hit at Torrey, because he was rusty,” said Snedeker, who shot 74. “So it was cool to see him flight the ball and hit some little cut shots and some little three-quarter shots and do stuff I’m accustomed to see him doing.”

Conditions are expected to only get more difficult, more wind-whipped and more burned out, which is why the winning score here has been single-digits under par four of the past five years.

But Woods checked an important box Thursday, hitting the shots that were required in the most difficult conditions he has faced so far.

Said Snedeker: “I expect to see this as his baseline, and it’ll only get better from here.”