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.