The Plantation Course at Kapalua is in the spotlight during the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, but there's a lot to learn about the collection of golf courses on Maui.
1. The Plantation Course is hardly indicative of what to expect on Maui golf courses. One of the most striking aspects of the island is how quickly the environment can change, even by driving just a few miles along the coast. Just minutes south of jungly, green Kapalua (a former pineapple plantation), Lahaina has a drier climate more suitable for sugar cane - and the golf courses at Ka'anapali play lower to the ocean so the wind is generally not as much of a factor.
Head south to Wailea and Makena, and you'll discover some of the sunniest, calmest holes in all of the Hawaiian Islands. The Wailea Emerald Course may very well be the world's most perfect "resort course" thanks to a playable-yet-interesting design to go with an unmatchably beautiful and calm setting. These south Maui courses sit at the base of 10,000-foot Mt. Haleakala, which shields the brunt of any inclement weather passing through.
2. You can play golf on the (relative) cheap in Maui. Even though the top resort courses are $200-300 a pop, no visitor should feel priced out of a golf experience on Maui. Two of my favorite bargain courses on the island are the Dunes at Maui Lani and Kahili. Both are centrally-located daily fee facilities that deliver everything you want in a Hawaii golf experience: great ocean views, a challenging layout plus good service and facilities in a more casual and affordable atmosphere.
3. It's easy to get around Maui. Maui is such a traveler's favorite destination in part because there is so much to do within such a small area, and that includes every golf course. From the northernmost course, Kapalua to southernmost Makena, it's a wonderfully scenic, coastal drive that doesn't take much longer than an hour.
But if you plan on playing as many of the 10-plus courses you can in Maui, consider staying in either Kihei or Lahaina. These are two of the most bustling resort hubs and more centrally located so you can drive as much or as little as you want for golf.
4. Maui golf courses have some incredible clubhouses. The Plantation's clubhouse serves up phenomenal views of the 18th and first holes, but you would be silly to head straight to the car after a round on a Maui golf course, as many of them have tremendous 19th holes. King Kamehameha, a marvelous private club, loftly set in the West Maui Mountains that offers limited daily public play, has the finest of the bunch: a 74,000-foot Frank Lloyd Wright-designed masterpiece (visitors will also enjoy member-pricing on food & beverage, which is a good break from resort prices).
Wailea's main golf clubhouse, recently redone several years ago, has fine dining at Gannon's - A Pacific View Restaurant. Next door, the Old Blue clubhouse is home to Mulligan's, a more casual Irish pub where you can watch football and soccer on HD TVs. Makena also revamped its clubhouse and now offers the open-air Cafe on the Green, which has a Hawaiian atmosphere to go with a fantastic south Maui view.
5. Singles can find a game, somewhere on Maui. One phenomenon in Maui are regular skins games that, while catering to the locals, are a good option for the many golfers who come to Hawaii with their non-golfing spouse.
Venues and schedules for the skins game can change throughout the year, so you'll want to make a phone call to some courses and ask when the next one is. The games have a buy-in but don't worry, you'll likely pay a reduced green fee that more than makes up for your pot donation.
Another option for the non-bettor is Ka'anapali's FIT Club, a twilight program that welcomes golfers to play all month for just $50. It's a walking-only program that kicks off at 4 p.m. While the FIT Club was designed to be a six-hole loop, the shop at Ka'anapali doesn't seem to put up much of a fuss if you stay out on the course until sunset. So play fast.
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