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

wailea gold course 15
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.

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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)