Maui Is Tops For A Golfer's Bucket List
This was first published In the Globe & Mail January 2013.
Maui, Hi. - Maui is know as an island of romance. Canadian golfers would concur. They’re in love with the variety and beauty of the championship courses on the idyllic Pacific island.
And the feeling is reciprocated. “We love the Canadians who come to play in Maui,” says David Havens director of instruction at Ka’anapali Royal and Kai. “When the travel economy declined in 2008, it was places like Alberta, Saskatchewan and B.C. that kept the lights on in many places here.”
The most famous Maui treasure is probably The Plantation at Kapalua, the rugged 7,411-yard site of the just-completed Hyundai Tournament of Champions. Running through thick forest and along the Pacific, its beauty is whipped by the afternoon trade winds off the Pacific that bedeviled the recent PGA event. Players enticed to go flag hunting found themselves lost in the volcanic walls and scrub that line the course.
What makes The Plantation such a challenge are the rugged hillsides and the steep changes in elevation for players as they navigate the former pineapple plantation. “The course is crazier than I would have thought,” says PGA Tour star Keegan Bradley. “I knew it was going to be hilly and rolling, but this is a lot more intense than I thought it was going to be. It's a fun course to play, but you've got to try to get out there and learn these breaks.
You can read more about The Plantation’s charms and challenges here, both of which were on display in the wind-delayed Hyundai Championships won by Dustin Johnson. For the average golfer, The Plantation can play as short as 6,019 yards, but it’s not for the faint of heart - its greens were the hardest to putt on the 2012 PGA Tour.
After the round there’s the memorable Hawaiian-Mediterranean cuisine at the beautiful Plantation House, with its stunning views of Honalua Bay that seem to go on forever. Try the Eggs Benedict with ahi tuna and wasabi for an unforgettable 19th hole treat. The service at The Plantation is impeccable and chef Alex Stanislaw’s staff can soothe those who’ve lost a few balls into the old pineapple groves.
For a less dramatic round, tee it up at The Plantation’s sister course, theBay Course at Kapalua, designed by Arnold Palmer and Francis Duane. More rolling parkland than The Plantation, it weaves among beautiful homes and towering Cook palms. The Bay makes a spectacular turn alongside Honalua Bay with the 4th, a short par four, and No. 5, a 192-yard pure carry over cliffs and ocean to a bunkered green. Bring a camera, it’s a shot you’ll long remember, particularly if you stick it on the sloping green
After the breathtaking challenges of The Plantation, this 6,600-yard course is a perfect contrast with its rolling hillsides and generous greens. Afterward, stop in at The Pineapple Grill, housed next to the pro shop, for lunch. Chris Kaiwi and chef Isaac Bancaco mix Hawaiian elements with the best of contemporary Maui cuisine on their tasting menu. There’s also a collection of Maui’s finest beers, too.
For Canadian golfers visiting Maui, the title of best course is often a tossup between the brute at The Plantation and the beauty of the Wailea Gold Course, located in the southwest shore of the island. Where The Plantation is bold and brassy, the Gold course is manicured, ordered and subtle. There can be few greater treats than an early round at Wailea with the sun streaking through the palms and the rooster-tail of dew behind your ball.
With its stunning views of Molokani and Lanai plus the beaches of Makena and Wailea, this 7,080-yard Robert Trent Jones Jr. design was once the home the Champions Skins Game. Routed through stands of Royal palms and punctuated with dramatic lava rock walls, the Gold can lull you into a sense of relaxation then grab you when the trade winds start pushing your shots into the lush sand or nasty scrub on the course.
No. 7 is the top handicap hole, a healthy 590-yard dogleg right from the tips that finishes in a flurry of treacherous bunkering that protects the hole. On the back nine, No. 12, a 487-yard par four, you need to let it out on the drive to optimize your approach to another bunkered green. And the 438-yard 18th requires a draw off the tee to open up the approach. A huge tree discourages any fade on the drive.
For those wanting a different challenge without travel, the Wailea Resort has the Emerald and Old Blue course located next door as well. There are all-inclusive rates for three and seven days available that can make this a more affordable trip for the budget-conscious. The adjoining luxury hotels on the shoreline have stay and play rates, too.
Just south of Wailea lies Makena Golf Course, another fine test for players concentrating a visit on the south portion of Maui. More rugged than Wailea, Makena climbs the side of the 10,028-foot-high dormant volcano, Mt. Haleakala, Designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr., it’s been restored recently. Makena darts through ancient lava walls and the native kiawe forest buffeted by the winds sweeping in from the big island of Hawaii.
Makena North (the south course has been closed for several years) offers three and seven-day package that allow golfers to max out during their stay.
For sheer fun, the Ka’anapali Royal course behind hotel row is a pleasure. Wide open but swept by the breezes, this resort layout was done in 1962 by Robert Trent Jones Sr. The Royal course plays 7,000 yards from the tips, and the back nine narrows up as you play through elegant homes and views of Kapalua Bay. Arnold Palmer reportedly described the 415-yard 18th hole one of “the most challenging finishing holes he had ever played.”
Our gracious host, director of instruction David Havens (a former Canadian Tour player and PGA caddy), thrilled us by lipping out on the 18th for a 60, just missing the fabled 59. The Royal also hosted 2008’s Big Break Ka’anapali on Golf Channel. For those staying on Ka’anapali’s hotel row, it’s a short walk to the clubhouse where the staff will be happy to help out.
If you’re staying extra days, try the neighbouring par 70 Kai course by Arthur Jack Snyder in 1976. At 6,400 yards, it plays more to the recreational payer yards as well. It’s a pleasant round through the hibiscus, bougainvillea and plumeria.
After the round, stop by Roy’s in the clubhouse for a lunch or a Maui beer. Its creative fusion of Hawaiian and American cuisine is a step up from previous efforts in the same spot. The appetizer sampler was delicious and service efficient and friendly.
Maui is served by the two major Canadian airlines and Westjet has direct flights from Vancouver plus Calgary and Edmonton (in season).