Maui's natural beauty and surroundings offer some of the most jaw-dropping vistas imaginable on a golf course. Holes run across small bays, past craggy lava outcrops, and up into cool, forested mountains. Most courses have mesmerizing ocean views, some close enough to feel the salt in the air. And although many of the courses are affiliated with resorts (and therefore a little pricier), the general-public courses are no less impressive. You might even consider a ferry ride to the neighbor island of Lanai for a round on either of its two championship courses.
Green Fees: Green fees listed here are the highest course rates per round on weekdays and weekends for U.S. residents. (Some courses charge non-U.S. residents higher prices.) Discounts are often available for resort guests and for those who book tee times on the Web. Rental clubs may or may not be included with green fee. Twilight fees are usually offered; call individual courses for information.
Resort courses, in particular, offer more than the usual three sets of tees, sometimes four or five. So bite off as much or little challenge as you like. Tee it up from the tips and you'll end up playing a few 600-yard par 5s and see a few 250-yard forced carries.
Kaanapali Golf Resort. The Royal Kaanapali (North) Course (1962) is one of three in Hawaii designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr., the godfather of modern golf architecture. The greens average a whopping 10,000 square feet, necessary because of the often-severe undulation. The par-4 18th hole (into the prevailing trade breezes, with out-of-bounds on the left, and a lake on the right) is notoriously tough. The Kaanapali Kai (South) Course (Arthur Jack Snyder, 1976) shares similar seaside-into-the-hills terrain, but is rated a couple of strokes easier, mostly because putts are less treacherous. , , . . . . .
Kapalua Resort. Perhaps Hawaii's best-known golf resort and the crown jewel of golf on Maui, Kapalua hosts the PGA Tour's first event each January: the Mercedes-Benz Championship at the Plantation Course at Kapalua. Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore (1991) tried to incorporate traditional shot values in a very nontraditional site, taking into account slope, gravity, and the prevailing trade winds. The par-5 18th, for instance, plays 663 yards from the back tees (600 yards from the resort tees). The hole drops 170 feet in elevation, narrowing as it goes to a partially guarded green, and plays downwind and down-grain. Despite the longer-than-usual distance, the slope is great enough and the wind at your back usually brisk enough to reach the green with two well-struck shots—a truly unbelievable finish to a course that will challenge, frustrate, and reward the patient golfer.
The Bay Course (Arnold Palmer and Francis Duane, 1975) is the more traditional of Kapalua's courses, with gentle rolling fairways and generous greens. The most memorable hole is the par-3 fifth, with a tee shot that must carry a turquoise finger of Onelua Bay. The Kapalua Golf Academy (,, . ) offers 23 acres of practice turf and 11 teeing areas, a special golf fitness gym, and an instructional bay with video analysis. Each of the courses has a separate clubhouse. The Bay Course , , . .. . . The Plantation Course , , . . . . .
Before You Hit the 1st Tee ...
Golf is golf, and Hawaii is part of the United States, but Island golf nevertheless has its own quirks. Here are a few tips to make your golf experience in the Islands more pleasant.
Sunscreen. Buy it, apply it (minimum 30 SPF). The subtropical rays of the sun are intense, even in December. Good advice is to apply sunscreen, at a minimum, on the 1st and 10th tees.
Stay hydrated. Spending four-plus hours in the sun and heat means you'll perspire away considerable fluids and energy.
All resort courses and many daily fee courses provide rental clubs. In many cases, they're the latest lines from top manufacturers. This is true both for men and women, as well as for left-handers, which means you don't have to schlep clubs across the Pacific.
Pro-shops at most courses are well stocked with balls, tees, and other accoutrements, so even if you bring your own bag, it needn't weigh a ton.
Come spikeless—very few Hawaii courses still permit metal spikes. And most of the resort courses require a collared shirt.
Maui is notorious for its trade winds. Consider playing early if you want to avoid the wind, and remember that although it will frustrate you at times and make club selection difficult, you may very well see some of your longest drives ever.
In theory you can play golf in Hawaii 365 days a year, but there's a reason the Hawaiian Islands are so green. An umbrella and light jacket can come in handy.
Unless you play a muni or certain daily fee courses, plan on taking a cart. Riding carts are mandatory at most courses and are included in the green fee.
The South Shore
elleair Maui Golf Club. Formerly known as Silversword (1987), elleair is an exacting test. Fairways tend to be narrow, especially in landing areas, and can be quite a challenge when the trade winds come up in the afternoon. The course is lined with enough coconut trees to make them a collective hazard, not just a nutty nuisance. , , . .. .
Makena Resort. Robert Trent Jones Jr. and Don Knotts (not the actor) built the first course at Makena in 1981. A decade later Jones was asked to create 18 totally new holes and blend them with the existing course to form the North and South courses, which opened in 1994. Both courses—sculpted from the lava flows on the western flank of Haleakala—offer quick greens with lots of breaks, and plenty of scenic distractions. On the North Course, the fourth is one of the most picturesque inland par 3s in Hawaii, with the green guarded on the right by a pond. The sixth is an excellent example of option golf: the fairway is sliced up the middle by a gaping ravine, which must sooner or later be crossed to reach the green. Although trees frame most holes on the North Course, the South Course is more open. This means it plays somewhat easier off the tee, but the greens are trickier. The view from the elevated tee of the par-5 10th is lovely with the lake in the foreground mirroring the ocean in the distance. The par-4 16th is another sight to see, with the Pacific running along the left side. Note: at this writing, the South Course was scheduled to be closed for part of 2009. Call to confirm. , , . . . . .
Wailea. Wailea is the only Hawaii resort to offer three different courses: Gold, Emerald, and Old Blue. Designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. (Gold and Emerald) and Arthur Jack Snyder (Old Blue), these courses share similar terrain, carved into the leeward slopes of Haleakala. Although the ocean does not come into play, its beauty is visible on almost every hole. Remember, putts break dramatically toward the ocean.
Jones refers to the Gold Course at Wailea (1993) as the "masculine" course. Host to the Championship Senior Skins Game in January, it's all trees and lava and regarded as the hardest of the three courses. The trick here is to note even subtle changes in elevation. The par-3 eighth, for example, plays from an elevated tee across a lava ravine to a large, well-bunkered green framed by palm trees, the blue sea, and tiny Molokini. The course has been labeled a "thinking player's" course because it demands strategy and careful club selection. The Emerald Course at Wailea (1994) is the "feminine" layout with lots of flowers and bunkering away from greens. Although this may seem to render the bunker benign, the opposite is true. A bunker well in front of a green disguises the distance to the hole. Likewise, the Emerald's extensive flower beds are designed to be dangerous distractions because of their beauty. The Gold and Emerald share a clubhouse, practice facility, and 19th hole. At Wailea's first course, the Old Blue Course (1971), judging elevation change is also key. Fairways and greens tend to be wider and more forgiving than on the Gold or Emerald, and run through colorful flora that includes hibiscus, wiliwili, bougainvillea, and plumeria. Old Blue Course : , , . .. . . Gold and Emerald Courses : ,, . .. . .
On the Sidelines
Maui has a number of golf tournaments, most of which are of professional caliber and worth watching. Many are also televised nationally. One attention-getter is the Mercedes-Benz Championship () held in January. This is the first official PGA tour event, held on Kapalua's Plantation Course. A clambake feast at the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua, tops off the Kapalua Clambake Pro-Am() in July. The Kapalua LPGA Classic () held in October features the world's top pro women golfers on Kapalua's Bay Course.
Over in Wailea, in May, self-proclaimed "lunatic" golfers play 100 holes of golf from sunrise to sunset in the annual Ka Lima O Maui Celebrity 100 (), a fund-raiser for local charity Ka Lima O Maui. The nationally televised Wendy's Championship Senior Skins () tournament, held on Wailea's Gold Course in January, pits four of the most respected Senior PGA players against one another.
The Dunes at Maui Lani. This is Robin Nelson (1999) at his minimalist best, a bit of British links in the middle of the Pacific. Holes run through ancient, lightly wooded sand dunes, 5 mi inland from Kahului Harbor. Thanks to the natural humps and slopes of the dunes, Nelson had to move very little dirt and created a natural beauty. During the design phase he visited Ireland, and not so coincidentally the par-3 third looks a lot like the Dell at Lahinch: a white dune on the right sloping down into a deep bunker and partially obscuring the right side of the green—just one of several blind to semiblind shots here. Popular with residents, this course has won several awards including "Best 35 New Courses in America" by Golf Magazine and "Five Best Kept Secret Golf Courses in America" by Golf Digest. , , . .. . .
Kahili Golf Course. The former Sandalwood Course (Robin Nelson, 1991) was completely redone in 2005 by Nelson himself and is now one of two 18-hole courses—one private (King Kamehameha) and one public (Kahili)—that make up the King Kamehameha Golf Club. Course holes run along the slopes of the West Maui Mountains, overlooking Maui's central plain, and feature panoramic ocean views of both the North and South shores. Consistent winds negate the course's shorter length., , . .. . .
Waiehu Golf Course. Maui's lone municipal course, Waiehu is really two courses in one. The front 9 opened in 1930 and features authentic seaside links that run along Kahului Bay. The back 9, which climbs up into the lower reaches of the West Maui Mountains through macadamia orchards, opened in 1963 (Arthur Jack Snyder). , , .. . . .
Saving the Best for Last
Among golf's great traditions is the 19th hole. No matter how the first 18 go, the 19th is sure to offer comfort and cheer, not to mention a chilled beverage. Here's a look at some of the best.
Kapalua boasts three 19th holes with great fare and views—thePlantation House has a commanding view of the Plantation Course's 18th hole, the Pailolo Channel, and the island of Molokai beyond; the Pineapple Grill overlooks the Bay Course's 18th; and Merriman's Kapalua sits ocean side at Kapalua Bay.
At Wailea's Gold and Emerald courses, the Sea Watchrestaurant overlooks the sea in a garden setting and serves excellent food, with a choice selection of single-malt Scotches and cigars.
The Kahili Restaurant, a plantation-style clubhouse at the King Kamehameha Golf Club's Kahili Course, offers commanding views of the ocean on both sides of the island and of 10,000-foot Haleakala. And though not affiliated with elleair, golfers from this course frequent Lulu's and Henry's in the heart of Kihei.
Pukalani Golf Course. At 1,110 feet above sea level, Pukalani (Bob E. and Robert L. Baldock, 1970) provides one of the finest vistas in all Hawaii. Holes run up, down, and across the slopes of Haleakala. The trade winds tend to come up in the late morning and afternoon. This—combined with frequent elevation change—makes club selection a test. The fairways tend to be wide, but greens are undulating and quick. , ,. . . . .
The Island of Lanai features two championship-caliber golf courses—the Challenge at Manele and the Experience at Koele—that are rarely crowded due to the exclusivity of the island. Both courses require a ferry ride from Lahaina or Maalaea harbors on Maui. Transportation-golf packages are available through Expeditions Ferry (. ).
Most courts charge by the hour but will let players continue after their initial hour for free, provided no one is waiting.
Kapalua Tennis Garden. This complex, home to the Kapalua Tennis Club, serves the Kapalua Resort with 10 courts, 4 lighted for night play, and a pro-shop. You'll pay $14 an hour if you're a guest, $16 if you're not. , , .. .
Lahaina Civic Center. The best free courts are the five at the Lahaina Civic Center, near Wahikuli State Park. They all have overhead lighting for night play, and are available on a first-come, first-served basis. , ,. .
Makena Tennis Club. Makena features six Plexipave courts, two of which are lighted for night play. Private lessons, rentals, ball machines, racquet stringing, and weekly clinics are available. , , . .
Wailea Tennis Club. The club has 11 Plexipave courts (its famed grass courts are, sadly, a thing of the past), lessons, rentals, and ball machines. Daily clinics are offered to help you improve ground strokes, serve, volley, or doubles strategy. Rates are $15 per player, with three lighted courts available for night play. , , . . .
Ziplining lets you satisfy your inner Tarzan by soaring high above deep gulches and canyons. A harness keeps you supported on each ride. There are weight restrictions, and you should wear closed-toe athletic-type shoes and expect to get dirty. Although zipline tours are completely safe, you may want to reconsider this activity if you are uncomfortable with heights or have serious back or joint problems.
Kapalua Adventures Mountain Outpost. Opened in 2008, the zipline at Kapalua Adventures Mountain Outpost has almost 2 mi of parallel lines, enabling two riders to zip side by side. Prices range from $60 to $299. You must be at least 10 years old and weigh between 60 and 250 pounds. The Mountain Outpost also has a high-ropes challenge course, and a 35-foot pole from which you can leap to catch a trapeze. , , . ..
Piiholo Ranch Zipline. This complex, on a gorgeous 900-acre family ranch in Upcountry, has six ziplines—five parallel lines and one quadruple—plus a 12-person climbing tower. Ziplines range from 480 to 2,800 feet, and prices are $140 for four lines and $190 for five. Access to the fifth and longest line is via a four-wheel-drive vehicle to the top of Piiholo Hill, where you are treated to stunning bicoastal views. Guides do a good job of weaving Hawaiian culture into the adventure. You must be able to climb three steep suspension bridges while hefting a 12-pound trolley over your shoulder. Bring a lightweight jacket., , . ..
Skyline Eco Adventures (. ). Skyline Eco Adventures operates in two locations on Maui: the original course on the slope of Haleakala, and the newer venue at 1,000 feet above Kaanapali. Good-natured guides give expert instruction and have you "zipping" confidently in no time. You must be at least 10 years old, weigh between 80 and 260 pounds, and be able to hike a moderate distance over uneven terrain in order to participate. For the Haleakala tour ($89), dress in layers, as it can get chilly at the 4,000-plus foot elevation, especially in the morning. The Kaanapali tour ($150) includes breakfast or lunch. Advance reservations are suggested, especially in summer, and discounts are available for online bookings.