© Wailea Golf Club
My favourite time on Maui is just before sunset, when the sky turns tangerine and magenta, the birds go into a chirping frenzy in the trees, tropical flowers perfume the air and the traditional tiki torch-lighting ceremony ushers in the evening. Despite ongoing traffic jams and new tourist developments on Hawaii’s second-largest island, the land and sea are still more powerful than “progress.”
Repeatedly voted “Best Island in the World” by readers of Condé Nast Traveler and Travel & Leisure magazines, Maui lives up to its stellar reputation. Fuchsia sunsets, crashing surf, powdery beaches and a cool flower lei around your neck —it’s got all of the above, and some of the best golf anywhere in the US. Here are three resort communities with great options for hitting the links.
Kapalua (kapalua.com) on the northwest coast is home to two world-class courses. The Bay Course rolls to the edge of the Pacific; during the winter you might be distracted by the antics of humpback whales frolicking offshore. Palm trees, ironwoods and stately Cook pines line the fairways. This is your ideal warm-up round before tackling the challenging Plantation Course where the likes of Tiger Woods and Bubba Watson have competed in the annual PGA Tour Hyundai Tournament of Champions held every January.
Designed by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore, the Plantation features massive bunkers, sweeping slopes and dramatic contours. Of the numerous ocean holes, most notable is the grand finale 18th, a downhill 663-yard par five. And if you’re feeling beat up by the Plantation, the state-of-the art Kapalua Golf Academy, designed with PGA tour pro, Hale Irwin, will provide the required swing doctoring.
Get to the Plantation in time to enjoy one of the best breakfasts and views on the island. Try the Maui Gold pineapple served with a cinnamon cream sauce and French toast smothered with bananas.
You’ll be spoiled for choice when deciding where to stay at Kapalua, from the Ritz Carlton to The Residences at Kapalua Bay to the spacious Kapalua Villas. And if you’d like to belt out a few tunes, head over to Sansei (sanseihawaii.com) on Thursday and Friday nights for late-night sushi and karaoke.
Home to several world-class hotels, condominiums and vacation club resorts, a beachfront shopping complex, the historic Sugar Cane Train (sugarcanetrain.com; roundtrip tickets adults US$23, kids US$16), 36 holes of championship golf and one of the best beaches in the US, there’s probably something to suit every one at Ka'anapali (kaanapaliresort.com).
Ka’anapali, once the playground of Hawaiian royalty, was the first planned resort community in Hawaii. They got a lot of things right. You can stroll along a beach path from one property to another and over to Whaler’s Village for plenty of shopping and fine dining choices. For over a decade Ka’anapali beamed Hawaiian golf and a backdrop of gorgeous tropical scenery into the homes of TV viewers of the Senior PGA Tour’s Ka’anapali Classic, making them want to grab their clubs and fly to paradise.
Before you play the 6700-yard, par-71 Royal Ka’anapali Course, you might want to head to Ka’anapali Beach the day before to watch the sunset. Not only is it memorable, but it might just improve your score. The greens on the Royal are notorious for their strong grain; a useful factoid to remember is that the ball will break toward the setting sun. You should also be prepared to play in a stiff wind. Course architect Robert Trent Jones Sr. took advantage of the rolling terrain to create undulating fairways. The result is that flat lies are few and far between. Arnold Palmer commented that the par-four finishing hole is one of the most challenging he’d ever played.
Arthur Jack Snyder, architect for Ka’anapali’s Kai Course, believes that golf should be fun. The good times begin on the par-five number one that oozes with birdie potential. This par-70, 6400-yard course is very user-friendly but it’s no waltz in the park. The fairways are relatively tight and those prevailing trade winds need to be factored into your course strategy.
After your round, dine at Roy’s Maui (2290 Ka'anapali Parkway; tel: 808-669-6999; royshawaii.com) in the golf clubhouse. Japanese-born chef Roy Yamaguchi serves what he calls Hawaiian Fusion Cuisine. I recommend his signature dish, the Dim Sum Canoe for Two — crispy and seared shrimp, crab gyoza, baby back ribs and ahi tuna poke presented in a mini dugout canoe.
Ka’anapali also provides shuttle service between properties and into Lahaina, an old whaling town where there are no golf courses but several reasons to visit. Just up the hill from the Cannery Mall, Star Noodle (286 Kupuohi Street; tel: 808-667-5400; starnoodle.com) has a casual vibe but the Asian food is seriously delicious. Try the garlic noodles or pad thai.
Further south on Maui’s west coast, the Wailea Golf Club (waileagolf.com) encompasses two clubhouses, a 12-acre training facility and three 18-hole layouts — the Blue, Emerald and Gold Courses. Both Golf Digest and Golf Magazine named Wailea one of the nation’s finest golf resorts, recognizing not only the quality of the courses but also of the destination.
The Blue is your quintessential Hawaiian layout with wide, manicured fairways that flow with the natural topography of the volcanic foothills, interrupted here and there by coral sand bunkers, lakes, fountains and fragrant plumeria trees.
“Humpback at 10 o’clock,” said the starter. I was taking my practice swing on the elevated tees of the first fairway of Wailea’s Gold Course when a majestic whale suddenly leapt into the air in front of the Molokini Crater. The ocean vistas, fragrant blooms, exotic birds and rivers of lava all vie for your concentration here. Scoring well here is not so much about pounding your Titleist as far as you can, but more about accuracy and finesse. Brains over brawn triumph on the superb 7078-yard design by Robert Trent Jones II, who describes it as the “24-carat option.”
The Gold blends classic design with rugged natural landscapes, including 200-foot elevation changes with lava rock walls, tall native grasses and 93 bunkers to add to the awe factor. Not to be outdone by the Gold, the Emerald Course is where the same designer has created what he calls feminine characteristics, referring to the course’s softer visual appeal. There are fewer forced carries and more genial landing areas. Here you’ll get an occasional whiff of an exquisite plumeria and plenty of ocean vistas. The 6825-yard Emerald has often been applauded for its female friendly design, but there’s plenty of challenge for both sexes.
One of Maui’s top chefs, Bev Gannon, opened Gannon’s (gannonsrestaurant.com) in the Wailea clubhouse with a spectacular view of the first fairway of the Emerald Course. Beware: she makes her own addictive potato chips. Try her barbequed ribs, or golfer’s top dog smothered with chili, onions and cheese
Another dining option is just across the road from the Wailea courses. The Fairmont Kea Lani’spoolside restaurant, Ko (4100 Wailea Alanui Drive; tel: 866-540-4456; korestaurant.com)won “Restaurant of the Year” at the Maui No Ka 'Oi magazine's 2013 'Aipono Restaurant Awards.Not to be missed on the appetizer (pupus) menu is Ahi On the Rock. The sashimi-grade tuna comes to the table with a hot stone so you can sear it to your liking and then dip it in orange-ginger-miso sauce.
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