Maui’s Makena Golf Course underwent a restoration in 2011.// © 2012 Makena Beach & Golf Resort
Ask a group of golf pros about playing the courses of Maui, and you will hear a recurring theme: The views can’t be beat.
PGA Tour player Matt Kuchar, for example, was so mesmerized by the ocean vistas from Wailea Golf Club’s practice facility that he almost missed his appointed golf demonstration.
During a Women’s Kemper Open on the island, several players purposely slowed their pace of play in order to savor the sight of breaching whales.
PGA pro Dustin Irwin admitted to lingering a little longer on the Kapalua Bay Course’s fifth tee so that he could admire the sea turtles in the bay.
“Sometimes the views make it hard to think about golf,” he said.
For 50 years, the best players in the sport have raved in similar fashion about Maui’s courses. But it isn’t just the scenery that draws applause. The island’s fairways feature some of the world’s most impressive designs, and courses offer opportunities for all skill levels.
Wailea Golf Club
With year-round sunshine and gentle breezes, Wailea boasts some of the best weather in Hawaii. It is also the state’s only resort with three courses — the Emerald, Gold and Blue — so a wide range of players can enjoy it.
One of the most unusual features of the Gold course are remnants of lava-rock walls built centuries ago by early Hawaiians. During course construction, Wailea left the walls intact for their historical interest and, later, it earned a preservation award.
In recent years, Wailea has improved the golf experience by adding Gannon’s Restaurant at the clubhouse, a golf rehabilitation therapy program, locally sourced retail products and celebrity clinics with golf pros.
Makena Beach & Golf Resort
A mountain-to-sea stunner, the Makena — extensively restored in 2011 — is one of the last Maui courses to keep the landscape in its original, natural state, and its greens meander around native trees, ancient rock walls, streams and gullies.
“Winding around the foothills of Haleakala, the course is as much a remarkable nature walk as it is a challenging golf outing,” said golf operations director Timothy Murphy. “My favorite hole is the 14th, the second longest in Hawaii. It combines scenery with course strategy through its double-dogleg design.”
Makena recently added new electric golf carts with onboard advanced GPS systems and play-by-play tips for a better game. It also improved course signage and tee markers and renovated its pro shop. It’s keeping the golf experience affordable in 2012 by offering clients multiple round packages as well as an unlimited golf program for guests of the adjacent hotel.
Often in the spotlight as the site of the annual Hyundai Tournament of Champions, Kapalua has hosted an impressive roster of golf contests and contenders. Part of its appeal stems from the unique layouts of its oceanfront Bay course — with one of the few holes in Hawaii where players hit over the ocean — and upcountry Plantation, which Golf Digest called Hawaii’s top-ranked course. Surrounded by 22,000 acres, Kapalua is set amid two nature preserves and former pineapple fields.
Kapalua Golf continues to fine tune its operations to stay competitive. The Bay recently completed a multi-year, multimillion-dollar facelift. Both courses now feature upgraded golf carts, new maintenance equipment and a state-of-the-art GPS system, and Kapalua Golf Academy has taken its video analysis program to the next level.
In the coming year, watch for multi-round packages and deals that combine golf and spa components.
Kaanapali Golf Courses
Open since 1962 and the oldest planned golf resort in Hawaii, Kaanapali promotes its contemporary appeal to a wide audience. A $13 million renovation from 2005-2007 enhanced its clubhouse and two courses, and kids’ tees were added at the same time.
“We believe that golf is a family activity,” said Kaanapali Golf Courses general manager Ed Kageyama. “One year ago, I had the opportunity to caddie for my 9-year-old daughter’s first-ever golf tournament in our Kaanapali Hawaii Classic, a youth golf event. Walking down the dew-laden fairways side-by-side and seeing the excitement in her eyes is a memory that I will always cherish.”
Kaanapali’s clubhouse scored a hole-in-one when it was chosen as the site of the newest Roy’s restaurant, opening this month, and the destination promises a year full of events and promotions honoring 50 years of great golf.