Maui is where the pros go to play.
The golf is just a bonus.
Several warm-weather destinations offer the opportunity to tee it up on PGA Tour-tested layouts, and Hawaii’s second-largest island is no exception, since Kapalua’s Plantation Course on the north shore of Maui has served as the site of the season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions since 1999.
However, it’s what is going on away from the course that sets this place apart.
Keep in mind that former major winner Lucas Glover had to withdraw from this year’s tournament after hurting his knee while paddle-boarding in the Pacific Ocean and fellow U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy missed the previous instalment of the invite-only event after cutting his finger on a piece of coral while goofing around in the water. When Glover was injured, he was replaced by Calgary’s Stephen Ames, who just happened to be spending the holidays in Maui.
“Steve Stricker and Michael Bradley, they both said to me this year, ‘Heck, we’d come here just to play on vacation, it’s such a great place,’ ” said Mike Jones, Kapalua’s director of golf.
Coming from a couple of well-travelled tour pros, that’s quite an endorsement.
If you haven’t heard much about Maui’s golf scene, it’s probably because your friends or neighbours returned home boasting about the sandy beaches, the almost-perfect weather or the world-famous whale-watching trips. The fairways and greens are also worth raving about.
Carved out of former pineapple fields on a piece of property that resembles a ski hill (without the snow, of course), Kapalua’s Plantation Course is the most celebrated layout on the ‘Magic Isle.’
In fact, the high-definition coverage of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions on Golf Channel is arguably the best advertising Maui’s golf industry could ask for. With its lush fairways and a fascinating mix of holes mapped out by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, the rollercoaster layout would be a worthy centrepiece for any golf getaway.
Although Kapalua’s Bay Course doesn’t receive as much attention as its big brother, the Arnold Palmer/Francis Duane design also had some TV time as host of the Kapalua LPGA Classic in 2008. It’s claim to fame, though, is being home to Maui’s only oceanside holes.
Located about an hour south of Kapalua, the visuals of Wailea Golf Club are just as spectacular.
From the sky, as your flight — Air Canada and WestJet both offer non-stop service from Calgary — begins its descent to Kahului Airport, you’d guess there isn’t a single blade of grass out of place on the 54-hole digs.
On the ground, especially at the Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed Gold and Emerald courses, you’ll realize that’s not far from the truth.
Wailea Gold hosted the Champions’ Tour Skins Game from 2001-07, with Jack Nicklaus headlining the list of golf legends who dug divots during the made-for-TV event. It remains a favourite hangout for club-swinging celebs, with movie stars and other A-listers often spotted on the range.
Wailea’s Emerald Course is considered by many the best-conditioned course on island, while the other offering is Old Blue, which hosted the LPGA Tour’s Kemper Open in the early-1990s.
Unless you want to step up to the back tees, the beauty of Wailea is it will stroke your ego, even if your Callaway clubs have been stored in the crawl-space since the snow started to fly back home.
“When you come off the course, we want you to say ‘Wow, that was fun. I had one of my best rounds ever,’ ” said Rusty Hathaway, a head pro at Wailea. “We don’t want you to go through a dozen golf balls. We want you to have a good time and just enjoy the scenery and enjoy your day.”
Other championship-calibre golf options on the island include Robert Trent Jones Sr.’s Royal Ka’anapali and the linksy Dunes at Maui Lani. There’s also King Kamehameha, a private club with a popular member-for-a-day program.
“I’m trying to convince a lot of people on the island, but I almost compare it to the Monterey Peninsula and all the great golf courses that you’ve got there,” said Kapalua’s Mike Jones.
“In Maui, you’ve got seven or eight great courses within an hour of each other. If you’re a golf nut, it’s a great place to come.”
Hathaway doesn’t need to be convinced.
“As a golf destinations, Maui is unbelievable. I don’t think you can beat the courses that we have and the tournaments that have been played here,” he said. “Just the diversity of the golf courses here on the island are probably the greatest of any one central location that I can think of.”
PLACES TO SWIM, SWING & STAY
Ritz-Carlton Kapalua: www.ritzcarlton.com/kapalua
SURF: A few years ago, D.T. Fleming State Park was named America’s Best Beach by a so-called expert on this sort of stuff. With its wild waves, Kapalua is great spot to watch surfers in action.
TURF: With Kapalua’s Plantation Course only a few minutes away, many PGA Tour pros sleep at the Ritz during the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. The Bay Course and Kapalua Golf Academy are even closer.
Fairmont Kea Lani: www.fairmont.com/kealani
SURF: Just steps from Kea Lani’s luxury villas, Polo Beach is usually shielded from the wind and is an ideal spot for swimming, snorkelling, boogie-boarding and all sorts of other water sports.
TURF: Decisions, decisions. With its hat-trick of 18-hole options — Gold, Emerald and Old Blue — and a David Leadbetter Golf Academy, Wailea Golf Club is less than a kilometre away.
Four Seasons Lanai: www.fourseasons.com/lanai
SURF: The Four Seasons Resort at Manele Bay overlooks Hulopoa‘e Bay marine reserve, so swimmers might have to share the water with spinner dolphins. Guests at both hotels are welcome at the beach.
TURF: Two totally distinct tracks, the Challenge at Manele and Experience at Koele each boast an eye-popping signature hole. If 36 holes is not enough, there’s also a par-51 putting course at the Lodge at Koele.