The Dunes at Maui Lani brings together links-style golf and Hawaiian paradise
KAHULUI, MAUI, Hawaii -- It's not your typical Hawaiian golf round. It's not your typical links course round. But mix the two together, and you've got The Dunes at Maui Lani Golf Course, one of Maui's hidden treasures.
The Robin Nelson design is located just 10 minutes from Maui's main airport but worlds away from Hawaiian-designed layouts. The golf course weaves its way over and around ancient sand dunes with elevation changes so severe at times you'll be looking for your hiking gear to get to and from the greens.
"This is truly a great design that people don't see all the time," said Dean Kawabata, director of golf operations. "It's a golf course that will challenge players, but it is also very playable."
At 6,841 yards, the par-72 layout isn't imposing when you look at the distance. "Don't let the yardage fool you," Kawabata added. "With the bunkers, the elevation changes and the tree-lined fairways, there's plenty of tests on this course."
After a couple of short dogleg par-4 holes, the course starts to show its character. The third hole is a seemingly easy par 3 of just 145 yards ... and that's from the tips. But a false-front on the green and two perfectly placed bunkers make pulling the proper club a must.
That sets the stage for the start of an amazing roller-coaster ride. The par-5 fourth, playing 505 yards from the back tees, sees the ride go down from an elevated tee, back up a hill, down into a valley and back up to a severely elevated green. Make sure your seat belt is tight.
The ride continues through the rest of the front nine leading up to a back nine that starts off with two of the most elevation-challenged holes anywhere. The 10th, playing 474 yards, is a par 4. That's the bad news. The good news is the tee shot is almost straight downhill as the fairway is some 200 feet below. Avoid the trees on the right and your approach, to a narrow green, should be no more than a mid-iron.
The Dunes at Maui Lani follows that up with another dramatic ride on the par-4 11th, which is almost the exact opposite of the 10th. The 416-yard hole starts off with a flat tee shot setting the stage for an approach that rises some 150 feet to the green. If the pin is in the back, don't be surprised if you can't see it from the fairway. Trust your yardage.
And at The Dunes, they've saved the best for last. The scenic 18th, a par 5 playing 588 yards, is a true test of courage. Going for it in two? Better check your pulse. The second shot must avoid water on the right all the way up to the hole and a bunker short and left.
The Dunes at Maui Lani: The verdict
"You've got options on every hole," Kawabata added. "That's what makes it such a challenging golf course. Plus, no two holes are alike. Every one of them has its own character.
Bruce Bean and his wife Sonja had just finished up a round and were preparing for lunch. It's something they do quite often as they are members at The Dunes at Maui Lani. They spend seven months a year in Bellingham, Wash., and the rest of the year on Maui.
"We've been playing here since it opened," Bruce said. "We just love the condition of the course and the staff."
He said The Dunes at Maui Lani fits his main criteria for a good golf course. "It's a challenging course, and anyone can play it," he said.
Overall, the course is gaining more notoriety each and every day. "We had 340 members in 2009," Kawabata said. "So more and more people are hearing about us. We just keep growing. We offer people a good deal on golf and a good golf course. That's what most people are looking for."
The Dunes at Maui Lani: Home on the range
The Dunes has an impressive practice facility. Oh, did we mention that it's lighted for night-time practice?
The Dunes at Maui Lani also offers group or individual lessons. There's also a package that includes a lesson and a round of golf. The putting green actually resembles the conditions on the course, not something that every course can boast.
Before or after the round, there's something for everyone at Cafe O'Lea at The Dunes. Whether it's just a quick sandwich or a fine dining experience, The Dunes will fit the bill. And the outside dining atmosphere gives diners a gorgeous view of the finishing hole.
Standing on the 12th tee, gaze out to the ocean on your left, and chances are you'll see one of the many cruise ships that dock on Maui while cruising the Hawaiian islands.