Ka'anapali Golf Resort's Kai course is a first-rate challenge on Maui

By Bill Bowman, Contributor

LAHAINA, Hawaii - The Kai course at Ka'anapali Golf Resort is often overlooked as a great golf course when compared to its sister course, the Royal Course at Ka'anapali, and that's a shame because it's every bit as challenging and visually stimulating.

Ka'anapali Kai golf course - hole 16
A 2005 makeover by Robin Nelson brought Ka'anapali Golf Resort's Kai course to its current layout with holes re-worked to enhance views and add to the challenge.
Ka'anapali Kai golf course - hole 16Ka'anapali Kai golf course - hole 8Ka'anapali Kai golf course - hole 1Ka'anapali Kai golf course - hole 6
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Ka'anapali Kai

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The Ka'anapali Kai is one of two championship courses at Ka'anapali Resort on Maui. This Arthur Jack Snyder design plays shorter and narrower than the sister Royal Ka'anapali.

18 Holes | Resort golf course | Par: 70 | 6388 yards | Book online | ... details »

The Kai, originally created as an executive course, was renovated by Arthur Jack Snyder in 1976 to play to its current 6,400 yards and a par of 70. While 6,400 yards may seem like a pushover number to big hitters, be prepared to be tested from start to finish. But not to worry, four sets of tees make it playable for anyone.

A more recent makeover, in 2005 by noted designer Robin Nelson, brought the Kai course to its current layout with holes re-worked to enhance views of the island and also to add to the challenge.

Natural troubles abound on the layout including canals, gulches and lava rock outcroppings, while fairways are lined with Norfolk pines and coconut trees that add to the ambiance.

Eric Schooler, from Portland, Ore., was back to try his hand at the course after Nelson's work. The greens, fairways and tees all now feature new turf grass that not only make it easier to maintain but also adds to the beauty.

"It was always a very playable course," Schooler said. "But since the changes, it's that much better. It's just a great place to play golf."

The layout starts with a straightaway par 4 before starting its rise and fall up the side of a mountain. Winding doglegs, huge elevation changes (both rising and falling) add to the thought process of picking clubs.

Kai course at the Ka'anapali: An innovative round

General Manager Ed Kageyama is always glad to hear encouraging words about the Ka'anapali design.

"It's just great to be back," Kageyama said. "We went from a struggling situation a few years ago to working our way back to a great golf destination."

And, he added, people will certainly love what they see.

"It's a classic design," he said. "What you see is what you get. It's not tricked up, and it's one of those courses that's playable for everyone."

Corey Olynik agrees. Olynik, vacationing from cold Calgary, was on the tees at Ka'anapali for the first time.

"When you're on vacation, you're looking for a golf course that will give you a great experience and not beat you up," he said. "This one certainly does. For someone like me who doesn't always hit it straight, you can miss shots a little and still be in play and not get beat up."

Plus, he also loved the fact he didn't go through sleeves and sleeves of golf balls. "The rough can be tough, but at least you can find your ball, and that's a good thing," Olynik said.

Kageyama has a tough time picking a favorite hole but said players will definitely enjoy the eighth hole.

"It's a par 5 that is reachable in two," he said. "But there's great bunkering around the green that make that second shot very tough. It's also got great views."

In the end, Kageyama has one final suggestion for golfers who may have played the course a few years ago but are hesitant to come back.

"If you haven't played here in awhile, it's time to try us again," he said. "It will surprise you at how great a golf course it is."

Kai course at the Ka'anapali: The verdict

Sometimes you just don't have enough time to play 18 holes. At Ka'anapali, that's no problem. The resort has unveiled the "Golf My Way" round, which allows players to play their 18 holes over a few days.

Want to play six holes each day for three days? No problem. You can play the first six holes your first day, then the second six holes on another day and then the final six holes on a third day.

The staff at the Kai course (and the Royal course for that matter) are all smiles when you drive up. Your clubs are whisked away. Towels (wet and dry) and a convenient, refreshing water station (always a good thing) await you on your cart, and after you check in, you'e all set to hit the first tee. A supply of tees, ball markers and scorecards are out and handy for visitors at the starter's stand.

Need a quick tuneup for your swing before or after your round? Lessons are available from the knowledgeable staff.

Ka'anapali Resort offers rates so players can tee it up once on each golf course (Mixed Plate Special) as well as a variety of other packages: Whale of a Deal (five rounds, you pick the course) or Royal Package (unlimited golf for seven days on either course).

Bill BowmanBill Bowman, Contributor

Bill Bowman is a Las Vegas-based writer who has more than 40 years in the sports-writing business. He's spent the past 16-plus years covering the golf scene in Vegas and has teed it up for magazine profiles with celebrities including comedian Bill Engvall, actor Jeffrey Donovan (USA's Burn Notice), ESPN personality Colin Cowherd, NASCAR's Kurt Busch, Collective Soul's Ed Roland, the Baltimore Ravens' Jonathan Ogden and many others.

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