Bow to royalty: Ka'anapali Golf Resort's Royal Course certainly lives up to its name
LAHAINA, Hawaii - Robert Trent Jones Sr. knew a good thing when he saw it. Or at least he envisioned a good thing when he designed the famed Royal Course at Ka'anapali Golf Resort on Maui, one of two golf courses at the resort.
The Royal Course (formerly the North Course) played host to the Senior PGA Tour for more than 14 years, and to this day, it is still getting rave reviews and plenty of play. It's now the host of the Wendy's Champions Skins Game (held in early January), and once you tee it up here, you'll know why the golf course is a favorite among locals and tourists alike.
Opened in 1962, the Royal Course's first hole offers players an early scoring chance. A 550-yard par 5 (from the tips) will let the big hitters go for it in two but will allow even the shortest of hitters to have a wedge in for a birdie try. That is if you can avoid the huge lagoon that guards the entire right side of the hole.
Then the fun (and trouble) begins on this 6,700-yard, par-71 layout that rises, falls and winds beautifully through the Ka'anapali Golf Resort corridor.
Royal Course at Ka'anapali Golf Resort: Imposing
Bob Henry, vacationing on Maui from Atlanta, was back at Ka'anapali Golf Resort's Royal Course 20 years after first playing the layout. "It's a lot more challenging course than I remember," he said. "The back nine plays a little different, and with the wind, it's pretty hard for the average golfer."
The golf course meanders along the coastline for the next holes before starting to climb up to the West Maui Mountain Foothills. It's a climb - and then descent - that will force players to think about elevation changes on every shot, adding a club or two when climbing and subtracting a club or two when descending. Factor in the wind, and it turns into a guessing game of epic proportions.
Henry said those elevation changes make it a tough golf course at times.
"Unless you're a big hitter, the wind makes some of these holes very tough. You need to be playing the proper set of tees or the course will win."
This is especially true on the Royal Course's par-4 fifth hole. Playing a staggering 474 yards and usually into the breeze (or wind), this monster takes players right to the edge of the Pacific with stunning views. Check out the whales that put on shows as they breech time and again to beach-goers and to players on this hole.
The final hole is one that will be memorable, either for good or bad reasons. The stunning 449-yard par 4 plays alongside a canal the entire length of the hole with the green tucked off to the right. A back-right pin will certainly test the nerves and shot-making skills of those looking to finish with a birdie.
Ed Kageyama, general manager of the two courses at Ka'anapali Golf Resort, said one of golf's greatest players gave the hole all the accolades it needs. "Arnold Palmer once said No. 18 is the toughest finishing hole he has played, so that's a pretty good seal of approval," Kageyama said.
While the Royal Course is longer than its sister, Ka'anapali Golf Resort's Kai Course, Kageyama said it's not the length that makes it the tough challenge.
"You've just got to manage the course well," he said. "It probably plays seven strokes harder than it says on the scorecard, so it's definitely a thinking-man's golf course. You've got to be on the proper side of the green, if you miss the green, to get up and down and give yourself a chance to score on this course."
Royal Course at Ka'anapali Golf Resort: The verdict
The tee shots on No. 1 and No. 18 are two of the toughest around. Both are doglegs right with water to the right. Hit your tee shot left (like most players do to avoid the water), and bunkers come into play. Daunting shots.
From the start, the staff at Ka'anapali Golf Resort goes out of their way to ensure every player is all set. Tees? Yep. Towels? Wet and dry ones at your fingertips. GPS? All loaded up to give you perfect yardages. Plus the system also gives you some historical background of the area. Nice little tidbits to take back home.
Take a second when you get to the par-3 17th to admire the view of this short - but deadly - hole. Many players, including PGA Tour great Lee Trevino, have won and lost tournaments on this 155-yard hole. And that's from the tips.
It's not the length that gets to players, it's the water front and left and the imposing bunkers.
April 19, 2010