Pukalani Country Club: A rare great deal for golfers on Maui
PUKALANI, Maui - Maui offers some fantastic high-end golf venues - Kapalua, Wailea, Kaanapali - which unfortunately come with high-end green fees. But even here on the priciest of the Hawaiian islands, there are a few places you can play that won't break your budget.
Pukalani Country Club, with green fees of just $60, gives golfers a chance to play golf the way locals do - with all the stunning scenery, but without the stunning price tag.
Rather than winding past one glitzy resort after another on your drive here, you drive through sugar cane fields - miles of them in all directions, waving in the wind. This is the real Hawaii - unmanicured and drop-dead gorgeous.
"We're a country club in name only," the woman at Pukalani's golf shop informed me. "Anyone can play here who loves the game."
Pukalani Country Club: The course
How often do you hear "bring your camera" at your local golf course at home? Sitting 1,200 feet up the slopes of Haleakala, Maui's 10,023-foot dormant volcano, Pukalani Country Club has nice cool weather and scenery to rival the best courses on the islands. From the first tee, you're looking down onto the green fields of cane that run between Haleakala and the West Maui Mountains, with Maui's North and South shores on either side.
It opened in 1978, the brainchild of Bob Baldock, designer of Black Mountain in Las Vegas and Sequoia Woods in California. An unpretentious golf course, Pukalani Country Club winds through a residential neighborhood, but you hardly notice, as the wide fairways are lined with towering cypress trees and Cook pines. The only thing to remind you that you're in a neighborhood is the kids selling lemonade in their backyards.
Some of the holes might even make you think you're playing Kapalua's Bay or Village courses, with views to match. The par-3 No. 8, for example, offers plenty of drama. It has you teeing off literally at the edge of a cliff. If you're afraid of heights, you might want to use the full two club lengths behind the markers.
Pukalani Country Club's par-4 sixth hole will reward some big hitters; it's reachable when the wind is right, playing at 311 yards from the whites. A good drive down the hill onto the sloped fairway will leave you just a short pitch onto the tiered green.
Greens are generally flat, but grain is still an issue. Normally running toward the setting sun, it can monkey with what you thought was a pretty straight-forward putt.
And Pukalani Country Club has something unique: an extra hole. Not a Scottish-style double green, I mean an actual bonus green. The par-3 third allows you to pick your poison - choose either the one that requires a carry across a gorge, or the one that drops dead downhill onto a small green surrounded with dense jungle foliage.
From the whites, both play 136 yards, and from the reds, the downhill shot plays just 98 yards. Valuing my ProV1, I went for the downhill option - I'm not too proud to take the easy way out.
"It's not a real difficult course as long as you stay on the correct side of the trees, but it's fair," said John Cluney, Kula resident and member at Pukalani Country Club who plays almost every day. "You have to discipline yourself to just take your medicine and punch it back."
Pukalani Country Club: The verdict
Residents in Hawaii don't know how lucky they are; at my local course at home, we pay more than $60, and we get less.
Pukalani Country Club has a few dull holes that show its muni roots, but it also has holes that will wow you, and that stand up to some of the priciest courses in the area. It's pretty unusual to find anything in Maui that's a steal, but on the whole, Pukalani is just that, a steal.
While the fairways are wide and bunkers are few, the golf course still offers plenty of challenge. It measures longer than average - 6,882 yards from the blues, 6,443 from the whites and 5,579 yards from the reds. And length isn't the only difficulty; you have to keep your ball on the fairway, because there's OB on every hole.
Don't expect too much in the way of service - there's no head professional, no GPS and no beer cart. But the kikuyu greens and fairways are in reasonable condition and well marked, the 19th hole offers plenty in the way of food and drink and the friendly staff will help you find your way around.
Stay and play
The Kula Lodge is probably your best bet upcountry; it's only a little further up the mountain and has great views from its multiple little "chalets" and tiered terraces. Rates start at $115.
Pukalani's clubhouse restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and claims to offer "the best Hawaiian food on Maui." I can't verify that particular claim, but I can say that the laulau - a traditional favorite featuring pork and fish steamed in taro leaves - is quite a treat.
About 10 minutes away from the course, in Hali'imaile, you'll find the Hali'imaile General Store. No, it's not a five-and-dime, it's a fine dining experience serving Hawaiian regional cuisine. If you're up in that area, don't miss it.
September 19, 2005