Maui riches await on the Gold Course at Wailea Golf Club

By Brandon Tucker, Managing Editor

WAILEA, Maui, Hawaii -- Just demanding enough to keep any level golfer's game honest, the Gold Course at Wailea Golf Club represents Maui's ideal blend between championship caliber golf and resort friendly play.

Gold Course at Wailea Golf Club - No. 8
The Gold Course at Wailea Golf Club sits atop black volcanic rock.
Gold Course at Wailea Golf Club - No. 8Gold Course at Wailea Golf ClubGold Course at Wailea Golf Club on Maui - No. 18
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Gold Course at Wailea Golf Club

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Former host to the Champions Skins Game, the Gold course at Wailea Golf Club stands as the club's most difficult of the three golf courses on Maui's southern coast.

18 Holes | Resort golf course | Par: 72 | 7078 yards | ... details »

Golf course architect Robert Trent Jones Jr. designed the Gold Course with the intention of it being Wailea Golf Club's supreme challenge of the three courses.

But don't expect a beat-you-up monster, either.

"There is no hole on the Gold that is absolutely brutal," said Rusty Hathaway, head professional at Wailea Golf Club's Emerald and Gold courses. "The design was meant to be enjoyable. You can make it as hard or as easy as you wish.

"The back tees bring a lot of bunkers into play, but from the front, not as much."

Set below the 10,000-foot-high Mount Haleakala, the Gold Course was built atop black volcanic rock and shrub. During the clearing of the course, remains of lava rock walls built by natives to denote territory, called papohaku, were discovered, preserved and incorporated into the design. Near the 18th tee, there is also a sacred burial ground that was left unscathed.

Upon standing on the first tee box, which leads to a fairway that tumbles straight downhill toward the ocean and then darts left toward a tucked green, you might think you're in for an easy round. On the scorecard, there is one blue blob (water hazard) on the card that comes into play, right of the green on the 14th hole.

But 94 bunkers suggest otherwise, plus some slick, sometimes deceptive greens that demand attention when on the putting surface. From the Gold's middle back tees, I found that you're only going to score higher than a bogey on any hole as the result of your own boneheadedness. Mine came as the result of some three putts and the usual botched wedge or two.

But there are plenty of birdie chances, none more so than the short par-4 sixth. Hathaway describes this 287-yard hole as a "little teaser," while I call it a "Green Light Special." There isn't much reason to not go for the green off the tee besides a few bunkers in your way, but I pulled a 3-wood well left of the green and still was able to chip on and make a three. Hathaway also made a 20-footer for birdie, and we walked off the green feeling pretty good about ourselves, which any good resort course will ensure happens at least once, right?

The course's toughest par is in all likelihood the long par-4 12th hole that plays a mighty 487 yards from the championship tee box and gently uphill to the green. Sloping up and down the hillsides that are sloping toward the ocean, just about every hole is pleasing to the eye, whether it's the ocean, black rock or exotic trees. But it all comes together at the par-3 eighth hole, which plays through palms, over lava rock and toward the ocean. And two miles out into the ocean is Molokini, a half-sunk volcanic crater.

The 18th hole is a par 4 that is relatively similar to the first: downhill, dogleg left. But the finisher plays just above it on some of Wailea's highest ground, and it brought just the faintest breath of wind off the coast into our face. For the first time in 18 holes, I considered clubbing up.

Gold Course at Wailea Golf Club: The verdict

Staff at Wailea Golf Club are proud of the recent study conducted at their courses showing 70 percent of their business is repeat business, and Wailea is the kind of club that makes both vacationers and Maui residents or the few members feel right at home.

It's among the top Hawaii resort plays because its tropical setting is superb, and the Jones design isn't out to ruin anyone's vacation.

As with all three Wailea courses, the Gold has GPS in each golf cart. The next door Emerald has plenty of its own selling points, like a large double green shared by the 10th and 17th holes, plus an 18th hole that has one of the prettiest backdrops (among many candidates) as Maui affords. The Gold won't break any beginner's back, but the Emerald is shorter and generally considered the more beginner friendly option.

After golf, or even if you're just staying at a Wailea hotel, upscale dining can be found in the clubhouse at Gannon's, A Pacific View Restaurant, which is chef Bev Gannon's newest restaurant. The atmosphere is contemporary and airy, with open-air patio and floor-to-ceiling windows. The menu is diverse, featuring sushi and fish dishes to the entree I chose, a Kurobuta pork chop, topped with pineapple chutney.

Hollywood's Sandler and Aniston shoot movie at Wailea Golf Club

Wailea Golf Club recently welcomed the filming of a Hollywood movie to its clubhouse and driving range: "Just Go with It," starring Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston. When it's released (expected in February 2011), you may not recognize the scene they shot in Gannon's, as Hollywood designers turned it into a blue, club-like atmosphere.

But you should notice the scene from the top of Wailea's driving range, where the David Leadbetter Academy sits and is the highest point on the property, high above the ocean.

Brandon TuckerBrandon Tucker, Managing Editor

Brandon Tucker is the Managing Editor for Golf Advisor. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and over 500 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker and on Instagram at BrandonTuckerGC.

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