Maui Makeover: Makena Beach & Golf Resort on the comeback trail

By Brandon Tucker, Managing Editor

MAKENA, Maui, Hawaii -- After a few tumultuous years, the buzz is back at Makena Beach & Golf Resort.

Makena Golf Course - hole 15
The Makena Beach & Golf Resort runs along the quiet, secluded southern Maui tip.
Makena Golf Course - hole 15Makena Beach & Golf Resort on Maui - lobby	Makena Beach & Golf Resort on Maui - renovationsMakena Beach & Golf Resort - beach
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The buzz, though, isn't too loud. Makena, after all, is meant to be a peaceful place.

Makena, Hawaiian for "place of abundance," was anything but when the recent economic downturn hit Hawaii. Originally named the Maui Prince Hotel when it opened in 1986, the later resort went into receivership in 2009. New ownership bought the property in 2010 and appointed Landmark Hotels to manage the resort.

For 2011, the property is celebrating its 25th anniversary with its new name. Better yet, the resort is wrapping up its first extensive renovation to public areas and all guest rooms as well as the tennis and golf clubs.

The 300 guest rooms and suites -- upgraded with new decor, TVs and beddings -- are 75 percent done heading into the winter high season and should be wrapped up by 2012. The A-shaped main building with private lanais in every unit ensures each room has some type of ocean view. On the interior is an outdoor atrium with Japanese gardens and waterfalls. New dining concepts and freshly redesigned public areas are also being introduced.

Makena: A Maui escape with much to explore

Compared to Wailea, its more populated and developed neighbor, Makena's attraction is its small, hidden beaches and 1,800 (mostly undeveloped) acres. Should guests want to venture into Wailea for more shopping or restaurants, Makena has courtesy vans that will take you to and from anywhere in Wailea whenever you wish.

The dominant focal point at Makena is Pu'u'Ola'i, the 360-foot volcanic cylinder that juts out of Maui's southwestern tip. Hidden on the far side of the cylinder and a short hike from the Makena State Park is Little Beach, a hippie (and clothing optional) haven. Or, you can find your own little hideaway at Black Beach or Big Beach.

On resort grounds, Makena has its own beach with a variety of activities to explore by both land and sea. Makena Bay, coveted for centuries by explorers for its calm waters, is home to coral reefs and giant sea turtles. Scuba divers can head about 500 yards off shore to explore wrecks from World War II: a tank and landing craft. Boating and scuba expeditions also head to the crescent isle of Molokini, which has its own underwater treasures to discover.

Golf at Makena

Formerly a 36-hole club, today Makena Golf Course consists of what was formerly known as Makena North. The Robert Trent Jones Jr. design winds up and down the base of Mount Haleakala through lush vegetation and black lava rocks and walls.

Compared to the Gold Course and Emerald Course at Wailea Golf Club next door (also Jones Jr. designs), Makena plays higher up the slopes -- and tumbles much farther down. The 12th and 13th holes tiptoe along high ground with dazzling south Maui views. The 14th hole, a 620-yard par 5, plays from the course's highest points and tumbles down the hill to a green protected by sand and lava rock.

The new owners are committed to the golf product as well, mostly on back-end items like infrastructure and irrigation. A new fleet of golf carts with the latest GPS units were purchased and introduced this year. The club has also made a commitment to provide the latest model rental clubs for each season.

"All the courses on Maui are great," said Tim Murphy, director of golf at Makena. "They all have ocean views and the things people dream about. We're just trying to do the little things better than anyone."

Coming soon to Makena: Sustainable food and possibly more golf

The big question on every Maui golfer's mind is the fate of Makena South, which played below the North and closed in 2008. When dining at the club's outdoor air restaurant, Cafe on the Green, you can see the beautiful 10th hole of the South. It's closed, but it's still being maintained. A walk along the beachfront hole reveals well-maintained paspalum turf, a sign there could be golf played here yet.

Resort staff members are pretty mum as to any concrete future plans for more golf coming to Makena, though most are optimistic that at least some holes could open as early as 2012.

For foodies, one of the more interesting developments coming to the new-look Makena is Chef Marc McDowell. Not only is he overhauling the resort's food and beverage program, but he's also making use of the property's acreage to plant a herb garden and an aquaponics garden, which combines raising fish and growing plants without soil. The result will be a variety of ingredients on the menu that aren't just local but also grown and raised on-site.

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.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Makena golf resort

    vanessa simo wrote on: May 1, 2014

    We had stayed at the Makena Resort about a year go. I have to say my husband and i loved the peaceful and seclude suroundings, While our friends took off to play a round of golf, we did some sight seeing and drove all the way to almost the end. I have to say it was a beautiful drive, we made many stops and spoke with alot of the locals, who were swiminng and snorking and barbarcueing in the back area of the island. It was breathtaking and ill never forget it. even seeing the giant sea turtles swimming right up to the rocky beach part. it was an incredible experience.My husband and plan to returning to the Makena again.