Hawaiian royalty used Maui as a playground - and so can you

By David R. Holland, Contributor

LAHAINA, Maui, Hawaii - On a beautiful, sunny, typically flawless Hawaiian day in 1962, Bing Crosby took a smooth swing and hit the inaugural shot on the Royal Ka'anapali Course - a layout built on the historic playgrounds of ancient Hawaiian royalty, and one of only two Robert Trent Jones Sr. layouts in the islands.

Wailea Gold - hole 18 green
The view from the Wailea Resort clubhouse is lush, with the ocean in the background and the Gold course's 18th green in the foreground.
Wailea Gold - hole 18 greenRoyal Ka'anapali golf courseKapalua Resort - Bay Course - hole 5Wailea Golf Club - Gold CourseWailea Golf Club - Gold Course - hole 1
If you go

Okay, I confess. I don't know if it was a perfect day or not, but there's a 99 percent probability. After all, the name Maui comes from a demi-god of Polynesian mythology.

Throughout my life I listened to stories of "Lahaina Roads" as it was called in the old days and the deep harbor that was used as an alternate anchorage to Oahu's Pearl Harbor during World War II. My dad was here serving in the U.S. Navy and it was the most exciting time in his life.

Today, though, I'm here for golf worthy of royalty - the Royal Ka'anapali and Ka'anapali Kai layouts. But this visit will also include the picturesque Wailea Gold and Emerald courses and the difficult Kapalua Plantation minefield, home to the PGA Tour's January kick-off, and the Kapalua Bay Course, host of LPGA events in the past.

Why come to Maui?

"Although I have enjoyed playing golf on all of Hawaii's islands, I have always loved my experiences on Maui above all others," said Allan Long, a former University of Arizona golfer and Director of Event Services-Ice Hall at World Arena in Colorado Springs.

"If I was going to go back to just one island, I would choose Maui hands down because I think it has the total experience. The pace on the island is not as fast as Oahu, and not as slow as some of the other islands, and for me, just completes the ideal golf getaway."

Wailea Golf Club

The Pacific panorama from Wailea's clubhouse, host for many weddings, is fixating. The partially submerged Molokini Crater is visable amongst a sea of blue. Lush gardens cozy up to the putting green and 18th green of the Gold Course, coconut palms wave in the breezes, and Lana'i can be seen in the distance to the right and Moloka'i to the left. Look the opposite direction and gaze upon Mount Haleakala, the 10,023-foot dormant volcano.

This ritzy Wailea area is three times larger than Oahu's Waikiki, and the Gold, Emerald and Old Blue golf courses are superb.

Wailea Gold, designed by Robert Trent Jones II, home to The Champions Skins Game from 2001 to 2007, is the most challenging of Wailea's trio, an has been honored by all major golf publications. It has also been recognized by the Maui Historical Society for its preservation of prehistoric lava rock walls during construction.

The Emerald course at Wailea Golf Club, designed by Jack Snyder, is a strategic beauty, and the Old Blue course, also a Snyder design, was the first Wailea golf course.

But Wailea is much more than golf - this 1,500-acre resort community hosts five luxury hotels, five crescent-shaped beaches, restaurants, tennis, and condominium complexes. Book your condo through Destination Resorts, www.drhmaui.com, located in The Shops at Wailea.

Ka'anapali Golf Resort

For the past 45 years the Royal Ka'anapali golf course, situated with views of the Pacific, Lana'i, Moloka'i and the West Maui Mountains, has tested the game's best in the Wendy's Champions Skins Game (2008-2010), hosted Shell's Wonderful World of Golf, the Canada Cup, LPGA Kemper Open and the Ka'anapali Classic, Senior PGA Tour event. Big Break Ka'anapali (Golf Channel 2008) was also played here.

Ka'anapali Golf Resort earned Golf Digest's 4 and 1/2 stars, "Best Places to Play" and recently underwent a $13 million renovation by Robin Nelson, who designed all new bunkering and resurfaced the greens with Tif Eagle, a Bermuda hybrid.

Head Professional Sutee Nitakorn thinks the excellence of the Royal Course comes in its subtleties.

"From the tee on the fifth hole, a 474-yard par 4, your first look is kind of benign except for the length," Nitakorn said. "It is a huge, wide fairway, but then you see this fairway bunker out there just in the right spot to catch someone who has pulled it or hit a draw."

The Ka'anapali Kai course, another Snyder design, is a beginner's heaven. But the resort has much more - like 30 professional tennis courts and a tennis stadium. And just within site is Ka'anapali Beach Resort - home to kayaking, snorkeling, surfing, body boarding, parasailing, diving, beach volleyball and hiking. Stay at The Westin Maui Resort with Spa and enjoy its 14,000 square feet of oceanfront luxury and a Westin Workout Facility.

Kapalua Resort

The PGA Tour big boys play here, a serene spot on Maui's northwest shore, where towering Cook Island pines line the narrow roads through 23,000 acres where pineapples once grew. Kapalua is the best of ritzy and down-to-earth Maui. An organic pineapple farm is next door, the Ritz-Carlton and Kapalua Villas dazzle you, and the old plantation roadside stop - Honolua Store - dates back to 1929 and reminds you of another era.

The Kapalua Plantation Course, designed by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore), is ranked 19th on Golf Magazine's Top 100 You Can Play list. The course will host the newly sponsored Seoul Broadcasting System (SBS) PGA Tour event Jan. 4-10, 2010. It is a wild ride off stiff 30-mile-per-hour tradewinds, plummeting gullies, and extremely wide fairways. There should be a sign like at Bethpage Black declaring this is a golf course for experts.

Your favorite will be the Kapalua Bay Course, a 6,600-yard, par 72, designed by the Arnold Palmer team. If you can hold on to your hat, the views at the fifth, a 205-yard par 3, of Oneloa Bay are stunning. The fourth hole, a 357-yard, par 4, is a fun, ocean-view hole. Because of the cross wind, it's a challenge just to keep the ball in play. Ask the folks at the Kapalua Golf Academy how to do that.

"While the Plantation course at Kapalua is probably the best course on the island, I have always been fond of the Bay Course," Long said. "My first Maui golf trip was here and I was instantly taken in with the Bay course. It's not the challenge of the Plantation Course, but you can get caught up in the beauty. No matter what kind of shape my game is in when I arrive, it always seems to show up at the Bay Course. Any level of golfer will enjoy it, and it is one that I never tire of playing."

Amen, brother. Your golf portfolio is not finished until you come to Maui. It is one of those places you can't miss.

Lodging on Maui

The Westin Maui Resort with Spa
  Tel. (866) 716-8112

• Destination Resorts Hawaii
  Tel. (866) 384-1366

• The Kapalua Villas
  Tel. (800) 545-0018

David R. HollandDavid R. Holland, Contributor

David R. Holland is an award-winning former sportswriter for The Dallas Morning News, football magazine publisher, and author of The Colorado Golf Bible. Before launching a career as a travel/golf writer, he achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force reserve, serving during the Vietnam and Desert Storm eras. Follow Dave on Twitter @David_R_Holland.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Golf

    Laura wrote on: Dec 11, 2009

    That was a great article!! It makes me wish i was there now. You have lots of talent through your writing. Keep up the great wrighting!


  • Golf in Maui

    Rex Simpson wrote on: Nov 25, 2009

    Great story. Maui is on my list for a visit once every couple years. Love the golf and can never get used to the evening's being so comfortable and cool. Thanks for reminding me I need to go back soon.