The countdown started as soon as my two unfortunate buddies could not make this trip, then I’m off to Maui to review five of the most prestigious golf courses on the island. Yummy! Some two weeks ago, my saliva glands started acting up, as my expectancy of golf in the paradise of Maui was going to quickly become a reality. Bloody Mary started me off prior to my anticipation of a smooth flight. As we neared land, I peeked out the aircraft window only to see wispy clouds encircling the islands, then we safely touched down.
With a rental car on hand, I set off for Makena, a forty minute car ride to the south. I pulled into the Prince Maui Hotel, checked and found myself on the fifth floor overlooking the beautiful blueness of the ocean and the island of Molokai in the distance, glimpsing the tee boxes of the 18th as the sun started to wane. I settled in for a long night’s sleep before I awoke early to meet my fellow combatants.
My competition? A great group of five other chaps ranging from destinations such as Vancouver, Chicago, Seattle, Toronto and Vermont. These were my new best friends. We all got acquainted and the golf feast began.
Hearing the weather had been quite bad the last month, I expected more of the same. But it did not tell the stories of days to come, blue skies and wind – a little blustery as we paired up for the morning round of golf. The first tee with the lush fairways beckoning, had panoramic views of the ocean and hillside vistas. Designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr., not a grueling course, but spectacular none the less. The greens, we will speak of in the future, were very hard to read, as we all found out to our debenture. My first class expectation was more than I could have imagined. I can hardly wait until tomorrow where I am off to Wailea for a 7:15 am tee time.
Randy Hathaway, the resident Pro at Wailea, joined our four ball to see if he could pump in some good habits. Wailea Gold, home of the Champions Skins Game each year was spectacular with each hole more beautiful than the last. The first hole in particular, a downhill 400 yard dogleg left par 4 will get your heart started this early in the morning, where a three wood is more desired than the big dog and is my weapon of choice. Beyond that, a tough green surrounded by three deep bunkers, which by the way, give you no shot at the flagstick. Choose your weapon wisely. Hole number seven, on the Gold course, is the most difficult of Wailea’s 54, consider 544 yards from the white tees, double dog leg, sloping uphill, and with a prevailing cross wind, strategically situated bunker and an undulating green, this is a truly devilish par 5. If you par this hole, you feel as if you hit a birdie since this is such a tough hole. The fairways on this course are immaculate and the greens have a two foot apron around each – in the event you miss-read your landing zone. Thank God for GPS, which is pretty much standard in the carts in Hawaii, there are very few yardage markers around the area. To pick a favorite hole would be bloody hard, as they are all my new favorites. Grabbing a snack at the Irish pub adjacent to the course, it’s strange yet familiar to hear the paddy’s banter. Hearing him reminds me of a time many years ago near my home-land. Next stop - off to the Wailea Blue Course.
Dispatching one of our compatriots, we teamed up with Eliot Gouveia, golf operations manager of the property, we proceeded to bring his game down the drain. Hugely helpful with course knowledge, in a relaxed fashion that made a casual afternoon just seem to be spot on. Be sure to look for Eliot when he qualifies for the Open in June. The Blue, a particularly scenic course, standing and gazing at the 12th hole, we noticed some whales breaching, since no one was pressuring us from behind. It is easy to see why as many as 70% of Wailea’s golfers are repeat guests as the phenomenal experience exceeds their expectations time after time.
Again an early check out at 5:30 am, and we are expected at Kaanapali for an early tee time 40 miles away. We are met by Michelle, Assistant Teaching Pro, a tiny but somehow strangely powerful player to join us for another day in paradise.
When you play this course be sure to pay attention to the train engineer that has a warped sense of humor during your backswing. As the course meanders with tracks that follow the terrain. Spectacular views of the ocean and some tough holes to be sure. We finish in record time and I am looking forward to the afternoon session at the Village course at Kapalua.
For my money, this is the best kept secret in Maui. Soon to be reconstructed to be a “members only” course and one can understand the reasoning behind this decision. In the pipeline, a new clubhouse, Arnold Palmer design, and cross cut fairways with absolutely pristine greens. On this afternoon, it was one of the most pleasurable rounds I have ever played. Starting off with a long par 3, I made par and that gave me great confidence for the rest of the day. Every hole is truly spectacular and most difficult with views of the ocean and the hills around Maui. Hole number seven, with its tee box at an elevation of 800 feet, plays among the Cook Pines and be careful of the lake on the right, not to mention the trade winds that come every day. Unfortunately we are unable to finish all 18 and there is a tear in my eye as I say goodbye to this beautiful “City of Mecca.”
We are privileged to attend the Golf Academy at Kapalua with experienced teaching pro Jerry King. His claim to fame as being PGA “Teacher of the Year.” A tweak here and tweak there showing all of your idiosyncrasies during a golf swing to be used this afternoon. This academy provides teaching aides that are second to none, computerized swing analysis, individual video taping and private coaching. There is a program for every level of golf ability from beginner to scratch. A 23 acre facility with 85,000 square of hitting area designed by Hale Irwin, I got tips that I surely used that afternoon, but to no avail. I had my swing thoughts down to about 287 before I pulled the trigger. Not enough time to groove a good thought as we are off to the next adventure, the much acclaimed Plantation Course at Kapalua, designed by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore, home of the Mercedes Championship every January.
On the tenth tee, the wind blew the ball off the tee, so I knew it was going to be a long day. Much like a British links course, where the wind hales off the ocean, thoughts come to mind of troon-style golf, I feel like I am home. Multi-million dollar houses abound around the course, so you don’t want to shank one in George Steinbrenner’s backyard. Panoramic views and plateaus, natural terrain and large putting surfaces grace this seaside links course. I came upon the 8th hole and found myself doing a bit of “kite-flying” off the tee as the wind played tricks with my shot from the tee. “The Hawk” (I’m also known as The Ball Hawk, aptly named by my playing partners back home, as I rarely skip an opportunity to pick up an errantly played ProV1 in the brush, when I unfortunately happen to be there myself) went into the rough on more than one occasion and came out with a couple of balls, deposited by who knows - the famous and the infamous, so all was not lost for the day, but totally embarrassed and disillusioned as the wind blew me into the bushes over and over again.
My trip was a dream come true and there are too many people to thank and mention, so I apologize up-front for not remembering all the nice people I met along the way. A special thanks to Linn Nishikawa, Tracy Johnson, Shelby Taylor, and Marty Keiter. These are just a few of the names that I can remember. And thanks to my new travel buddies I met while on this wonderful experience, I had the time of my life and I will be going back soon! Mahalo/Cheers Maui Prince Hotel www.princeresortshawaii.com 1-888-9-Prince for reservations Makena Golf Courses 808-879-3344 for Tee Times Fairmont Kei Lani Hotel www.fairmont.com/kealani/ 808 875-4100 Grand Wailea Resort www.grandwailea.com/ 800 888-6100 Wailea Golf (3 courses) 800 888-6100 X 7 Kaanapali Beach Hotel www.kbhmaui.com/ 800-262-8450 Kaanapali Golf Courses www.kaanapali-golf.com/ 866 454-GOLF Westin Maui www.westinmaui.com/ 808 667-2525 Kapalua Villas www.kapaluavillas.com 800 545-0018 Kapalua Golf Courses and Golf Academy www.kapalua.com/golf