Most golfers who travel to the Hawaiian island of Maui find their way to Kapalua, home of two of the nicest golf courses in Hawaii. I’ve played many rounds there over the past 40 years and loved all three courses (the Village course was closed in 2007).
With some limited improvements along the way, like the revision of the 16th hole into a longer divided fairway par 4, The Bay Course that opened in 1975 has stayed very close to the original design of Francis Duane and Arnold Palmer. Since the Bay Course opened, it has hosted over 20 major professional tournaments. From the first live prime-time televised event in golf at the 1983 Kapalua International to the Kapalua LPGA classic some 25 years later, The Bay Course has consistently faced the best players in golf and withstood the test of time and technology.
Recently, though, a major change has occurred and having just played the Bay course once again, I really liked the change. The hole sequence of the Bay Course has been changed to ensure that the starting and finishing locations are centered around the newly enhanced Village Center – what is quickly becoming the central hub of the Kapalua resort area. The re-sequencing of The Bay Course golf holes creates a memorable and challenging final stretch of holes. The new first hole is the former 7th hole – an uphill 355-yard par 4 that will get golfers off to a good start. The new 16th and 17th holes (formerly holes 4 and 5) play along and over the ocean, with the par-3 17th hole Maui’s only over-the-ocean par 3. The new 18th hole (formerly the 6th hole) is a challenging, and intriguing uphill par 5. This change is actually a change back to the original layout created by Duane and Palmer who had the same course layout. In fact, the church along the 14th hole is where the original cart barn was housed.
The Bay Course Golf Shop has been relocated to the newly enhanced Village Center at Kapalua. The Village Center is now home to the Bay Golf & Resort Shops, the Taverna Restaurant, the Kapalua Golf Academy and administrative offices. The Golf Shop is now considerably bigger and the Taverna Restaurant a welcome upgrade. The location change also allows the Pro Shop to become part of the Kapalua Golf Academy which has also been redesigned and modernized. The Academy practice range and tee areas have been expanded, and there are three hitting decks resurfaced with Platinum Paspalum turf. A massive 9,000 square-foot putting green has been added next to the Village Center to provide guests with an additional short-game practice location or warm up spot prior to Bay Course rounds. The new practice green was turfed with Tif-Eagle to be consistent with the putting surfaces found on the golf course.
“All of the improvements are focused on continuing to create the best experience for golfers, students at the Kapalua Golf Academy and resort guests,” said Alex Nakajima, general manager, Kapalua Golf & Tennis. “The enhancements to the Bay Course routing and operations will influence pace of play in a positive fashion, while the improvements made to the Kapalua Golf Academy will continue to position the Academy as the premier golf instruction facility in the world.” Assistant GM Tim Dietrich told me that the emphasis of The Bay Course is on a Pace of Play Facility. The target for The Bay Course is to get every player around in 4 hours 19 minutes. And course management is continuing to work on improvements that might make that even faster.
Of course, the MOST photographed hole is the breathtaking par 3, now the 17th hole that plays 154 yards (regular tees) across the ocean to an elevated green. The hole is a challenging 205 yards, mostly carry, from the championship tees. It should certainly be on the “must play” list for any golfer visiting the island. Use the trade winds wisely as your tee shot carries over the beautiful Oneloa Bay.
For me the change in the hole sequence makes for a far more forgiving uphill par 4 followed by an easy par 3 to start your round as opposed starting with an uphill upwind par 5 followed by what used to be the #1 handicap downhill par 4. Also, having the scenic par 4 and par 3 holes by the ocean is far better at the end of the round than at the beginning. Having 5 par 3’s and 5 par 5’s is also a fun deviation from the normal track.
The Bay Course improvements follow a complete renovation to the Plantation Course golf shop and retail center (completed September 2018), and precede an extensive, multi-million dollar enhancement project to the Plantation Course designed by the renowned golf course architect team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. On-course work on the Plantation Course began in February of 2019 and is to be completed in November 2019.
Mr. Coore and Mr. Crenshaw will assist with the extensive course refinement project. In addition, Troon’s Design/Development/Agronomy team, as well as long-time Kapalua, Maui resident and Golf Channel personality Mark Rolfing, will also provide input on the project. The course enhancement project is aimed at refining and revitalizing the 28-year-old golf course and will include: resurfacing all greens with Tif- Eagle Bermuda; renovating every bunker on the golf course; and re-grassing tees, fairways and roughs with state-of-the-art Celebration Bermuda turf. New tee complexes will also be added, including additional forward tees to help increase guest enjoyment and several new tournament tees will also be built on key holes to further test the world’s best PGA TOUR professionals during the Sentry Tournament of Champions.
Give the new sequencing of The Bay Course a try in 2019 and test out the upgrades to the Plantation Course in 2020. Kapalua is still among the best destinations for golf in Hawaii!
By Greg Fish