Golf in Hawaii has long been high on the list of favorite golf destinations for many California golfers. I can remember back to the late 1970’s playing golf at the Kapalua Bay course and watching the tourist helicopters land at the top of Pineapple Hill above the course among the palm trees. Playing the Wailea Blue and Orange courses was always something I looked forward to on annual business trips to the Valley Isle. And today, golf on Hawaii has never been better, or more popular. With beautiful golf complexes at both Kapalua and Wailea being busy and popular golf destinations year round, it is no wonder that Maui Golf No Ka ‘Oi – Golf on Maui is the Best!
Leading the list of Maui golf is the Kapalua Plantation course which is widely regarded as the top Hawaiian golf challenge in the islands. This year Golfweek Magazine rated it the Best Golf Course in Hawaii for the 10th straight year. The Plantation Course is also home of the annual PGA TOUR’s Hyundai Tournament of Champions where it features only the Tour’s winners from the previous year and therefore brings the best of the best. And the Kapalua Plantation course lives up to the challenge.
At a championship length the Plantation Course plays 7,411 yards with only three, par-3 holes – a total par 73 for the course. It is the only golf course on the PGA Tour schedule that plays to a par 73. Not only does the length create a challenge, but the trade winds – very strong much of the time – makes shot selection extremely tough, especially for an uphill into the wind hole. The day I recently played, the wind was a consistent 20 knots and put a premium on club selection.
Elevation change from hole to hole is a challenge, as well as part of the fun. The first hole is a step downhill 434 yards (all distances are regular tees) that plays across a ravine to a well-bunkered green. The round then finishes with the much photographed 18th which is probably the best hole in all of Hawaii.
Playing 585 yards from the regular tees (663 yards from the tournament tees), the hole drops steeply with a left turn. There is a ravine along the fairway and the green before a steep drop down to the brush. The fairway itself sharply slopes right to left so your tee shot needs to be long and up along the right side of the fairway in order to leave an approachable second shot from the left side of the fairway. This is the chance to hit one of the longest tee shots of your life – downhill and usually downwind. The very fast green also runs right to left for a challenging last putt. Great fun!
The Plantation Course is the only course on the PGA Tour with seven holes of more than 500 yards, but at the same time is one of only two courses (Pebble Beach being the other) with six par-4s of less than 400 yards. If you take the 17th, 18th, and 1st holes together they all play down a mountainside a combined 1,691 yards from the tips and only the 18th hole is a par 5. Designed by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore and opened in 1991, the Plantation Course unfurls across island canyons, native vegetation and panoramic oceanfront plateaus.
The history of development in the Kapalua area goes all the way back to the early 1900’s when the land first began to be assembled by the Maui Land and Pineapple Company. The first golf in Kapalua was The Bay Course and The Village Course – both designed by Francis Duane and Arnold Palmer, who himself felt that Kapalua was a very special place.
The Bay Course opened in 1975 as a 6,600-yard par 72 gem. The Village Course opened in 1981 but was closed on April 1, 2007. I used to love the Village Course which was a 6,632-yard, par 71 course that rose and twisted through the West Maui foothills. It was closed to create housing which never really happened following the financial collapse in 2008.
Since the Bay Course opened over 40 years ago, it has hosted over 20 major professional tournaments – the most of any neighbor island course in the state of Hawaii. 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.
The course has stayed much the same as its original design except for one major renovation in 1988. At that time No. 16 was changed from a short steep uphill dogleg right hole to a much longer hole that plays across a lake to a fairway divided by a large creek.
The uphill second shot to a challenging green makes the revised No. 16 one of the most photographed and challenging holes on the course, and one of the best par 4’s in all of Hawaii.Of course the MOST photographed hole is the breathtaking par 3, No. 5h 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. As the only hole to play over the ocean on Maui, 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.
Great champions and stories have emerged at the Bay Course, such as Greg Norman’s first win on America soil, Ian Woosnam and David Llwellyn’s thrilling victory for Wales in the World Cup of Golf and Morgan Pressel’s nail-biting win at the Kapalua LPGA classic. Two of the most popular PGA players ever, Fred Couples and Davis Love III, have each earned victories here – twice. With magnificent views of Molokai and Lanai, the Bay Course is an experience all golfers should enjoy.
The course always presents a fair and rewarding golf experience, and has been recognized as a “Top 75 Resort Course” by Golf Digest. The ideal ending to a round at the Blue Course is a visit to Mulligans, Maui’s best Irish tap room. We loved the open air feeling here with the traditional English food and beer. In 2014 the Blue Course was completely refreshed and reconfigured, and the clubhouse moved to a new contemporary location at the heart of the Wailea Resort. The best feature of the old Blue Course is the absolutely gorgeous unobstructed panorama of the ocean and some of the neighboring islands of Lanai, Kaho’olawe and Molokini.
By Greg Fish