Even casual golfers are familiar with Kapalua, the telegenic first stop on the PGA Tour calendar. With Tiger in the forefront and whales in the background, it is the epitome of golf in Hawaii.
But a short drive away on Maui's leeward side, the weather's even better and the golf can hold it's own. Under the Haleakala volcano, you'll find five terrific resort courses that overlook the ocean, and shouldn't be overlooked by visitors. And if the layouts aren't as demanding as the Plantation Course at Kapalua, so what? No one goes to Maui to get stressed.
Makena (North and South courses)
North: 6,914 yards, par 72, South: 7,014, par 72;
Greens fees: $185
The two courses at Makena would leave Paul Revere low on lanterns: they go by land and by sea. The tighter North shoots inland, up and down the slopes of Haleakala, its swerving fairways bordered by gullies, streams and long fingers of lava rock. Par 3s are a strength here, including the downhill 183-yard fourth, with a narrow green fronted by a lake. But the par-5 14th (620 yards in length, 200 feet in elevation change) is nothing to sneeze at. From start to finish, the ocean, in sight but never in play, makes for a beautiful and benign distraction. The longer but less penal South Course builds in drama as the round pro gresses. A breeching humpback in the distance might be your target line on several holes. At Makena the conditions aren't as immaculate as at Kapalua, but the layouts hold their own
Grand Wailea Resort (Gold Course)
7,078 yards, par 72;
Greens fees: $190 ($160 for resort guests)
Each year when the Champions Tour plays its Skins Game here, the fat-bellies blitz the course with birdies. But that's deceptive. This is the toughest of Wailea's three layouts. Robert Trent Jones Jr. dotted the course with more than 100 traps, and none of them are for decoration. Many are "illusion bunkers" designed to look like they're guarding the flagstick when they actually stand well before the green. The course winds through swaying island grasses and past papohaku (lava-rock walls built by ancient Hawaiians). The back nine can drain you, but the setting is so pretty and the weather so balmy, you never really feel like you're getting beaten up.
Grand Wailea (Emerald/Blue courses)
Emerald: 6,825, par 72; Greens fees: $190 ($160 for resort guests)
Blue: 6,765 yards, par 72; Greens fees: $160 ($135 for resort guests)
The Emerald is the island's Augusta, with bougainvillea everywhere. From the nosebleed tee on the par-4 sixth, your drive enjoys the hang time of a hotair balloon. Then it's an awkward downhill mid-iron to green that's difficult to judge and even tougher to hold. This course befriends beginners but is still a tough test from the tips.
The Blue looks up at Haleakala, whose foothills lend swing to the wide fairways. The oldest course at Wailea won't break you with distance or difficulty. At an LPGA event here a few years back, several players were warned for slow play they were watching the whales.
The Card Wrecker
Wailea Gold Course 10th hole, 415 yards, par 4
Robert Trent Jones Jr. calls his Gold Course a "masculine" design, since it appeals to the big-hitter's urge to blast it. But the on the 10th, you ought to set machismo aside. At 415 yards, it plays downhill and downwind, so length is not the issue. Trouble lurks in fairway bunkers on the left and a steep drop-off front right of the green. To find out how to play it, we asked the architect himself.
Robert Trent Jones Jr. on how to play it
"The bunkers have been designed to intimidate, with steep faces and often presenting uneven lies. So the first thing to do is avoid the fairway bunkers. This might mean keeping the driver in the bag and taking a club you can control. A good tee shot will leave you a mid- to short-iron in. Aim for the middle of the green. Avoid short and right."
What to do
- [LIST "Spa Grande at the Grand Wailea offers a Shiatsu Back Walk Massage, in which a bare foot therapist works your body with her feet. It's a perfect post-golf treat. $225 for 80 minutes; $275 for 110 minutes."] [LIST "Maui Ocean Center is devoted to island marine life. Among the coolest exhibits is a real water hazard: a 12-foot tiger shark. Admission: $22 for adults, $15 for kids 3-12.
808-270-7000, mauioceancenter.com"] [LIST "Maui Eco Tours relies on kayaks, not motorized boats. Guides take you whale watching, swimming with dolphins and snorkeling with turtles.
Where to Eat
- [LIST "If you're hankering for seared foie gras sushi, Sansei Seafood Restaurant & Sushi Bar (1881 S. Kihei Road, 808-879-0004) is your spot. You'll also find traditional Japanese dishes, but the focus is on fresh food, innovatively prepared."] [LIST "Joe's on Wailea Ike Place (808-875-7767) serves comforting, casual food. Try the baked crab dip and meatloaf with wine."] [LIST "The atmosphere at Tommy Bahama Cafe (3750 Wailea Alunai, 808-875-8893) is a little Jimmy Buffetesque, but there's no better place for a pulled pork sandwich and a cocktail at the bar."]
Where to Stay
- [LIST "The GOLF Magazine Gold Medal-winning Grand Wailea stands out for its luxury, even on an island known for high-end hotels. Rooms start at $315. Guests get a slight discount on greens fees. 808-875-1234, grandwailea.com."]