When it comes right down to it, playing golf while on vacation is supposed to be fun, right?
After getting knocked senseless by Kapalua’s Plantation Course, I drove about 15 minutes south for some stress-free, scenic resort golf on an excellent course, and that’s exactly what I encountered in Kaanapali, home to two championship courses and the former site of the Senior Skins Game and Golf Channel’s “Big Break Kaanapali.” My first round was on the Royal course, and it was a good one: picturesque, playable, tricky at times and perfectly enjoyable. At right is my photo of No. 1, a right-bending par 5 with water on the right that can jump up and bite you if you've left your mind back at the beach. The finishing hole is also a brute –- a par 4 with a forced carry over water off the tee and a pond that’s just waiting to gobble up shots that fall short-right of the green. But my favorite was hole No. 5, a straightaway par 4 with a slightly elevated tee and a nice Pacific view as you approach the green. Never get tired of seeing that ocean, you know? Each of the 18 holes at Royal has a Hawaiian-inspired name that’s always apt and occasionally interesting. For instance, No. 6 is called “Na Pohaku," which means “two stones,” an homage to the pair of large boulders just off the green. (Incidentally, I would’ve named this hole “two chips,” but then again, my short game has been a 14-car pileup this trip.)
Kaanapali likes to look after the locals, and in addition to weekly competitions, the course also offers a "Fit Club,” where tourists and residents can pay $50 a month to walk and play as many holes as they can each afternoon from 4 p.m. to sunset. Also, an excellent steak and seafood restaurant, Roy’s, will soon be moving down the highway to the Kaanapali clubhouse, which should be a coup for the resort and a bonanza for hungry golfers. David Havens, a PGA teaching pro based at Kaanapali, kicked around a few of the smaller tours, then spent six months teaching golf to children in Bhutan and briefly caddied for Tour pro Brendon de Jonge before eventually settling in Maui. Today he lives at the end of Kaanapali’s driving range and runs a nonprofit, "Spare For Change," that sends golf clubs to underprivileged young golfers around the world.
He’s an affable guy with plenty of stories to fill up a one-hour lesson. We played a breezy round on the Kai Course, a nice track that was less stern than the Royal Course and accessible for players of all abilities. That's where he straightened my tee shots and jump-started my climb back to mediocrity with this tip for handling island winds. Both courses at Kaanapali are great, and the service is excellent. But with all due respect to AOL founder Steve Case, pop singer Nicole Scherzinger and the cast of “Hawaii Five-O,” the biggest celebrity in the islands might be roaming the fairways in a marshal’s cart at Kaanapali. His name is Tommy Sarashina, and he’s a quick-witted 86-year-old who loves to tell jokes or recount his time fighting in World War II, when he was held prisoner in Russia for nearly two years. Strapped in the back of Sarashina’s cart is a jumbo cooler filled with a drink that immediately took me back to my childhood. He first buzzed up to my group on the 11th hole at the Royal Course. Here he is. Remember Tang? It comes in a powder that’s mixed with water to form a sweet, nuclear-pumpkin-colored drink. I probably hadn’t sipped Tang since I was seven years old, but it was just as good as I remembered. Mr. Sarashina is the perfect person to deliver this drink (free of charge to all golfers) and the childhood memories that come with it. In fact, good times and great people are probably what I’ll remember most about Kaanapali. That’s really what resort golf should be about, isn’t it?
At this stop I stayed at the Westin Maui Resort and Spa, which isn’t much more than a long par 5 away from the opening tee on the Royal Course, and it’s yet another luxurious, mammoth oceanside resort hotel. There are several pools, easy access to the beach and a nice little poolside lunch and happy hour spot called 'OnO. But the highlight of the hotel entertainment was the Westin Wailele Polynesian Luau. Here attendance is kept to a relatively modest 200-250, the food is great and fire dancers serve as the climactic act. When you think about it, a good luau really is a quintessential Hawaiian experience.
Sorry, did you want to see fire dancing?
FIRE. A fire-dancer video is a sure sign I’ve drifted off the rails here, so it’s probably time to move on. Hey, at least I haven’t turned into a tacky, mai-thai-chugging tourist in a gaudy Hawaiian shirt who finds it amusing to take photos with hula girls after the show. Who even does that?
With that, it’s time to wrap this up and head to the final stop of my trip. It’s going to be a good one. Until then, leave those Hawaiian shirts in Hawaii, America. - Part I: Solid Gold at Grand Wailea - Part II: Blissful misery at Kapalua (Photos: Jeff Ritter, Kaanapali Golf Courses)