But, to be able to throw in a round of golf, or three or four, on a small island dense with some of the best courses in the Pacific, is a little topping of bliss on your Pineapple Paradise ice cream. Really, I get to play golf, too?
Even if you didn’t lug your golf clubs on the long flight over the pond, you’re here, and you’re itching to play, and you should, if you can.
If you feel like a splurge, you can play the same course where top PGA pros teed up last January. Or test out the Gold Course at Wailea Resort, which hosted the Champions Tour Skins Game from 2001-2007.
But you, sir or madam, might be a purist, and your head won’t be turned by a name or a price tag … you just want a great golf experience. If it’s a bargain you’re looking for, you’re in the right place. Maui offers some of the most spectacular courses for your money.
Photo: Maui Nui Golf Club
Other parts of the island “have got to deal with the wind and the other elements,” says Lief Smith, director of golf at Maui Nui Golf Club in Central Maui, one of the island’s busiest courses. Maui Nui, formerly known as Elleair and now under new Hawaiian ownership, has the least rainfall and wind of any Maui course, protected as it is by Mt. Haleakala and the West Maui mountains (Mauna Kahalawai).
“It’s pretty cool,” says Smith. “Golf’s got to be in the top five, maybe top three, things to do on Maui. You’ve got the views, got the weather, got all the different layouts, you’ve got mountain courses and beach courses.”
He’s right: Maui’s diversity in climate and topography make for a singular golf experience. At Maui Nui, the course is player-friendly and the view changes on every hole. Fairways were recently widened and the greens are large, but a player wanting to score well will still need to keep the ball in play.
Resort near Maui Nui Golf Club: Maui Sunset
There are courses on Maui, to be sure, that are affordable by any measure. One such is Kahili Golf Club, a popular course in the foothills of the West Maui Mountains. Standard green fee here is $99, but twilight rates drop to $59 and online booking can get you even lower. Aloha Fridays are $49 for any tee time all day, every Friday.
Kahili is not overly long at 6,570 yards, but this is a course for shotmakers, with smallish greens, doglegs in both directions and plenty of elevation changes. Kahili is known for its immaculate putting surfaces.
3) Kapalua Sister Courses: The Plantation and The Bay
Photo: Ryan Siphers
, at 7,400 yards and par 73, offers a stiff test for elite players with its elevation changes and unpredictable tradewinds. From the amateur tees, its generous fairways and large greens make it fun and playable for intermediate golfers.
Followers of the PGA Tour are hip to the annual Island Swing in early January, which includes the Hyundai Tournament of Champions at The Plantation Course, a tournament open only to players who won on tour the previous year. This year, Zach Johnson claimed the $1.14 million top prize.
As well-regarded as The Plantation Course is, some aficionados rank its sister course at Kapalua, , even higher for its challenge and beauty. Since it opened in 1975, The Bay has been home to more than 20 PGA, LPGA and World Cup of Golf tournaments. The signature hole is No. 5, which plays over the Pacific Ocean.
Take note that The Bay ($208 standard fee) and Plantation ($278) are in the high-end neighborhood for green fees on Maui.
What you need to know
The Plantation Course at Kapalua Address: 2000 Plantation Club Drive, Lahaina, HI 96761
The Bay Course at Kapalua Address: 300 Kapalua Drive, Lahaina, HI 96761
Tee times for both: (877) 527-2582
Photo: Wailea Golf Club
Depending on who’s doing the rating, all three courses at Wailea – Gold, Emerald, and Old Blue – often squeeze into Top 5 lists on the island, and also command among the highest green fees.
The Gold Course, a Robert Trent Jones Jr. design, is the most challenging of the Wailea courses, with a rugged, rolling terrain to test the best players from the championship tees. But the graduated forward tees make the layout accessible for less-skilled players.
The Emerald Course has been rated seven times among the U.S.’s most women-friendly courses by Golf for Women magazine. Its pristine, generous fairways and stunning views of the Pacific and Mt. Haleakala make it a fun choice for any golfer, including families playing together.
Fees on the Gold and Emerald top out at $235 a round, but drop dramatically after noon. A three-round package at the Gold and/or Emerald is a deal at $450 during the summer and fall.
At the Blue, the oldest of the Wailea resort courses and the most player-friendly, the top fee is $150 (in the fall) and plunges at midday and again in the mid-afternoon
The King Kamehameha Golf Club is, among other things, a course with a name that says “Hawaii.” King Kamehameha was the Hawaiian cheif (ali'i) of legend and history, known for uniting the warring islands into one Hawaiian kingdom.
King Kamehameha, the golf course, is a “pure golf experience,” according to Rick Castillo, director of golf at King Kamehameha and Kahili. No buildings other than its monumental clubhouse can be found on the Kamehameha property.
The course boasts a 74,000-square-foot clubhouse designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, with artwork throughout by native Hawaiian artists.
“We honor all things Hawaiian,” says Castillo. “Even if you don’t golf, come and visit the clubhouse. We consider it a Maui treasure.”
Kamehameha is the only private 18-hole course on Maui – but you can get on to play. One way is the “Guest for a Day Pass” ($170). Another is the Kahili Mahalo Ticket, a package priced at $250, offering two rounds at Kahili and one at King Kamehameha.
Leave your clubs at home
Back to the subject of the golf clubs you didn’t bring. More and more these days, golfers who intend to play on the islands are opting not to pay the fee (both ways) to haul their clubs through baggage check.
Fortunately, golf courses on the island look out for the golfer who travels clubless. Maui courses make club rentals painless, and the clubs, unlike your average mainland muni, are sleek and like-new.
For instance, The Dunes at Maui Lani (which fits comfortably in the affordable category with a top green fee of $89) rents Nike VR-S Covert sets. Maui Nui offers clubs in the late-model TaylorMade Rocketballz line.
Aloha and mahalo
Friendly customer service, in the traditional welcoming way of the island state of Hawaii, radiates throughout the Maui golf community, even to the point that proprietors of the island’s courses direct visitors toward the unique microclimates and golf experiences of other courses in other Maui regions.
“We send golfers upcountry to get a different experience in the mountain courses,” says Smith at Maui Nui. “We’ll [also] send golfers down to Wailea, or to Kahili.”
Photo: Wailea Ekolu Village