Maui's natural beauty and surroundings offer some of the most jaw-dropping vistas imaginable on a golf course; add a variety of challenging, well-designed courses and it's easy to explain the island's popularity with golfers. Holes run across small bays, past craggy lava outcrops, and up into cool, forested mountains. Most courses have mesmerizing ocean views, some close enough to feel the salt in the air. And although many of the courses are affiliated with resorts (and therefore a little pricier), the general-public courses are no less impressive. Playing on Lanai is another option.
Greens Fees: Golf can be costly on Maui. Greens fees listed here are the highest course rates per round on weekdays and weekends for U.S. residents. (Some courses charge non-U.S. residents higher prices.) Rental clubs may or may not be included with the greens fee. Discounts are often available for resort guests, for twilight tee times, and for those who book online.
Resort courses, in particular, offer more than the usual three sets of tees, so bite off as much or little challenge as you like. Tee it up from the tips and you can end up playing a few 600-yard par 5s and see a few 250-yard forced carries.
Maui Golf Shop. Near the airport in Kahului, Maui Golf Shop offers discounted tee times and club rentals. Ask about the resort delivery program. 201 Dairy Rd., Kahului, HI, 96732. PHONE: 808/875-4653 or 800/981-5512. www.golf-maui.com.
Kaanapali Golf Resort. The Royal Kaanapali (North) Course (1962) is one of three in Hawaii designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr., the godfather of modern golf architecture. The greens average a whopping 10,000 square feet, necessary because of the often-severe undulation. The par-4 18th hole (into the prevailing trade breezes, with out-of-bounds on the left, and a lake on the right) is notoriously tough. Designed by Arthur Jack Snyder, the Kaanapali Kai (South) Course (1976) shares similar seaside-into-the-hills terrain, but is rated a couple of strokes easier, mostly because putts are less treacherous. 2290 Kaanapali Pkwy., Lahaina, HI, 96761. PHONE: 808/661-3691 or 866/454-4653. www.kaanapali-golf.com. North Course: 18 holes. 6500 yds. Par 71. Slope 126. Greens Fee: $249. South Course: 18 holes. 6400 yds. Par 70. Slope 124. Green Fee: $205.Facilities: Driving range, putting green, golf carts, rental clubs, lessons, restaurant, bar.
Kapalua Resort. Perhaps Hawaii's best-known golf resort and the crown jewel of golf on Maui, Kapalua hosts the PGA Tour's first event each January: the Hyundai Tournament of Champions at the Plantation Course at Kapalua. Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore (1991) tried to incorporate traditional shot values in a nontraditional site, taking into account slope, gravity, and the prevailing trade winds. The par-5 18th hole, for instance, plays 663 yards from the back tees (600 yards from the resort tees). The hole drops 170 feet in elevation, narrowing as it goes to a partially guarded green, and plays downwind and down-grain. Despite the longer-than-usual distance, the slope is great enough and the wind at your back usually brisk enough to reach the green with two well-struck shots—a truly unbelievable finish to a course that will challenge, frustrate, and reward the patient golfer.
The Bay Course (Arnold Palmer and Francis Duane, 1975) is the more traditional of Kapalua's courses, with gentle rolling fairways and generous greens. The most memorable hole is the par-3 fifth hole, with a tee shot that must carry a turquoise finger of Onelua Bay. Each of the courses has a separate clubhouse. Kapalua, HI, 96761. www.kapalua.com.
Kapalua Golf Academy. The Kapalua Golf Academy offers 23 acres of practice turf and 11 teeing areas, an 18-hole putting course, and 3-hole walking course, as well as an instructional bay with video analysis. 1000 Office Rd., 96761. PHONE: 808/665-5455 or 877/527-2582.
Bay Course (300 Kapalua Dr., 96761. PHONE: 808/669-8044 or 877/527-2582. www.kapalua.com/hawaii-golf. 18 holes. 6600 yds. Par 72. Slope 133. Green Fee: $208. Facilities: Driving range, putting green, rental clubs, pro shop, lessons, restaurant, bar.).
Plantation Course (2000 Plantation Club Dr., 96761. PHONE: 808/669-8044 or 877/527-2582. www.kapalua.com/hawaii-golf. 18 holes. 7411 yds. Par 73. Slope 135. Green Fee: $268. Facilities: Driving range, putting green, golf carts, pull carts, rental clubs, pro shop, golf academy/lessons, restaurant, bar.).
Tips for Golfing on Maui
Golf is golf, and Hawaii is part of the United States, but Island golf nevertheless has its own quirks. Here are a few tips to make your golf experience in the Islands more pleasant.
Sunscreen: Buy it, apply it (minimum 30 SPF). The subtropical rays of the sun are intense, even in December. Good advice is to apply sunscreen, at a minimum, on the 1st and 10th tees.
Stay hydrated. Spending four-plus hours in the sun and heat means you'll perspire away considerable fluids and energy.
All resort courses and many daily fee courses provide rental clubs. In many cases, they're the latest lines from top manufacturers. This is true both for men and women, as well as for left-handers, which means you don't have to schlep clubs across the Pacific.
Pro shops at most courses are well stocked with balls, tees, and other accoutrements, so even if you bring your own bag, it needn't weigh a ton.
Come spikeless—few Hawaii courses still permit metal spikes. And most of the resort courses require a collared shirt.
Maui is notorious for its trade winds. Consider playing early if you want to avoid the wind, and remember that although it will frustrate you at times and make club selection difficult, you may well see some of your longest drives ever.
In theory you can play golf in Hawaii 365 days a year, but there's a reason the Hawaiian Islands are so green. An umbrella and light jacket can come in handy.
Unless you play a muni or certain daily fee courses, plan on taking a cart. Riding carts are mandatory at most courses and are included in the green fee.
elleair Maui Golf Club. Formerly known as Silversword (1987), elleair is an exacting test. Fairways tend to be narrow, especially in landing areas, and can be quite a challenge when the trade winds come up in the afternoon. The course is lined with enough coconut trees to make them a collective hazard, not just a nutty nuisance. 1345 Piilani Hwy., Kihei, HI, 96753. PHONE: 808/874-0777. elleairmauigolfclub.com. 18 holes. 6404 yds. Par 71. Slope 117. Green Fee: $120. Facilities: Driving range, putting green, golf carts, rental clubs, pro shop, lessons.
Makena Beach & Golf Resort. Robert Trent Jones Jr. designed Makena Golf Course (1994) in harmony with the existing landscape: Hawaiian rock walls still stand in their original locations, and natural gullies and stream beds were left in their natural states. Sculpted from the lava flows on the western flank of Haleakala, Makena offers quick greens with lots of breaks and plenty of scenic distractions. The fourth hole is one of Hawaii's most picturesque inland par 3s, with the green guarded on the right by a duck pond. The sixth is an excellent example of option golf: The fairway is sliced up the middle by a gaping ravine, which must sooner or later be crossed to reach the green. The last three holes are relatively short par 4s, but keen accuracy is required, as the tees wind through kiawe trees. 5415 Makena Alanui, Makena, HI, 96753. PHONE: 808/891-4000. www.makenagolf.com. 18 holes. 6567 yds. Par 72. Slope 135. Green Fee: $185. Facilities: Driving range, putting green, golf carts, rental clubs, pro shop, golf academy/lessons, restaurant, bar.
Wailea. This is the only Hawaii resort to offer three different courses: Gold, Emerald, and Old Blue. Designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. (Gold and Emerald) and Arthur Jack Snyder (Old Blue), these courses share similar terrain, carved into the leeward slopes of Haleakala. Although the ocean does not come into play, its beauty is visible on almost every hole. Remember, putts break dramatically toward the ocean.
Jones refers to the Gold Course at Wailea (1993) as the "masculine" course. It's all trees and lava, and regarded as the hardest of the three courses. The trick here is to note even subtle changes in elevation. The par-3 8th, for example, plays from an elevated tee across a lava ravine to a large, well-bunkered green framed by palm trees, the blue sea, and tiny Molokini. The course demands strategy and careful club selection. The Emerald Course (1994) is the "feminine" layout with lots of flowers and bunkering away from greens. Although this may seem to render the bunker benign, the opposite is true. A bunker well in front of a green disguises the distance to the hole. Likewise, the Emerald's extensive flower beds are dangerous distractions because of their beauty. The Gold and Emerald share a clubhouse, practice facility, and 19th hole.
At Wailea's first course, the Old Blue Course (1971), judging elevation change is also key. Fairways and greens tend to be wider and more forgiving than on the Gold or Emerald, and run through colorful flora that includes hibiscus, wiliwili, bougainvillea, and plumeria. Wailea, HI, 96753. www.waileagolf.com.
Old Blue Course (100 Wailea Golf Club Dr., 96753. PHONE: 808/875-7450 or 888/328-6284. www.waileagolf.com. 18 holes. 6765 yds. Par 72. Slope 129. Green Fee: $225. Facilities: Driving range, putting green, golf carts, rental clubs, pro shop, golf academy/lessons, restaurant, bar.).
Gold and Emerald Courses (100 Wailea Golf Club Dr., 96753. PHONE: 808/875-7450 or 888/328-6284. www.waileagolf.com. Gold Course: 18 holes. 6653 yds. Par 72. Slope 132. Green Fee: $235. Emerald Course: 18 holes. 6407 yds. Par 72. Slope 130. Green Fee: $225.Facilities: Driving range, putting green, golf carts, rental clubs, pro shop, golf academy/lessons, restaurant, bar.).
The Dunes at Maui Lani. Robin Nelson is at his minimalist best here, creating a bit of British links in the middle of the Pacific. Holes run through ancient, lightly wooded sand dunes, 5 miles inland from Kahului Harbor. Thanks to the natural humps and slopes of the dunes, Nelson had to move very little dirt and created a natural beauty. During the design phase he visited Ireland, and not so coincidentally the par-3 3rd looks a lot like the Dell at Lahinch: a white dune on the right sloping down into a deep bunker and partially obscuring the right side of the green—just one of several blind to semiblind shots here. Popular with residents, this course (1999) has won several awards including "Five Best Kept Secret Golf Courses in America" by Golf Digest.1333 Maui Lani Pkwy., Kahului, HI, 96732. PHONE: 808/873-0422. www.dunesatmauilani.com. 18 holes. 6841 yds. Par 72. Slope 136. Green Fee: $112. Facilities: Driving range, putting green, golf carts, rental clubs, pro shop, golf academy/lessons, restaurant, bar.
Kahili Golf Course. The former Sandalwood Course (1991) was completely redone in 2005 by Robin Nelson and is now one of two 18-hole courses—one private (King Kamehameha) and one public (Kahili)—that make up the King Kamehameha Golf Club. Course holes run along the slopes of the West Maui Mountains, overlooking Maui's central plain, and feature panoramic ocean views of both the North and South shores. Consistent winds negate the course's shorter length. 2500 Honoapiilani Hwy., Wailuku, HI, 96793. PHONE: 808/242-4653. www.kahiligolf.com. 18 holes. 6570 yds. Par 72. Slope 124. Green Fee: $95. Facilities: Driving range, putting green, golf carts, rental clubs, pro shop, lessons, restaurant, bar.
Waiehu Golf Course. Maui's lone municipal course and undoubtedly the best bargain on the island, Waiehu is really two courses in one. The front 9, dating to 1930, feature authentic seaside links that run along Kahului Bay. The back 9, which climb up into the lower reaches of the West Maui Mountains through macadamia orchards, were designed by Arthur Jack Snyder and opened in 1963. 200 Halewaiu Rd., Wailuku, HI, 96793. PHONE: 808/243-7400. www.co.maui.hi.us. 18 holes. 6330 yds. Par 72. Slope 120. Greens fee: $55, plus $20 per cart. Facilities: Driving range, putting green, golf carts, pull carts, rental clubs, pro shop, restaurant, bar.
Pukalani Golf Course. At 1,110 feet above sea level, Pukalani (Bob E. Baldock and Robert L. Baldock, 1970) provides one of the finest vistas in all Hawaii. Holes run up, down, and across the slopes of Haleakala. The trade winds tend to come up in the late morning and afternoon. This, combined with frequent elevation change, makes club selection a test. The fairways tend to be wide, but greens are undulating and quick. 360 Pukalani St., Pukalani, HI, 96768. PHONE: 808/572-1314. www.pukalanigolf.com. 18 holes. 6962 yds. Par 72. Slope 127. Green Fee: $60. Facilities: Driving range, putting green, golf carts, rental clubs, pro shop, restaurant, bar.
The Island of Lanai features two championship-caliber golf courses—the Challenge at Manele and the Experience at Koele —that are rarely crowded due to the exclusivity of the island. Both courses require a ferry ride from Lahaina or Maalaea harbors on Maui.
Expeditions Ferry. Golf packages are available through Expeditions Ferry. HI. PHONE: 808/661-3756 or 800/695-2624. www.go-lanai.com.