The winter months in British Columbia can be long and tough on a golfer’s mental state. For those of us lucky enough to head South for the winter, golf is quite easily (or comfortably) played year-round. For the rest of us, planning a winter vacation involves more than just figuring out which beach you want to lay on.
In early February 2012 I was lucky enough to be headed on a family trip to Maui. And although I was planning to get some serious beach time, I was really looking forward to golfing at some of the best courses in Hawaii – and the world.
The positive part to having a golf bag the size of a small car is that it can be used as a suitcase. I had a few pairs of golf shoes, a couple dozen balls (just in case) and clothes for a week stuffed in there. It was nice to take out the winter gloves, toque, rain pants and jacket before leaving . The bad part of having such a large golf bag – carrying it. Other than that though, all I had was a small carry-on.
OK…….. on to the Golf: After planning the trip to Maui I had to figure out where to golf. Since I had not been to Maui for golf before, I managed to get some great advice from some of our very own Storey Creek Members who had spent time over there. And after watching the PGA Tour season start with Steve Stricker winning on the Kapalua Plantation Course (10 minutes from where I was staying) I made this course a MUST play.
After spending the first two days getting acquainted to the Maui lifestyle it was time for my first round and I had a tee time set up at the Wailea Gold Course. We were staying in Lahaina, which is about a 45 minute drive North of Wailea. I arrived an hour early to this large, magnificent facility located about a mile up the hill overlooking the ocean. I was politely greeted by a guest service staff member and after having my clubs whisked away I was left to meander into the ginormous, well-stocked Pro Shop. Check-in was brief and I walked out the back doors to see my clubs waiting for me on a cart. The range was close by and I went to warm-up. And warm-up I did! After about 8 swings I had to take a break and make use of the cold/wet towel on my cart. But at least the ball was flying far! The greens were the hardest part of Hawaiian golf to get used to and I’m glad I spent a good 30 minutes trying to adjust to the speed and break – and I would find out shortly that I clearly should have spent longer! Arriving to the first tee 10 minutes before my tee-time gave me a chance to take it all in. The first hole could not have had a more amazing setting. Teeing off between groups of palm trees looking directly toward the ocean on a par 4 that went significantly downhill (picture below) I quickly fell in love with this course. Wailea Gold was designed to be tougher than its sister course Emerald but I really enjoyed its layout. Lots of doglegs, elevation changes and only 2 holes with water trouble! Unlike every other place on Maui, Wailea has no wind and this course is one that I could play on an everyday basis. Standing on the 18th fairway looking to hit my approach into the final par 4 I reminded myself that Nicklaus and Palmer once had to plan the same approach – cool feeling. Finished the day with a 77 and a cold beverage alongside my playing partners on the balcony of the infamous Red Bar overlooking all of Wailea.
The next round was set for the most famous course in Maui, and probably Hawaii – The Kapalua Plantation Course, home of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in January which Steve Stricker managed to win at 23 under par. I had been told by the pro shop that the course is home to a ‘money game’ that starts at noon everyday. So, what better way to learn a new course than to play with a bunch of local scratch golfers?!? And that’s just what I did. A few snowbirds, a few PGA Professionals and a couple employees made up the group of 24 guys that took part in the noon skins game. I was introduced to the group and teams were picked. I ended up playing and sharing a cart with a Pro from Nevada who owns his own course, but because it is located in the ‘hilly’ part of Nevada, is shut down from November-March. He just happens to have a place in Kapalua for the off-season. Lucky guy! Now, the facility itself was stunning and the walls were covered by pictures of all the great players that have played there over the years……the list is endless. OK, so I won’t go through the round hole by hole but I will just say that every hole is completely different than the previous one and to say that all putts break toward the ocean is an understatement. I hit the ball well all day but battled on the greens, having 3 three-putts on the front nine to shoot 5 over. The back nine played a bit easier with the wind helping more often that hurting. I seemed to find my confidence on the greens and picked up 3 birdies (including one from a greenside bunker for an $87 skin) to shoot even par on the second nine. The highlight for me was playing the finishing two holes. The par 4 17th plays 570 yards from the tips! Did I mention we played the tips? And yes, I said par 4. Although the hole plays downhill I still had 250 yards for my second shot and I hit one of the best 5 woods of my life green high and managed to get up and down for par. The par 5 18th is famous for long drives and the trouble that guards the left side the entire way to the green. This hole is 590 yards and I managed to have 175 yards in for my second shot. That’s right, the GPS on the cart told me my drive had traveled 415 yards – So I hit a 7 iron just right of the green but still was able to putt, and I managed to get it close enough to finish with a birdie and a round of 5 over par at the most unique course I have ever played.
*Side note – While waiting on the 18th tee for the fairway to clear I noticed one of the players in the group ahead of us was wearing a Vancouver Golf Tour shirt. I asked if he was from Vancouver and it turns out he was……and after chatting for a moment I found out he was once Rob Watson’s (our superintendent) boss from many years ago. Small world!
The third course I was lucky enough to play was the Kapalua Bay Course. This course was a little more player-friendly but also the closest to the water and I was fortunate enough to be joined by my father and soon-to-be brother in law. The Bay Course has a great mixture of holes with some amazing dog-legs and an abundance of ocean holes where breaching whales were a common sight. The best holes being #4-#6 which the locals call ‘amen corner’ with the feature hole being a par 3 with forced carry the whole way across the bright blue ocean. The wind blew hard but made for an interesting afternoon. Many laughs were had and it was nice to share the experience with some familiar faces.
All-in-all, the trip to Hawaii was a memorable one and I managed to knock a few more courses off my ‘bucket list’. I would recommend Maui to anyone – golfer or not. But if you get a chance to play golf at any of the above courses it is worth the money, as playing on a course that the PGA Tour visits can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Feel free to share your own golf stories next time we are in the shop at Storey Creek or leave a comment on this post.
Thanks for reading!