By Anita Draycott
Fuchsia sunsets, a cool flower lei around your neck, crashing surf and palm-studded beaches. Hawaii has all of the above…but so much more. When it comes to the world’s best golf destinations, Maui’s scorecard is a winner. And Lanai, originally known as the Pineapple Island, just a short ferry ride away, tempts with one of Jack Nicklaus’s finest, Manele.
The Kapalua Resort on Maui’s rugged northwest coast beckons with two championship courses. The Bay Course rolls to the edge of the sapphire Pacific. In winter you might be distracted by the antics of giant humpback whales frolicking offshore. Palm trees, ironwoods and stately Cook pines line the verdant fairways.
This is your ideal warm up round before tackling the challenging The Plantation Course where the likes of Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia have competed in the annual PGA TOUR Tournament of Champions held in January. Designed by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore, the par-73 layout features massive bunkers, sweeping slopes, dramatic contours and sweeping views of the Pacific from virtually every hole.
Golfweek magazine has rated The Plantation number one in Hawaii for ten consecutive years. Generous fairways and greens and lots of downhill tee shots appeal to both high and low handicappers. You might hit the longest drive of your golfing career with the aid of gravity on number 18. Both tracts are Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuaries.
You’ll be spoiled for choice when deciding where to stay at Kapalua, from the ritzy Ritz Carlton to the spacious Kapalua Villas. www.kapalua.com
For over a decade Ka’anapali beamed Hawaiian golf and a backdrop of gorgeous tropical scenery into the homes of TV viewers of the Senior PGA Tour’s Ka’anapali Classic, making them want to grab their clubs and head to paradise.
Before you play the North Course, you might want to head for Ka’anapali Beach the day prior to watch the sunset. Not only is it memorable but it also might just help your score. The greens on the tournament North are notorious for their strong grain and a useful factoid to remember is that the ball will break toward the setting sun. You should also be prepared to play in a stiff wind. Course architect, Robert Trent Jones Sr. took advantage of the rolling terrain to create undulating fairways. The result is that flat lies are few and far between. The late Arnold Palmer commented that the par-four finishing hole is one of the most challenging he’d ever played.
The premise of Arthur Jack Snyder, architect for Ka’anapali’s South Course, is that golf should be fun. The good times begin on the par-five number one that oozes with birdie potential. This par-71 course is very user friendly but it’s no waltz in the park. The fairways are relatively tight and those prevailing trade winds need to be factored into your course strategy.
After your round, dine at Roy’s Maui in the golf clubhouse. Japanese-born chef Roy Yamaguchi invented what he calls Hawaiian Fusion Cuisine. I recommend his signature dish, the Dim Sum Canoe for Two—crispy and seared shrimp, crab gyoza, baby back ribs and ahi tuna poke presented in a mini dugout canoe. www.kaanapaliresort.com
Further south on Maui’s west coast, many tourists flock to Wailea where a stretch of swanky resorts linked by a seaside footpath cater to the most discerning sun worshippers, spa goers, gourmands and golfers.
The Wailea Golf Club encompasses two clubhouses, a twelve-acre training facility and three eighteen-hole layouts—the Blue, Emerald and Gold Courses. Both Golf Digest and Golf Magazine named Wailea one of the nation’s finest golf resorts, recognizing not only the quality of the courses but also the calibre of the destination.
The Blue is your quintessential Hawaiian layout with wide, manicured fairways that flow with the natural undulations of the volcanic foothills upon which they are laid and interrupted here and there by coral sand bunkers, lakes, fountains and fragrant plumeria trees.
You’ll want to bring your “A” game to Wailea’s Gold Course. Scoring well here is not so much about pounding your Titleist as far as you can, but more about accuracy and finesse. Brains over brawn triumph on the superb design by Robert Trent Jones II.
The same designer gave Wailea’s Emerald gem what he calls feminine characteristics, referring to the course’s softer visual appeal. There are few forced carries and genial landing areas. Here you’ll get an occasional whiff of an exotic blossom and plenty of ocean vistas. The Emerald has often been applauded for its female friendly design, but don’t let the beauty fool you, there’s plenty of challenge for both sexes and all handicaps on this 6,825 siren. www.waileagolf.com
Across the road from the Wailea Courses, the Fairmont Kea Lani (means heavenly white), a confection of Moorish and Mediterranean architecture sits prettily on 22 acres of tropical gardens and pools leading to the white sands of Polo Beach
This is Hawaii’s only all-suite and villa oceanside luxury resort. Each grand suite features huge marble bathrooms, separate living room, mini kitchenette and private balcony. The villas are ideal for larger groups.
At Fairmont’s poolside Ko restaurant, Chef Tylun Pang’s menu was inspired by Hawaii’s sugarcane era when the cuisines of plantation workers became a Hawaiian melting pot of Chinese, Filipino, Portuguese, Korean and Japanese influences. Not to be missed on the appetizer (pupus) menu is Ahi On the Rock. The sashimi-grade tuna comes to the table with a hot stone so you can sear it to your liking and then dip it in orange/miso sauce. www.fairmont.com
For his nuptials in 1994, zillionaire Bill Gates vowed, “I do” on the signature 12th hole of Manele Golf Course (formerly called the Challenge at Manele), a cliffside spectacle where the “fairway” is a surging surf 45 metres below. The camera-shy groom hired every helicopter and hotel room on Lanai in order to thwart peeping paparazzi. In 2014 he and Melinda returned to Lanai to celebrate their 20th anniversary.
Built on lava outcroppings above the crashing surf of Hulopoe Bay, the Jack Nicklaus Signature Manele Course boasts views of the Pacific from every turn. Three fairways perch on cliffs, including the infamous 12th.
You’ll encounter back-to-back par-threes on the 7th and 8th fairways. Consider the trade winds when choosing your club on the 172-yard 7th. Number 8 at 210 yards, requires precision aim to nail the hillside green. Manele’s toughest hole, the par-four 5th will probably tarnish your scorecard. Your drive must go left to avoid the fairway sloping to the ocean. You won’t likely forget the 17th with its forced carry over a cliff. From there you must negotiate a serious dogleg right and avoid the water running down that side of the fairway.
Later, enjoy a cold one at the aptly named Views clubhouse restaurant. The management wants to grow the game so kids 17 and under get a complimentary green fee after noon when they play with a paid adult. Rental clubs are also free for young swingers.
I was on Lanai recently (alas not invited to the Gates’ bash) to play the Manele course and check out the multi-million dollar renovation of the Four Seasons Resort Lanai.
Little Lanai (only 29 km long by 20 km wide) packs a fascinating history. It’s been home to Hawaiian chiefs and a just a handful of owners. In 1922, James Dole bought the entire island and turned it into a pineapple plantation. However, by the late 1980s the pineapple business had become economically unviable. Enter billionaire David Murdock, who purchased 98 percent of the island in 1985 and built two resorts, The Lodge at Koele and Manele Bay. He partnered with Four Seasons, who assumed management of both resorts in 2005. In 2012, Murdock sold Lanai to Oracle C.E.O. Larry Ellison.
Most discerning travellers would have opined that Koele and the Manele were just fine as they were, but Ellison decided to renovate. Koele and its Greg Norman-designed golf course are currently closed. Manele Golf Course remains open for play.
Warning: the services and amenities at the Four Seasons Lanai are so outstanding, you couldn’t be blamed for never leaving. The walk from the lobby to your room is like a stroll through botanical gardens. You might stop to wish “aloha” to the exotic parrots or toss some nibbles to the koi in the pond.
Rooms have every possible convenience. Along with mahogany floors, teak paneling, high tech lighting, temperature and privacy controls, the state-of-the-art Toto toilets alone are worthy of mention. When you enter or leave the bathroom, a motion detector raises or lowers the toilet seat. A series of buttons on the wall remote panel control all sorts of flushers, washers and dryers. It’s a bit like a deluxe wash for your private parts!
Snorkelling with complimentary prescription goggles is a must on what Yahoo and the Men’s Journal magazine rated the “best snorkelling beach in the U.S.” It is just steps down from the resort on Hulopoe Bay.