Luxury Vacations:If you drink, don't drive. Don't even putt - Dean Martin
Hawaii golf means you can drink from a coconut, drive by the ocean and putt toward the sea. And Maui is the reigning queen of this archipelago's signature sport.
Maui is lavish in its diversity. Thus, my recent visit was three-fold: to play in the shadows of champions, stay in renowned resorts and eat memorable meals. My goal was simple - swing, sleep and sip my way around the island. Home to 15 golf courses, reality dictated that I would not sample them all, but rather hit some highlights. Here's a peek of my visit:
In ancient times Kaanapali (setting of the islands' first master-planned resort) was a playground for Hawaiian royalty. Still a playground, a stay here promises gourmet dining, lagoons with swans and flamingos, vast waterscapes and mega-pools. Daytime fun includes windsurfing, sailing, snorkeling, sunbathing, kayaking and parasailing. And then there's golf.
Kaanapali Kai and Kaanapali Royal - Kaanapali Kai features holes paralleling the historic steam-powered Sugar Train. A former executive course, Kaanapali Kai, is a wonderful surprise. After five years and $13 million, both courses are true transformations.
Course history is long. Kaanapali Royal is home of the 1964 Canada Cup (precursor to the World Cup) where Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus consecutively shot a course record of 65, an accomplishment that remained unbeaten for 23 years. The course's par 4, 18th hole is among golf's best renowned - Palmer describes it as one of his career's most challenging.
Royal Lahaina Resort - Now noted for its recent $35-million guestroom and suite refurbishment, the resort is long known for its Polynesian Luau. As the sun sets over the Pacific every evening, the sound of a conch shell and the beating of drums signal the beginning of this Hawaiian tradition and the place to be in Kaanapali.
Longboards Kaanapali Restaurant - Situated steps from the seaside boardwalk that connects local hotels, Longboards serves up a casual, comfortable atmosphere - one where you can expect to see a surfer and shouldn't overlook the catch of the day.
You'll know you've arrived in Kapalua when stands of towering Cook pines punctuate the landscape. The Kumulani Chapel and old-style Honolua Store reflect its plantation past. Upscale accommodations complete the package. But it's the universally recognized butterfly logo that says it all: two 18-hole championship layouts set in a 23,000-acre, privately owned pineapple plantation.
Kapalua Bay and Plantation Courses - Kapalua Bay Course is known for its palms, pines and unparalleled seaside location. Indicative of its name, its signature 5th hole (par 3) demands a 100-yard tee shot over Oneloa Bay to the green. Course views are legendary.
Kapalua Plantation plays host to the year's first PGA event, the Mercedes-Benz Championship - now known as the SBS (Seoul Broadcasting System) Championship. Called a shot maker's dream, the Plantation is where savvy players are well advised to bring a healthy ego and every club in their bag.
Kapalua Gold Villas - Better than home and richly appointed with island sensibility and tasteful flair, these premier condominiums have everything you can't pack: a luxurious lanai, transportation shuttle and unbeatable views.
The Banyan Tree Restaurant - Ritz Carlton's award-winning eatery showcases a covered terrace with dramatic views of the island of Molokai and the Pailolo Channel. The food is equally distinctive: Kona Lobster Hearts of Palm Martini and Pineapple Caramel Cake with Maui Lavender Sorbet.
Nestled comfortably at the base of Haleakala Volcano, Wailea is a planned community complete with luxury hotels, private homes, condominiums, five crescent-shaped beaches, a major tennis complex and three 18-hole championship golf courses.
Wailea Emerald, Gold and Old Blue - Three different courses, three different personalities. The award-winning Wailea Emerald is noted as one of the country's most female-friendly courses and is known for its sheer beauty.
Regarded the most challenging, Wailea Gold has 93 bunkers and meanders amid lava beds and ancient lava walls. One-time host to the Champions Skins Game, a famous 2004 quartet included Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino and Tom Watson.
Old Blue offers a flowing design and generous fairways - it's the most traditional of the trio.
Fairmont Kea Lani - Located on the pristine white shores of Wailea, this is the state's only luxury all-suite and villa oceanfront resort. As a golfer, the free shuttle to the courses is a bonus. But my favorite personal perk was an afternoon in a lounge chair positioned on its sweeping emerald lawn overlooking the sea (complete with chilled towels).
Kô Restaurant - Go alfresco and dine at Fairmont's Kô. Its plantation inspired cuisine includes Ahi 'On the Rock,' where you'll cook your own tuna tabletop - upon heated lava. If it's a romantic occasion, book in advance one of Kô's isolated tables next to the pool.
SeaWatch Restaurant - The Wailea Golf Club is home to the newest creation of Hawaii's regional cuisine co-founder, Chef Beverly Gannon. Here she debuts a new look and a new menu. Be sure to order Bev's Famous Crab Dip.
It was not the innumerable bunkers of Wailea Gold (many of which I visited) nor the swirling trade winds on the Plantation that challenged my game; but rather the "hazardous" views - distractions of unparalleled beauty . . . the cerulean sea, a sloping volcano, neighboring islands. My advice to the hesitant: Don't miss it!
~ Breakfast at the Plantation Course Clubhouse and order one of six specialty omelets (choices: traditional, crab, Cajun, veggie, salmon, sausage).
~ Plan your golf outing during whale season (December 15-April 15) or schedule summer golf around the Maui Film Festival at Wailea (June 16-20, 2010).
~ Keep in mind that when putting, balls break toward the water.