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Maui's Makena Golf Club gives you a double whammy

Dale LeathermanBy Dale Leatherman,

MAUI -- For nine years in a row, readers of Conde Nast Traveler magazine have chosen the same destination as the "Best Island in the World." The winner? Maui, gem of the Hawaiian Islands. Considering the thousands of islands in the world, that's quite an honor. Maui scores high on scenery, friendliness, lodging, restaurants, beaches and activities -- including golf. With more than 20 courses in incredibly beautiful settings, Maui is a world-class golf destination.

If you are drawn to Maui by the whole, tempting package (and who wouldn't be?) you have some tough decisions to make regarding golf. If you are drawn to the tournament venues you see on television, get in line -- literally. Once you've gotten it out of your system -- and added Kapalua Plantation and Wailea tags to your golf bag -- move on to a couple of courses that embody all the qualities that make Maui No. 1 -- and give you time to smell the flowers and savor the views.

The Makena Golf Club at the Makena Resort/Westin Maui Prince Hotel on Maui's south shore delivers a double whammy: the South Course with its ocean and mountain views, and the North -- a tight, well-trapped beauty on the flanks of Mt. Haleakela, a dormant volcano that is the island landmark.

Both are Robert Trent Jones Jr. creations. The recently renovated South Course, which measures 7,019 yards, is the home of the Hawaii Open and frequently hosts other tournaments. It's an open, forgiving course with spectacular views of Haleakala in one direction, the ocean in the other.

Three holes, in particular, stand out. The first is No. 10, voted one of the top par-5s in Hawaii in the PGA Aloha section. With water on the right near the tee and on the left as you approach the green, it is a great driving hole. As one professional observed, "Golfers like it because they can really let the shaft off on the drive. Long hitters can reach the green in two, or the hole may be played by laying up for an easy pitch shot." With a view of the Puu Olai cinder cone to the west and the clubhouse with the Ulupalakua Ranch in the background on the east, it is a visual treat.

No. 15 is a beautiful 188-yard par-3 that goes right up to the ocean. A diagonal green with a bunker left front makes it a tricky shot based on pin placement and winds.

The course's signature hole is the par-4 16th that runs parallel to the ocean. It is a dogleg right leading to a two-tiered green that slopes away from the golfer. As you walk to your ball you can watch passing kayakers in the summer or humpback whales in the winter.

The 6,914-yard North Course, opened in 1993, is the perfect complement to the older South Course but is too narrow and hilly to be a tournament site. No matter. If international visitors are not clamoring to play it and collect the bag tags, that leaves more peace and quiet for you -- and time to contemplate the gnarly challenges it presents. Prepare to be distracted by views of the Pacific, neighboring islands, humpback whales breeching, and Mt. Haleakala. Parts of the course wind up the slopes of Haleakala to 800 feet above sea level.

Makena North seems very natural and uncontrived. The route includes rock walls, gullies, streambeds and lava flows. Unobtrusive cart paths wind through the shade cast by thorny, indigenous kiawe trees, and the endangered Nene birds (or Hawaiian Goose) are plentiful.

Narrow fairways, elevation changes and undulating greens provide a consistent challenge throughout. Though the area is know for a gentler wind than other areas, the wind does blow here and can be a significant factor.

North has a great collection of par-3s, starting with the downhill fourth hole. It's a medium shot (183 yards) to a long, narrow, amoeba-shaped green with bunkers on either side, a pond on the right front and a lava area right rear. This hole is frequented by Hawaiian cardinals that provide a colorful foreground for your must-have snapshots of islands in the distance.

Looking back from the sixth tee, there's a clear view of the neighboring islands of Kahoolawe and Molokini. A short par-4, the hole requires a decision on whether to hit to the left or right landing areas that are split by a large lava ravine that runs most of the length of the hole. The approach is to a severely sloped green on which a two-putt is fortunate.

No. 7 is the second of the par-3s. A large lava ravine crosses the fairway just in front of the green. The island of Lanai lies in the distance behind the green and the ocean is off to the left of the tee. The slightly downhill green is multi-tiered and shallow, with bunkers front and back that narrow the choice of landing areas.

No. 12 is a longish par-3 (185 yards) with Molokini as a backdrop and Mt. Haleakala behind the tee. A large lava ravine running from tee to green along the right side and two bunkers on the left of the green leave one safe shot -- the middle!

The 14th is regarded as the course signature (though many holes qualify). It is a monster (620 yards) downhill with a 200-foot drop from tee to green. Spiced with lots of jungle, flowering plants, trees and lava rock fields to gobble errant shots, it's a great par-5. It is reachable in two only with a perfectly placed drive and second shot to a severely sloping left to right green.

The last of the par-3s requires a very long (217 yards) steeply downhill shot to a large green guarded by bunkers left and right front. It looks pretty straightforward, but an accurate tee shot is a must. Enjoy the panoramic view of the ocean behind.

Makena Resort awards include: member of Great Golf Resorts of the World; Golf Magazine's Silver Medal for Best Resort Award; Golf Digest's Places to Play -- 4 stars and top 10 in Hawaii; Second Best Staff in the country from Conde Nast magazine; Golden Tee Award from Meetings and Conventions magazine ; in the top 100 resorts from The Golfer; and in the top 100 Women-Friendly Courses from Golf for Women.

Where to stay

Lodging: The Westin Maui Prince Hotel at Makena Resort is a delightful refuge just 25 minutes from the airport. As the route slices through fields of cane you are likely to see the islands of Kahoolawe, Molokini, and Lanai. The Makena Resort is at the very end of the road, past a line of major hotels such as the Outrigger, Renaissance, Four Seasons, Grand Wailea and Kealani. Set on 1,800 acres, the Maui Prince Hotel enjoys a peaceful garden atmosphere. It also has the finest beach of the group -- Makena Beach. All rooms and restaurants overlook the ocean. The resort and Makena courses are not far from the town of Kihei, the commercial center of the south shore. Kihei has moderately priced accommodations and restaurants.

Where to dine

Several restaurants stand out among the hotels in Wailea. Among them are: Hula Moons Restaurant at the Outrigger; Nicks Fish Market Maui and Caffe Caio Restaurant (Venetian trattoria) at the Fairmont Kea Lani; the Wailea Steak & Seafood Restaurant, the Seawatch Restaurant, and Tommy Bahama's Café in "The Shops at Wailea;" Five Palms Beach Grill, Kihei Prime Rib & Seafood House, and Mark & Jack's Seafood House in the town of Kihei; Hakone (Japanese) at the Maui Prince; and if you are willing to drive a little, the legendary Mama's Fish House in Paia.

Other things to do

Sightsee until you drop, surf, whale watch from a boat (in season), snorkel on a reef, take a helicopter ride over the island, horseback ride, scuba dive, shop, relax in luxurious hotels with gorgeous views. A trip up to Mt. Haleakala is a must; go very early or late to catch the sun as it rises or sets over the crater. Surfing is great less than 45 minutes from Makena. Small towns with their local shopping and dining are delightful. Biking, walking, going by tour bus or rented car -- anyway you go, the island is a paradise.


Conditions: 4.5
Service: 3.5
: 4.5
: 4.5

Fast Fact

Makena has less wind than most Hawaii courses, which makes a major difference in the way the courses play.

Dale Leatherman is a full-time freelance travel writer specializing in golf and adventure travel. For nearly 20 years her "beat" has been the Caribbean, where she can combine golf, scuba diving and other sports. She has also written about golf in Wales, Scotland, Australia, Costa Rica, Canada and the U.S., particularly the Mid-Atlantic region.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • agree completely

    Nick Fogelson wrote on: Jan 7, 2008

    This course rocks. And unlike the exclusively positive reviews that this site seems to limit itself to, my reviews are based on whether or not the course is actually good. Again, this course is great. It rocks. Play it.


      • RE: disagree

        Jose wrote on: Sep 7, 2009

        I personally think these courses are just typical resort courses. They look kind of pretty, are easy and are wide open with a few forced carries. To me Robert Trent Jones has taken the easy way out and mailed it in. Now that the resort is in bankruptcy I doubt we will see the new owner bring in a new architect but somebody like Tom Doak or Gil Hanse could make a world class golf course. The best course on Maui is still Plantation but its a long way from this resort.