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The Plantation Course at Kapalua Golf Resort believes in doing everything PGA Tour big

Chris BaldwinBy Chris Baldwin,
The Plantation Course - Fairway
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Plantation Course's fairways are larger than large. (Chris Baldwin/WorldGolf.com)

The Plantation Course at Kapalua Golf Resort on Maui is a golf vacation-lover's dream. You'll feel like a PGA Tour vet after playing the golf course's long fairways and greens, all in the middle of an Hawaiian paradise.

KAPALUA, Hawaii - A big man can feel like a Lilliputian at the Plantation Course. Even more telling, a big driver can feel like Fred Funk in a pink skirt.

This is Hawaii's big, bold PGA Tour course and everything about is oversized. Its fairways, greens, tall grasses and hole lengths are monstrous, monstrous, monstrous and more monstrous. Playing the Plantation Course can be like going from your regular YMCA Wednesday night half-court basketball game against overweight accountants to running with Kobe Bryant and the Lakers.

The Plantation Course isn't just a PGA Tour course, it's a long PGA Tour course that often plays longer if it's rained in Maui (which happens frequently, even if it's usually over rather quickly). It boasts the single longest hole on this Tiger-proofed PGA Tour - the 663-yard, par-5 18th, that's still a near ungodly 585 yards from the tees most vacationing golfers play it from.

Roger Clemens would take one look at Plantation Course and immediately demand it take a steroids test.

"It can be a little taxing for the average resort golfer," said John Shaw, assistant professional at Plantation's sister course, The Bay Course. "We hear about it from golfers who come here to play after and are relieved."

Let's face it, a 50-yard walk to the snack stand can be a little taxing for a resort golfer. The Plantation Course qualifies as a heart attack waiting to happen (not that this is headed for the course brochure).

We jest because we love. And you likely will too.

For The Plantation Course is one pretty monster. It's spread out over 240 acres and in a Kapalua resort town that's its own world, seemingly completely separated from the rest of West Maui - Plantation is even secluded from that.

You have to drive out of the resort's main drive and turn into Plantation Course's out-there universe.

The first thing you'll notice is the sweeping looks out to the ocean. The second is the tall, thick grasses swaying in the Hawaiian breeze. You airmail a shot into this stuff, and a team of Navy Seals couldn't come out with it for you.

Plantation's striking and intimidating from the first tee. The design team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw clearly set out to make golfers gulp - some of the visuals are almost Tom Fazio-like in their "showiness for showiness sake."

The 473-yard par 4 first serves as a good opening slap in the face, Coore and Crenshaw's version of a glass of water dumped over your head to awaken all to what the round's going to be like. Sure, Plantation's first hole plays downhill, but it sure doesn't look any shorter from the tee.

In fact, if anything, it seems even longer, like a par 5 they're trying to force you to birdie to just come out even after one hole. That's one of the visual tricks of Plantation's design. The jumbo-wide fairways (and most are at least 50 yards across) make long holes look even longer.

There's so much room here, it can feel like you're getting swallowed up by the course.

"I tell my friends, if you don't have balls, don't play Plantation," frequent Hawaii visitor Duc Hung said, laughing.

Sometimes it might feel like you're being kicked in an intimate area. Part of the ingeniousness of Coore and Crenshaw's design is how surprisingly difficult the approaches to the greens can be. They largely look pretty open, but if you place a ball in the wrong stop on this hilly terrain, it can come rolling all the way back down to your feet.

The land makes Plantation Course - and not just the ocean looks, particularly 18. No, it's all the climbs and falls that play out throughout the round. You'll be shooting uphill to greens that seem tucked away in their own galaxy. You'll be letting driver fly with all that extra room on downhills where it seems like your ball could soar all the way to the far off Pacific.

The ocean looks big, of course.

The verdict on Kapalua's The Plantation Course

If you're going to Maui with golf on the mind, you want to play Plantation Course. You don't play it because it's the host of the PGA Tour's season-opening Mercedes-Benz Championship. There are a number of Tour courses that aren't truly special.

No, you play Plantation because it's the best course on the whole island.

On the 14-day Hawaii trip of this review visit, only The Challenge at Manele and The Experience at Koele - two big-dollar courses on the tiny luxury resort island of Lanai - could compete with Plantation's combination of scenery and shot drama. And no other course came close to its conditioning.

Some nitpickers will say that Plantation isn't an ocean course because it doesn't bring you right to the beach, and most of its water looks are from a good distance (though the par-3 11th is pretty close). No matter. Plantation boasts much better views than the majority of courses that advertise themselves as ocean courses.

As nice as it looks, it doesn't need to rely on postcards either. Coore and Crenshaw designed memorable holes - like the canyon clear with the striking tall grasses to reach the par-3 eighth's green - that get lost amongst even more memorable holes. You're not going to think about eight once you've run through the 13 through 18 closing stretch.

Yes, everything's big at Plantation, including the dent in your wallet. But the smile should be too. Unless you thought you were coming close to shooting par or something.

Maui hotels

Kapalua is basically one big, sprawling outdoor resort with five beaches within a two-mile-radius and the two golf courses. The range of ways you can stay is extremely varied though. You can rent a villa, a condo or get a plush room at a just renovated (to the tune of $160 million) Ritz Carlton.

The condos are a good way to go. They almost all seem to have good views. There is a big difference in the newness of the furniture and the quality of the beds in the condos, though. Kapalua places its condos into quality levels in a color-coded scheme (no terror threat level jokes please), and the cheaper the level you select, the more likely you'll be lounging in 1970s-level furniture.

Go Kapalua Gold and you'll be in big resort luxury but paying plenty for it.

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The Plantation Course - Forced CarriesThe Plantation Course - GreensThe Plantation Course - Ocean Views

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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

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