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What you don't see on TV: Mercedes-Benz Championship host Kapalua is a self-contained Hawaiian luxury land for golfers

Chris BaldwinBy Chris Baldwin,
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Forget golf only. Kapalua's a water wonderland. (Chris Baldwin/WorldGolf.com)

Kapalua is known because its Plantation Course hosts the PGA Tour's season-opening Mercedes-Benz Championship. Only those who actually visit, though, realize how many luxury options are packed into this 2-mile island. There's a Ritz-Carlton, topnotch beaches, famous restaurants like Pineapple Grill, and the Arnold Palmer-designed Bay Course.

KAPALUA, Hawaii - It's a pretty standard highest point plaque, praising the view and all that. Only at Kapalua, a Maui resort fantasyland conceived by developers, it basically shows you why everything's different here.

Take a quick turn out of the golf villas parking lot, down the one-lane road flanked by tall trees whose branches seem eager to reach out and touch your rental car, and you're there - standing on a grass plateau that looks down on all of Kapalua with that helpful plaque as a marker. Mostly what you see is trees and water.

Which is the point.

Kapalua gets a lot of attention this time of year because it hosts the PGA Tour's season-opening tournament, the Mercedes-Benz Championship. What you don't see on TV as the announcers sling praise at Vijay Singh is how much Kapalua is its own self-contained little luxury world.

There are five beaches, two golf courses - including the famed Mercedes host Plantation Course - two significant restaurants, one hotel, one general store and ... well, all those tall trees and ocean vistas. In total, it's a little over 2 square miles, but it seems like it's vast because there's so much open space.

"Staying here, it's almost like you're not in Maui anymore," vacationer Ally Brostein said.

That's because Kapalua is secluded enough to make you think it's its own little country. It's actually only a 15-minute drive from Kaanapali, the most touristy area on all of Maui with its clustered together chain resorts and big mall.

Yet Kapalua couldn't be further in vibe from its neighbor. If Kaanapali's the T-shirt capital of Maui, Kapalua is the quiet nights center. Just turning left into the main drive can transport you far away from the island's hustle and bustle.

It helps that Kapalua's dark at night, dark enough that you may think Al Gore's convinced everyone to outlaw light bulbs on this little part of Maui. You can walk outside the villa you're renting, step down a path and think you're deep in wilderness.

There's often a cool breeze in the air, too. The mugginess you can find on other parts of Maui frequently takes a vacation here.

Welcome to the parallel fun zone. Just don't raise your voice too loud. Or sweat much of anything.

Kapalua's luxury done convenient

It's easy to see why the PGA Tour players who do come back to Kapalua every year swear by it. For a practice-only self taskmaster like Singh, it's perfect. You really do never have to leave this little luxury zone to want for anything.

This goes for golf vacationers looking to chill, too.

The Plantation Course is a big, bold design from Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore that practically screams out it's a PGA Tour course with its wide fairways, tall, tall grasses and daunting hill climbs. It also stood out for having the best course conditions on Maui by far at the time of WorldGolf.com's visit. Its sister, The Bay Course, has two holes right on the ocean, with the surf close enough below to lose a ball in, and hopefully a better commitment to conditioning after a just-completed back nine greens revamp.

Kapalua's two courses are a bit pricey, but guests receive a significant discount.

You can't spend a whole week just playing these courses (Bay's a one and done), but it's some nice golf to have in your backyard - nearly literally in Bay's case if you stay at the golf villas.

The rest of Kapalua's attractions may be even more convenient, while leaving you little reason to stray. For dinner, you can choose between Pineapple Grill - a spot right next to Bay Course's clubhouse that's high on atmosphere with lighted torches - Sansei Seafood, The Plantation House or two high-end restaurants at the Ritz-Carlton, including a new Japanese spot.

The Ritz just reopened after spending more than $160 million in a renovation geared to pump up its luxury "wow" factor. Yes, you apparently do need a giant flat screen TV to go with those Pacific postcard looks out the window.

It all may be beneath Phil Mickelson - who doesn't care for the Plantation Course - but many regular folks with decent-sized checkbooks become Kapalua regulars.

"There are couples and groups that come back year after year to play the courses," said Bay Course Assistant Professional John Shaw.

One of those regulars is Dodgers skipper Joe Torre who spends almost every January in Kapalua for a pre-spring training getaway.

Rory Sabbatini recently infamously left Tiger's tournament to get here weeks early for the Mercedes.

Kapalua can be a Hawaii vacation done easy. With five beaches within its two miles - many of them world class bearing the kind of long list of accolades usually reserved for a high school All-American basketball player - you can keep your boogie board in one spot.

The resort land definitely plays into the secluded aura as well. There's an old-looking general store with a big porch that sells ice cream, unimpressive sandwiches and the like that could have been lifted from small town USA.

If the small town had resort millions at its disposal.

Of course, true nowhere towns don't usually have ocean views like this. When the breeze is drifting through the screen door of your villa's balcony on one of those dark, dark nights, with the next day sure to bring more beach and golf, you just know that you can breathe.

Fantasyland or not, the relaxation's real.

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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.

 
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