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Kapalua Resort, Wailea and more: Maui's top beach/golf combos are a sandy surf lover's best friend

Chris BaldwinBy Chris Baldwin,
Maui Beach
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There's no need to search for an obscure getaway in Maui beaches. (Chris Baldwin/WorldGolf.com)

On Maui, there are loads of options for great golf with beaches nearby, including: The Plantation Course at Kapalua Resort, home of the Mercedes-Benz Championship on the PGA Tour, Wailea Golf Club's Gold Course, designed by Robert Trent Jones II, and Ka'anapali Beach Resort's Kai Course.

MAUI, Hawaii - Beaches come first in Hawaii the way Mickey Mouse comes first in Orlando and bad waiter service comes first in Paris. You cannot think of one without the other.

People dream about the beaches of Hawaii and obsess over finding the perfect one to lounge away a vacation on. Even golfers. It doesn't matter how crazed you are about chasing that little white ball around the fairways, how determined you are to squeeze in as much Hawaii golf as possible, you're going to have to factor in beach time.

It doesn't matter if you despise the beach the way Bill Belichick apparently despises tailors. You may not especially care for sand in your toes, but someone in your party (probably several someones) will.

"Non-beach people don't come to Hawaii, man," a local told me when I innocently asked for some non-beach activities. "They go to places like Wyoming."

It's true, too. You eat brunch on a restaurant on the beach. You golf on courses that skirt or hug the beach. You return to a resort hotel on the beach. You go out and see a luau on the beach. All while everyone's lying out on the beach.

Yes, the beach is going to be pretty important on your Hawaii golf trip. Just slightly behind oxygen. So you'd better get it right.

For golfers that means finding the best beaches close to the best golf. Which means you need to speak up - before your annoying save-the-whales sister-in-law or ex-surfer dude friend pipe up about some hidden secret sand near a tucked-away waterfall on The Road to Hanna (i.e. the middle of nowhere, where there's no chance Jack Nicklaus ever roamed).

Luckily, it's not that hard to find primo Hawaii beach near the golf courses you want to play. Especially in Maui - the hot Hawaiian island of the moment, which is not as congested and commercial as the Big Island, and not as isolated and possibly boring as the smaller ones.

The trick is coming up with best possible combination of beach and golf, though. It doesn't do you much good if you're on beautiful sand with pristine water if the nearby golf is horrid, or if the beach is cluttered, dirty and choppy while the par 5s sing.

In fact, try that second combination with a non-golfing spouse and see how quickly the trip goes downhill. Your marriage will look like Flavor Flav's career almost before the towels hit the sand.

To avoid that, here are the best beach and golf combinations in Maui:

1). Kapalua: This West Maui town, which was created by a resort company, carries the rep of being a little bit off the beaten path. In reality, it's actually a pretty convenient spot that makes you feel like you're far from the hustle and bustle while being within a quick drive of it.

Tourist trap Kaanapali is a 15-minute trip, tops (and that's if you obey Hawaii's often ridiculously low speed limits).

Thankfully, when you're in your rented Kapalua villa, condo or just-renovated Ritz Carlton room, it seems like you're three galaxies away from that glorified mall zone, though.

Kapalua's beach and golf are as satisfying a combination as strawberries and cream, too. Make that one-of-a-kind strawberries plucked from a nearly deserted wonderland island and a rare vintage of Dom Perignon.

Kapalua Bay was deemed the "Best Beach In the World" by readers of Conde Nast magazine, and the other four beaches all within a two-mile radius at Kapalua are nobody's sand slouches either. These beaches are beautiful with clear blue water and great snorkeling conditions.

For the golf, you only get The Plantation Course at Kapalua Resort, a bold, showy course out in its own world that makes you feel like you're playing a PGA Tour course every hole (it is host to the Mercedes-Benz Championship) and The Bay Course at the resort, which has two holes right on the ocean - and, well, two holes right on the ocean.

Plantation is the play here - on a recent two-week trip through Hawaii, it was the best-conditioned course on Maui, and it wasn't that close - with Bay as a decent sidekick and the beaches king of all.

2). Wailea: The white sand beaches of Wailea Bay are great for walking or lounging, but the surf is often so violent that it's hard to enjoy swimming or snorkeling (but primo for surfing). It's look but don't participate. The golf at Wailea Golf Club's Gold Course, designed by Robert Trent Jones II, measures up as a worthy high-end play, but the other Wailea courses (particularly Emerald Course) are largely overpriced. It's play well, but don't expect to fall in love with any courses.

It all adds up to a good location (South Maui is supposed to mean more sunshine, and Wailea is its 90210 zip code with a plethora of luxury resorts and shopping). You can have a great vacation here. Yet it's clearly a step or two below Kapalua.

3). Ka'anapali: This is certainly the most Disney-like section of Maui. It's resort town USA with most of the familiar sights and ice cream shops of home (Stone Cold Creamery anyone?) This can be either reassuring or annoying depending on your vacation philosophy.

The biggest problem with both Ka'anapali's beaches and golf courses, though, is finding elbow room.

You come here to mingle (which isn't necessarily a bad thing as far as beach scenery). Ka'anapali also tends to draw a younger crowd.

It can be fun to play Ka'anapali Beach Resort's Kai Course and see the tourist-attraction Sugar Cane Train go steaming by right below your green, though. You'll also be playing some holes near a major road. Does the ocean look as impressive when a truck's rumbling by as you tee off?

Then again, third best in Maui beach golf does not qualify as anyone's also ran.

"I laugh when tourists ask me what the best beach in Hawaii is," local Zan Brock said. "I tell them that the worst beaches in Hawaii are better than the best beach they've ever been to back in the mainland.

"Don't even get me started on Florida. You only think those are beaches if you haven't been to Hawaii."

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Maui BeachKapalua Resort - Bay CourseWailea Gold Course

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.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Wailea

    Maui Golfer wrote on: Feb 3, 2009

    You are a bit off the mark when describing Wailea beaches. They are often the calmest and safest on the island, so surfers normally head to the upper west side (Kapalua) or North/East shores (Hookipa, Peahi) to catch good waves. Wailea is a snorkle, dive, kayak, paddle AND GOLF mecca. You must have caught Wailea during a big south swell.