Maui’s Six Best Public Golf Courses, Including Kapalua’s Retooled Plantation Course

The 13th green at Kapalua’s Plantation Course on Maui.

Erik Matuszewski

Every January, the eyes of the golf world turn to Maui, Hawaii’s valley isle. As cold weather grips many parts of the country, PGA Tour champions from the previous season gather at the Kapalua Resort for the winners-only Sentry Tournament of Champions at the Plantation Course.

Maui is a favorite of many Hawaii visitors, boasting more miles of accessible beach than any of the state’s other islands as well as the largest dormant volcano in the world in Haleakala.

There’s a wealth of terrific resorts, restaurants and shopping. There are almost endless things to see and do: snorkeling, whale watching, paddle-boarding, helicopter tours, sunrise at Haleakala, driving the Road to Hana, luaus, waterfalls, ziplines, trail rides and surf lessons.

Maui is also home to great golf. It’s not always the easiest for visitors to find time to play, whether they’re in the islands for a honeymoon or vacation, but here are six of the finest public golf options on the Valley Isle.

Kapalua Plantation Course (Lahaina)

The 17th green at the Kapalua Resort’s Plantation Course, which underwent a significant … [+] revitalization after the 2019 Sentry Tournament of Champions.

Dave Sansom

The course that helped launch the design career of the duo of Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore. Just after the start of the New Year, the Plantation Course’s phenomenal views grace the TV screens of envious golf fans across the country. Built on the side of a mountain, the rugged layout boasts ocean and neighboring island views from every hole, not to mention major elevation changes and deep ravines. And every fairway, green and bunker on the Plantation Course was recently redone as part of a major 9-month refinement project ahead of the 2020 Sentry Tournament of Champions. The overhaul is intended to make the course play firmer and faster – more like it did when Maui’s top layout first opened in 1991. If bringing the golf clubs to Maui, and especially if visiting Kapalua, the Plantation Course is not to be missed.

Kapalua Bay Course (Lahaina)

The par-3 17th hole at the Kapalua Resort’s Bay Course, the only hole in Maui that plays over the … [+] ocean.

Erik Matuszewski

The Bay Course is the second course at the Kapalua Resort, designed by Arnold Palmer and Frances Duane and opened in 1975. It plays closer to the water than the mountainside Plantation and boasts a hole that’s perhaps more memorable than any on its sister course: the par-3 17th that plays over a cove to a green perched high along the shoreline. The 6,600-yard, par-72 Bay Course has views of the ocean and Molokai and Lanai from all but two of its holes and hosted a number of professional tournaments in years past – from the first golf event televised in prime time (the 1983 Kapalua International) to the Kapalua LPGA Classic.

Wailea Emerald Course (Wailea)

The double green at Wailea’s Emerald Course.

Erik Matuszewski

The Emerald is one of three 18-hole championship courses at Wailea Golf Club that serve the seven resorts in Wailea as well as the surrounding areas. The 6,825-yard, par-72 Robert Trent Jones, Jr. design is a lush experience, with carpet-like fairways and fragrant tropical foliage that serves as a terrific complement to the rugged lava rock throughout. There are a number of picturesque ocean views on what is a very playable layout. You won’t forget the shared double green at the 10th and 17th hole, which share a brackish pond with the ocean visible in the distance.

Wailea Gold Course (Wailea)

Sunset at the Wailea Golf Club’s Gold Course.

The most challenging of the three Wailea courses, the Gold hosted the Champions Skins Game from 2001 through 2007. Although the landscaping isn’t quite as eye-catching as at the Emerald Course, the Gold features a more strategic design, one that takes advantage of the rugged terrain’s natural undulations. Also designed by Trent Jones II, Wailea Gold presents exciting risk-reward opportunities and challenges that might bring every club in the bag into play. The par-3 eighth hole is among the course’s many gems, playing toward the ocean and the snorkeling hotspot of Molokini Crater. It features one of the many historic low lava rock walls built by early Hawaiians that are scattered throughout the course and add to its charm.

Royal Ka’anapali Course (Ka’anapali)

The Royal Course at Ka’anapali is the more highly regarded of the two terrific courses near the three-mile stretch of Ka’anapali Beach and its eponymous resort. The 1962 Robert Trent Jones Sr. design is a par-71, 6,700-yard layout that has been home to events such as the LPGA’s Kemper Open, the Senior Tour’s Ka’anapali Classic and Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf.  The islands of Lanai and Molokai are visible as players make their way around the course, which features historical plaques on each tee that share the history and stories of Ka’anapali – sacred land that was once home to the Royal Chiefs of Maui. The Royal Course offers room off the tee, as a good resort course should, but will challenge golfers with well-protected greens that put a premium on a solid approach game.  

Maui Nui (Kihei)

While not as highly regarded as the above resort courses, Maui Nui is a great golfer-friendly layout that offers the kind of breathtaking scenery you expect in Hawaii, with views of the Pacific Ocean, Auau Channel, Mount Haleakala, Molokini, and the West Maui mountains. The Kihei area receives less than 10 inches of rain annually and basks in sunshine almost every day of the year. The course, designed by Bill Newis and opened in 1987, has undergone player-friendly improvements such as widened fairways, reshaped and enlarged greens, and new hybrid Bermuda turfgrasses. Juniors can play Maui Nui for only $25, making it a great family option.


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