KAPALUA GOLF CLUB, PLANTATION COURSE
2000 Plantation Club Drive, Kapalua, Maui; 808-669-8044, kapaluamaui.com. Yardage: 7,263. Par: 73. Slope: 142. Architects: Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore, 1991. Greens Fees: $135-$220. T&L Golf Rating: ****1/2
With a seemingly mile-wide fairway careening down toward the turquoise Pacific, the first hole trumpets the central theme at Plantation: epic scale. This is golf's Gone With the Wind in more ways than one. If Plantation isn't the world's vastest course, it sure feels like it, and when trade or Kona winds howl (which is almost always), you understand why. As Brendan Moynahan, former assistant pro here and current head pro at the Experience at Koele, warned: "It's not the long holes on the card you've got to worry about, it's the short ones." To wit: It took three solid full swings to reach the par-five ninth playing at 430 yards but only one to drive into a protruding hazard 315 downhill, downwind yards from the tee at the seventeenth. The fairways are massive, the bunkers are massive, the heavily contoured greens are beyond massive and across the bay Molokai looks like you could just reach out and touch it; in such a setting, a lovely little downhill par three like the eleventh seems downright quaint. But it's the chance to reach the 663-yard eighteenth in two, like Tiger and Ernie and Sergio do each year in the Mercedes Championships, and other such macho pleasures of this par seventy-three that make the Plantation compelling. Bring your low ball, your lag-putting game, your digital camera and your Napoleon complex.
MAKENA RESORT, NORTH COURSE
5415 Makena Alanui, Makena, Maui; 808-879-3344, makenagolf.com. Yardage: 6,914. Par: 72. Slope: 139. Architect: Robert Trent Jones Jr., 1993. Greens Fees: $135-$155. T&L Golf Rating: ****1/2
Here's a theory: Makena (pronounced "McKenna") gets no respect from golf's list makers and ranking pooh-bahs because, lacking all those native Ws, Ls and Us, it sounds less like a tropical wonderland than an ABC cop drama. How else can you explain the low profile of this superb pair of tracks?The North is a foothills course known for the fastest greens on the island, many vexingly perched on mountainside complexes. Holes five through ten climb steadily (the uphill 364-yard par-four sixth is a brilliant, dramatic split-fairway design); the descent comes mostly on fourteen, a voluptuous, vertigo-inducing 620-yard par five with more twists and turns than a Formula One course. Better players and anyone comfortable throwing around the phrase "shot values" will find much to like at one of the country's most underrated courses.
MAKENA RESORT, SOUTH COURSE
5415 Makena Alanui, Makena, Maui; 808-879-3344, makenagolf.com. Yardage: 7,014. Par: 72. Slope: 138. Architect: Robert Trent Jones Jr., 1993. Greens Fees: $145-$165. T&L Golf Rating: ****1/2
There seem to be two golf-architecture philosophies at work on Maui: gorgeous views that happen to have excellent courses underfoot and excellent courses that happen to have gorgeous views overhead. RTJ Jr. plays it both ways; his courses at Wailea showcase the former idea and the two at Makena the latter. The South's third hole is where this notion will begin to dawn upon you as this stunning 372-yard par four heads out toward the majestic (and dormant) Haleakala volcano before arching to the right, chaperoned to the green by a lovely series of traps. It resembles an exclusive Japanese private course (and indeed the Makena Resort is Japanese owned). Yes, the Pacific is over your shoulder here, but you won't feel the need to turn around and look. You also won't need a yardage book or a scrapbook to remember almost all the holes due to the South's variety of looks and demands. The front side may be the best nine on the island; the back side, no slouch either, starting as it does with the lovely signature hole (your eye hopscotches from pond to pond to the ocean beyond), was recently renovated by Jones.
THE EXPERIENCE AT KOELE
Lanai City, Lanai; 808-565-4653. Yardage: 7,014. Par: 72. Slope: 141. Architects: Greg Norman and Ted Robinson, 1991. Greens Fees: $165-$205. T&L Golf Rating: ****
The Experience is really two experiences in one, both captivating. The lowland links-style front nine is highlighted by unusual rock-walled bunkers and some memorable ponds and waterfalls (marking this as truly Robinson's design—Norman was essentially an apprentice and a marketing tool at the time). The intimate, cloud-hugging inward half wends through eucalyptus forests, "monkey" trees and green canyons. Placement trumps power here, especially on the 444-yard par-four seventeenth, truly a singular hole for its 250-foot drop to a fairway bordered by a lake and a forest. This course has perhaps the area's strongest collection of par threes (and, unusually, ends on one); because of its elevation, the temperature rarely gets above eighty degrees here—the place feels like the Northwest—so bring a sweater-vest in addition to your long-iron game. An extended drought led to conditioning problems over the last few years, but a new superintendent and a grounds-improvement campaign have the course on its way back to a clean bill of health. Don't even think of leaving Lanai without playing both its top-shelf eighteens.