WAILEA RESORT, EMERALD COURSE
100 Wailea Golf Club Drive, Wailea, Maui; 808-875-7450, waileagolf.com. Yardage: 6,825. Par: 72. Slope: 130. Architect: Robert Trent Jones Jr., 1995. Greens Fees: $135-$160. T&L Golf Rating: ****
It's tempting to view the Emerald—250 yards shorter from the tips and built on a smaller scale—as the Gold's amiable little brother. That doesn't do justice to its subtle charms, from its shared tenth and seventeenth green to the postage-stamp thirteenth that evokes the eighth at Pebble Beach to the brilliant flowers that add to the course's palette of blue and green. (The flora and fauna here are the prettiest of any course on the island.) With funneling fairways and directional bunkers, this is a course where you should match or beat your handicap but with just enough hazard to feel good about doing it.
WAILEA RESORT, GOLD COURSE
100 Wailea Golf Club Drive, Wailea, Maui; 808-875-7450, waileagolf.com. Yardage: 7,078. Par: 72. Slope: 139. Architect: Robert Trent Jones Jr., 1994. Greens Fees: $135-$160. T&L Golf Rating: ****
Home of the annual Champions Tour Skins Game, the Gold most closely hews to one's preconceptions of what Hawaiian golf will be: resort golf in heaven. The Pacific views are showstopping, the course maintenance is top-notch, the hedges are groomed to bonsai perfection and the ancient lava rock walls, called papohaku, are a delightful flourish. Your cart flushes birds at every turn, sending chubby francolins and slender egrets scurrying. With the exception of the clever, drivable 287-yard par-four sixth, the memorable holes are the ones that have you reaching for your Instamatic—they play toward or overlook the ocean and Molokini Island, a favorite snorkeling area. The big, saddle-backed fairways are nearly unmissable, and so it sometimes seems are the glowing white-silica-sand greenside bunkers—despite the fact that the greens are also vast, with three-putts an ever-present danger. The weakness is the routing, which is rather mundane in its paralleling back and forth. Then again, there are worse places to go to and fro and fro and to.
THE DUNES AT MAUI LANI
Highway 380, Kahului, Maui; 808-873-0422, dunesatmauilani.com. Yardage: 6,841. Par: 72. Slope: 136. Architect: Robin Nelson, 1999. Greens Fee: $96. T&L Golf Rating: ***1/2
"A Hawaiian-Irish linksland golf course by design," per the yardage book, the Dunes is unique on Maui, and mostly in a good way. The 145-yard semiblind par-three third, for example, is one of the prettiest and cleverest short inland holes you'll ever encounter. The many deep pot bunkers throughout the course are to be avoided at all cost, although the often-severe winds will have something to say about that. Indeed, "severe" is a word that may often leap to mind, with the occasional corseted fairway, blind drive and uphill approach teetering between tough and unfair. Golfers looking for a vacation from vacation golf (and coming to or from Maui Airport, about a fifteen-minute drive) will get a kick out of—and from—the Dunes.
KAPALUA GOLF CLUB, BAY COURSE
300 Kapalua Drive, Kapalua, Maui; 808-669-8044, kapaluamaui.com. Yardage: 6,600. Par: 72. Slope: 138. Architects: Arnold Palmer and Francis Duane, 1975. Greens Fees: $125-$180. T&L Golf Rating: ***1/2
Like Kapalua's Village course, the Bay is best enjoyed if one's expectations are set appropriately, which means looking for a pretty, pleasant round, not a chip off the Plantation block. (The Bay is a bit of a misnomer, with just two waterfront holes.) Its oceanfront par-three fifth, 205 yards mostly over Oneloa Bay, provides the biggest charge, although the splendor is tempered by the row of houses that run all along the left side. Likewise, the netting that runs down the left side of the tenth hole, which separates it from the driving range, is a sour note. These are the exceptions. At the course's core are interesting midlength par fours like the well-bunkered 345-yard thirteenth, with a green beautifully framed by a pair of pines, and the split-fairway 371-yard sixteenth—holes that tax the mind and the small muscles as much as the big muscles.
KAPALUA GOLF CLUB, VILLAGE COURSE
2000 Village Road, Kapalua, Maui; 808-669-8044, kapaluamaui.com. Yardage: 6,378. Par: 70. Slope: 134. Architects: Arnold Palmer and Ed Seay, 1981. Greens Fees: $125-$180. T&L Golf Rating: ***1/2
Veterans say you should have seen the Village course before the 2000 opening of the twenty-three-acre top-shelf Kapalua Golf Academy forced a change in the design, and indeed the par-three start and finish bespeak the retrofitting. (As someone who knocked twelve shots off his score after a lunchtime lesson between his morning and afternoon rounds, let me say that any price was worth paying for the Academy.) Yet it's also readily apparent why this mountain course was, and to many still is, considered the sleeper of the three here. Just under 6,400 yards from the tips, each club in the bag proves useful, and the rolling terrain is well employed to also provide a variety of looks and lies.