Hawaii is an amazing place that everyone should experience. Having only ever been to the island of Maui I can’t speak for every place in the state, but for someone who grew up in the Midwest being on the island felt like absolute paradise.
Kapalua’s location is truly spectacular, overlooking the channel between the Maui and the neighboring islands of Molokai and Lanai. The course sits on the slope of the dormant West Maui volcano and features an incredible amount of elevation change between its highest and lowest points, and is exposed quite dramatically to the trade winds that buffet the island. As a result, you get to play a number of shots you likely would never play anywhere else. A pitching wedge up a cliff? Sure! A 300-yard downhill/downwind iron shot? Why not?! Seeing professionals do things like Dustin Johnson’s near-ace on a 430-yard par four in the Sentry Tournament of Champions can be considered a Kapalua trademark.
As luck would have it, I played the course on nearly as calm a day as they get. As a result, I don’t think I truly got to experience Kapalua at its realest. I would have loved to have played the course in varying wind conditions, as many of the shots will differ rather drastically – for one, taking a shot in two at the 660-yard par five #18 downwind would have been nice. (I played a ball from the back tee for fun as I was playing the next tee box up for my round; I’m a pretty long hitter and still came up about 40 yards short with driver and fairway wood thanks to the calm conditions.) That said, it was a lot easier to play some of the holes under these conditions; for example, #5, a par five that normally plays upwind in addition to being uphill was an easy driver and mid-iron to reach in two shots, resulting in a memorable eagle.
I wasn’t as much of a fan of the front nine as I was the back nine – the only holes I felt stood out on the front were the aforementioned #5 (for sentimental reasons) as well as #7, a downhill par four with speed slots galore. Additionally, I did not care for #9 at all – there are a few bland holes on the front side, but #9 was the only one that was outright bad. My issues with it come from the fact that it’s a complete forced layup – a downhill tee shot of 300 yards or less is required to hold the fairway, and from there it’s only another 220 yards to the green. A good par five should always give the player at least a chance to hit the fairway with a driver, and I don’t feel as though this one does. In my opinion, either creating a tee position farther back (the preferred option) or relocating the green 100 yards back to make the hole a medium length par four would make the hole better. I wonder if Coore & Crenshaw will be making any changes to that hole in their upcoming renovation project.
The back nine, however, was as good as it gets. Wide hole corridors, tons of strategic options, great short par fours, and and absolutely stunning finishing stretch highlight one of the best nines of golf anywhere. It’s hard to pick out favorites among these nine great holes, but if I had to I’d say my two favorites were #10, a sweeping dogleg short par four with an elevated green, #14, an uphill but driveable par four with an absolutely miniscule putting surface, and #18, the famous long downhill par five against one of the most spectacular vistas on a golf course anywhere. The back nine makes for some great television every January, and it alone makes Kapalua worth the trip.
Played February 20, 2016
Date: November 07, 2019