There are individuals who know more about golf on Maui than Rick Castillo, but it would be a short list. Currently the head professional at the uniquely named King Kamehameha Golf Club, Castillo has been gainfully employed in the golf business on Maui since 1979, including nearly twenty years as the head professional at Wailea Golf Club.
“There are three major golf resorts on Maui,” begins Castillo. There’s the three courses at Wailea, which are known as the Blue, the Gold and the Emerald. In addition, there’s Kaanapali, with two courses, and Kapalua, which also features a pair of courses.”
The Blue opened in 1972, its younger siblings in the middle ’90s. Castillo, the son of a golf professional himself, explains that the trade winds blowing in off the ocean make for challenging golf. “However we need them, because otherwise the temperatures would be too hot for most people.”
The Gold is the bellwether course at Wailea, the longest of the trio, and like the Emerald Course, a pure golf experience, unsullied by condos and roadways. The Gold played host to the Senior Skins Game for nearly a decade, and unlike other golf areas on the island, some of the wind-related challenges are mitigated by the buffering presence of Mount Haleakala, a dormant volcano that stretches to nearly 10,000 feet in elevation.
“Kapalua is probably our best-known resort,” continues Castillo, whose four siblings are also longtime members of the golf profession. “The Plantation Course is famous as the home of the PGA Tour’s Tournament of Champions every January. It’s a massive course, par 73, with huge greens and tilting fairways. The Bay Course is also hilly, with uneven lies, plenty of wind, and some gorgeous ocean views.”
Kaanapali is the third resort offering, and while the Royal Course is known as a terrific test of golf, beginning at sea level and climbing up into the West Maui mountain foothills, there are some roadway and highway views that detract just a bit from the ‘walk in the park’ sensibility that many golfers, particularly those on vacation, seek out. The Kaanapali Kai course is a bit shorter, and more forgiving.
“Golf on Maui offers great conditioning, consistently good courses, and strikes a wonderful balance,” concludes Castillo. “Some people find Oahu too busy, and Honolulu a very hectic city. others love Kauai, but some consider it a bit too sedate. Maui is somewhere in between.”
There are nearly as many fine resort hotels on Maui as there are beach umbrellas stuck in the sand, but few, if any, would be superior to the exceptional Hotel Wailea. It’s the only hotel in Hawaii with the coveted Relais & Chateaux designation, not to mention being designated at the #1 hotel in Maui by Travel + Leisure’s “World’s Best” awards.
To put it delicately, this is a place to make the babies, not bring the babies. The hotel features seventy-two single-bedroom suites tucked amid fifteen secluded acres, just a three-minute shuttle ride to the beach, and is blissful, tranquil and a marvelous getaway. Among numerous on-site amenities, their delightful restaurant might top the list. Gorgeous ocean views, attentive service, and an emphasis on locally grown food (and amazing, fresh fish) are hallmarks of this ‘special occasion’ eatery. (And if you’re on Maui, every day is a special occasion!)
Speaking of special occasions, Mama’s Fish House, about forty minutes from Wailea in the funky, shop-lined, surfer-centric town of Paia, is one of the most memorable restaurants you will ever have the privilege to visit. Most eateries are attractive for one, or maybe two of four reasons: The food (of course) the location, the service and the ambience. Mama’s checks all the boxes. First, it’s located just steps from the crashing surf. (Some of Maui’s biggest waves are just a mile down the beach.) Second, the food is magnificent. They even credit the local fishermen, bringing in the catch or catches of the day, by name on the menu. (And the apps, entrees, meats, cocktails, desserts, etc, are equally impressive.) The service is impeccable, and the various dining rooms, (the canoe room, the deck, the lounge, etc,) are eclectic and filled with cool memorabilia from the owner’s extensive travels in the South Seas. Mama’s Fish House is expensive, understandably so, but three words suffice: Don’t miss it.
The best way to work off all that seafood might be to swim with the fish themselves. Try Maui Kayak Adventures for an exhilarating early-morning kayak-and-snorkel escapade. (And early means just that–you convene with your guide at 7 am, to be off the water by late morning before the trade winds start to blow.) The day begins with a brisk kayak excursion, maybe thirty or forty minutes, along the coast. Then participants don snorkels and fins, floating, swimming and diving near reefs and coves, observing large sea turtles, and all manner of ocean life. Once back in the kayak, it’s another forty-odd minutes back from whence you began. In its own nautical way, this is as much fun as any golf course you might care to visit–even on the magical island of Maui.