Fairways to Heaven

Any golfer looking for a slice of heaven need look no further than Maui’s famed Wailea Resort. Set on the slopes of Haleakala volcano, overlooking the Pacific, Wailea is a place where every golf hole has an ocean view and the weather is close to perfect.

“It’s a golfer’s Valhalla,” says Rusty Hathaway, the resort’s head golf professional. “Beautiful natural land. Dramatic oceans vistas. Sunny year-round weather. And almost no wind.”

To arrive at Wailea is to enter the pearly gates of Hawaiian golf. This is where Nicklaus walked and Trevino quipped as they vied in the Senior Skins Game. It’s where the LPGA held the Women’s Kemper Open. It’s the only Hawai‘i resort with 54 holes of championship golf and a David Leadbetter Golf Academy. Add a 12-acre practice facility and a nationally acclaimed golf shop, and it’s hardly surprising that in 2010 the readers of Condé Nast Traveler voted Wailea the world’s No. 1 golf resort.

But even without golf, Wailea is singular in its attractions and beauty. The resort lies on Maui’s dry, leeward coast, where the weather, beaches and reefs are “n
ka ‘oi”—the best—and the views stupendous. Look one way, and the offshore islands of Kaho‘olawe, Lana‘i and Molokini rise majestically from the sea. Look the other way and Mount Haleakal disappears into the clouds, its massive bulk shielding the resort from the blustery northeast trades. “I call it our 10,000-foot windbreak,” says Barry Helle, general manager of Wailea’s Old Blue Course. “It’s what makes this a naturally protected place.”

Old Blue is the most senior of Wailea’s three courses. Opened in 1972 and designed by Jack Arthur Snyder, the 6,743-yard layout winds its way past luxury homes and condominiums into the foothills of Haleakal
. Classic in design, it has wide, forgiving fairways, large greens and superlative vistas. “Most people forget that this was the first thing built at Wailea,” says Helle. “The resort grew up around this course. It’s what put Wailea on the map.”

In the mid-1990s, the arrival of the Emerald and Gold courses took the resort to new heights. Architect Robert Trent Jones Jr., who designed the adjoining layouts, took full advantage of Wailea’s natural palette, creating signature courses that are in keeping with the climate and feel of the land. Jones contoured the fairways, varied the size and shape of the greens and made creative use of sand and water. Moreover, he cleverly routed the layouts to minimize uphill climbs and maximize view planes.

Both courses are engaging tests of golf, challenging without being demoralizing, as resort courses should be. But they are also quite different, brilliantly designed to complement each other and highlight different aspects of Hawai‘i and its climate. At 6,825 yards, the Emerald is the more lushly landscaped of the two layouts and has won numerous awards for its playability with respect to women golfers. Its look is distinctly tropical, with floral gardens, a reflective lake, lava outcroppings and colorful plantings of bougainvillea and plumeria.

In contrast, the highly decorated Gold Course has a rugged, handsome look, framed by big, sprawling bunkers and towering kiawe, monkeypod and coconut palms. Throughout the course, Jones saw fit to preserve ancient lava rock walls and the raw drama of the landscape. Combined with the superlative views of Haleakal
and ocean views from every hole, the layout has a distinctly Hawaiian feel. The more demanding of the two layouts, it can be stretched to 7,070 yards and requires a variety of forced carries.

Differences in design aside, the true measure of any course rests in the character and playability of the individual holes. And Wailea has many great holes. Consider these examples:

Emerald Course, 1st Hole, 380 yards: All golfers love a downhill hole. There is something about standing at a point of elevation and seeing the fairway spreading out below you that is exhilarating and empowering. Tee up the ball at the Emerald’s opening hole—a short, downhill par-4 with a gorgeous ocean view—and you feel as if you can drive it all the way to Lana‘i.

Blue Course, 4th Hole, 560 yards: Keep to the right on this long par-5, which rises to a wide plateau before descending to a green bunkered on three sides. From the plateau, a stunning vista extends all the way from Kaho‘olawe to Mount Kahalawai, the West Maui Mountains. “Visitors look across the water at that mountain and ask, ‘What island is that?’ says Hathaway. And I tell them, ‘Why, that’s this island. That’s West Maui.’”

Gold Course, 7th Hole, 590 yards: This is Wailea’s toughest hole, a true, three-shot par-5 that puts the squeeze on every shot. A double-doglegged fairway is a minefield of bunkers and kiawe trees; the green is surrounded by sand and presents a false front. Power two accurate shots, and you’re still left with a difficult uphill approach. If you manage to make par, consider it a good score.

Gold Course, 8th Hole, 216 yards: It’s hard to pick a signature hole on the Gold Course, but this par-3 is certainly a candidate. From the tee, the golfer shoots across lava rock walls to a green framed by white sand and stately palms. It’s easy to flub your shot here if you look up to see the view, which includes an incredible ocean backdrop and the islands of Kaho‘olawe and Molokini.

Gold Course, 10th Hole, 415 yards: This classic par-4 will stir the heart of any golfer. From an elevated tee, the fairway sweeps downhill before rising up to a wide, undulating green. Kiawe trees and a pearl-like string of bunkers guard the left side of the fairway, while the Pu‘u la‘i cinder cone rises benignly in the distance, adding a pleasing volcanic touch.

Emerald Course, 10th Hole, 392 yards: The long, slender double-green on this par-4 sits at a most picturesque corner of the course, fronted by a large, rock-walled lake and flanked by a garden of golden lantana. Place your drive down the right side of the fairway here, and you avoid an approach shot over water and the risk of finding a watery grave.

Blue Course, Hole 12, 154 yards: Standing on the tee of this short, downhill par-3, you drink in the view and think to yourself, “Heck, I could throw the ball on this green.” Don’t believe it. Club selection is critical here and can vary widely, depending on the wind. Hit it short or off-line, and your ball could find one of four surrounding bunkers. Hit it long, and you may not find your ball at all.

Blue Course, 18th hole, 176 yards: It’s unusual to find a course with a par-3 finishing hole, but this one will not disappoint. From an elevated tee, the golfer shoots across a lake to a wide green ringed by sand. A good shot should reward you with a par or birdie—and probably settle a few bets.

Emerald Course, 18th hole, 553 yards: This captivating par-5 finishing hole plays downhill and downwind to a green that opens up from the left and is reachable in two shots. Take aim at Wailea’s signature landmark, the Pu‘u la‘i cinder cone, which rises like a lighthouse in the distance to guide you home.

Visitors to Wailea can play all these great holes year-round; there is no off-season. “We have 325 to 330 days of absolutely gorgeous sunshine,” says Mike Atwood, head grounds superintendent. “The rest of the time it’s just a little cloudy.”

During the winter, however, Wailea does offer one additional attraction: That’s when the humpback whales come down to vacation in Hawaiian waters. “When you’re out playing, you can see them cavorting offshore,” says Hathaway. “Sometimes in the late evening you can even hear them crashing about, having fun.”

The visiting whales, it seems, are a lot like the golfers. They, too, seem to have found at Wailea a small slice of heaven.

Golfers, outdoor enthusiasts and those with an eye for style are all equally at home in the Pro Shop at Wailea Golf Club’s Gold & Emerald Clubhouse. One of Hawai‘i’s largest and one of the country’s best, the shop has received 14 regional and national awards. Golf World Business and Golf for Women magazines have named it one of America’s top shops, and the PGA of America selected it national resort Merchandiser of the Year.

Its offerings in golf equipment and apparel are superior, but other categories also have their own strong identity. High-quality, up-to-the-minute resort wear and accessories include jewelry, hats, handbags and the latest from name brands: Puma, Hugo Boss, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Bahama, Lilly Pulitzer, Eric Javitz, Brighton, Helen Kaminsky, Bobby Jones and more.

For outdoor lovers, top-selling performance fabrics are at the cutting edge of active wear. Convertible collars for women speak volumes of fashion and function, and a new, organic made-on-Maui sunscreen has sun lovers abuzz. Hypoallergenic, biodegradable and a shield from harmful UVA/UVB radiation, it’s also reef-friendly, water-resistant and brimming with antioxidants.

The Wailea Old Blue Clubhouse also carries golf equipment, apparel and accessories, as well as the latest in active and fashionable sportswear.

The Pro Shop, Gold and Emerald Clubhouse, 100 Wailea Golf Club Drive, 808.875.7450; Wailea Old Blue Clubhouse, 120 Kaukahi St., 808.879.2350