Royal Ka'anapali Golf Course is located near Lahaina on Maui's west coast.  (Brandon Tucker/GolfAdvisor) The fourth hole at Royal Ka'anapali Golf Course is an uphill par 4.  (Brandon Tucker/GolfAdvisor) Royal Ka'anapali Golf Course's fifth green plays alongside the beach. (Brandon Tucker/GolfAdvisor) The Golf Channel's Big Break Ka'anapali was filmed on these fairways in 2008. (Brandon Tucker/GolfAdvisor)

Robert Trent Jones Sr.'s Royal Ka'anapali Golf Course remains among the top plays on Maui

LAHAINA, Hawaii -- Royal Ka'anapali Golf Course on Maui opened with a tee shot from Bing Crosby in 1962 and hasn't missed a beat since.

Like the day at The Wendy's Champions Skins Game, which ran from 2008-2011, when Jack Nicklaus came to the par-3 17th, partnered with Tom Watson and all square in a match against Nick Price and Fred Couples. Nicklaus stuck it to within 6 feet and Watson made the putt for birdie.

"I think 17 is one of Robert Trent Jones Sr.'s best par 3s," said Sutee Nitakorn, the head professional at Kaanapali Golf Courses. "He was good at making a short hole play long. You have to fly water to a two-tiered green that is surrounded by bunkers. It just feels like a skins game hole when you are standing on the tee and a place where a lot of bets are won and lost."

This RTJ Sr. design, one of only two in Hawaii, rolls out to 6,700 yards at par 71 and will challenge your club selection and your ability to read foothills greens with some grain.

Royal Ka'anapali starts out at sea level, but it evolves into a golf course with rolling landscapes and a climb into the West Maui Mountain foothills. Ka'anapali Golf Resort had a $13 million renovation by Robin Nelson, who designed all new bunkering and resurfaced the greens with TifEagle, a Bermuda hybrid.

Views of the Pacific Ocean, Lana'i, Moloka'i and the West Maui Mountains, have tested even more pros -- Shell's Wonderful World of Golf, the Canada Cup, LPGA Kemper Open and the Ka'anapali Classic, a Champions Tour event, were staged here. And the Golf Channel's Big Break Ka'anapali was filmed on these fairways in 2008.

Royal Ka'anapali: subtle, danger and grain

"The excellence of the Royal Course comes in its subtleties," Nitakorn said. "From the tee on the fifth hole, a 474-yard par 4, your first look is kind of a non-threatening tee shot except for the length. It is a wide fairway and huge, but then you see this fairway bunker out there just in the right spot to catch someone who has pulled it or hit a draw."

Tell me about it. That's where my drive ended up.

The day starts with a 519-yard par 5. It's easy unless you try to hug the water, which follows the entire path of the hole.

Arnold Palmer once said the 18th hole, a 440-yard par 4, is one of the best and most challenging finishing holes he has ever played. The first view is a massive bunker that is right in your wheelhouse. And to avoid the bunker it appears there is a tiny opening to miss that same water you dealt with on No. 1. Just remember there's a lot more room between the bunker and the water than it appears.

Royal Ka'anapali Golf Course: Final thoughts

Fun, scenic, great weather, challenges abound and you are in Maui. How could you be whining about anything?

Nitakorn said deal with the course in three parts: The opening six-hole stretch is fairly benign, followed by six tougher holes, and the final six are more difficult.

The front nine is a par 37 and you finish in 35 with five par 4s that are more than 400 yards from the back tees, so concentrate on making birdies on the front side. Birdies on the back nine are gravy. Royal Ka'anapali Golf Course is not too hard and not too easy. You will be impressed.

Roy's Restaurant in the clubhouse has evolved from an open-air sports bar to a closed-in fancy restaurant with an upscale menu. It was packed the night I dined there, and the food was the best I've had on Maui.

The service at Ka'anapali is first-rate. The bag staff is friendly and upbeat and will greet you with a cool towel when you finish. The clubhouse management staff members have smiles on their faces and are totally helpful.

Where to stay: Ka'anapali Alii

Stay at the spectacular Ka'anapali Alii, a private condo compound. My two-bedroom corner condo with full kitchen and washer and dryer had a panorama view of the ocean and the mountains in the opposite direction. The Alii has clay courts for the tennis purist, lots of grills to enjoy an evening cook out, enormous pool and spa areas and private beach access. This is the finest place I've stayed in Maui.

Feb 27, 2014

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David R. Holland


David R. Holland is an award-winning former sportswriter for The Dallas Morning News, football magazine publisher, and author of The Colorado Golf Bible. Before launching a career as a travel/golf writer, he achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force reserve, serving during the Vietnam and Desert Storm eras. Follow Dave on Twitter @David_R_Holland.