The Pros’ Favorite Holes

We challenged five Maui pros to pick their favorite hole on their home course and share tips for playing it successfully.

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Story by Mattew Thayer

Kapalua PlantationAsking a golfer to select his favorite hole is like asking a music buff to name the greatest song of all time. It’s hard to choose. On the one hand, there’s the hole’s beauty and artistic perfection. On the other, intangibles such as personal memories, challenges, and history. Or maybe a particular hole is a favorite because it reminds the golfer of a time he got lucky.

We put five Maui pros on the hot seat, challenging them to pick their favorite hole on their home course, give the reasons for their preference, and share tips for playing it successfully.

Kapalua Plantation Course • Hole No. 11 
164 Yards • Par Three
Course Designers: Bill Coore and Ben Crensha

“I love a hole that has ace potential.”
—Jerry King
PGA Director of Instruction
Kapalua Land Company, Ltd.w

Dramatic views of Honolua Bay and the neighboring island of Moloka‘i are part of the reason Kapalua’s Jerry King chose this hole as his favorite. He says the views can also be distractions that make this short par three play a lot tougher than it looks.

“I love a hole that has ace potential,” says King. “It seems pretty easy, but its not. It’s downhill and cross-downwind. You have to hold your shot on the green.”

Aimed straight toward the bay, where a flotilla of surfers carves the world-famous break, No. 11 generally has strong trade winds that quarter right to left from behind the golfer. Sand traps surround a green that drops off steeply at its back. Miss long or left, and say goodbye to your ball.

Whether it is a hole-in-one, or a birdie to turn a match around, King says this is the spot to make your move on the Plantation Course. Tour pro Fred Couples aced it in 1994 on his way to winning the Lincoln Mercury Kapalua International. In 2000, Tiger Woods roared through with a birdie as part of his final-day charge to win the Mercedes Championships.

How to Play It

The Plantation Course’s No. 11 requires a well-placed tee shot. King says golfers should “club up and swing at an easier pace.”

A common mistake here is using a lofted club and swinging aggressively. That puts more spin on the ball and allows the wind to have more influence on where it ends up. King says golfers should not adjust their club selection based on wind or slope. Hit the club you would normally use at the distance, swing easy and try to hit a low, penetrating shot. Aim right and let the wind bring the ball back to the target.
Caught between clubs? Golfers are far better off missing short on this hole than they are landing long.

Experience at Ko‘ele • Hole No. 17
444 Yards • Par Four
Course Designers: Greg Norman and Ted Robinson

“It’s dramatic, to say the least.”
—Doug Stephenson
Director of Golf,
Castle & Cook Resorts, LLC.

Carved from a forested ravine near the summit of the island of L¯ana‘i, this scenic hole drops 250 feet from tee to green, and challenges golfers to control the urge to “grip it and rip it.” Hazards include a lake and waterfalls on the right side of the fairway, and a seventy-foot-tall sentinel eucalyptus that guards the front of the three-tiered green. Bent grass makes for straighter putts on the green, and means golfers can shoot for the hole, confident their ball will check up. Thick trees shield the tee box from strong trade winds that sweep left to right across the fairway.

Lana‘i pro Doug Stephenson says No. 17 is the resort’s signature hole for good reason.

“It’s dramatic, to say the least,” Stephenson says. “Your tee shot is going to drop down into the base of that gorge. It’s a beautiful hole; it’s pretty spectacular.”

Not long after the Experience opened in 1991, course designer Greg Norman hosted fellow golf legend Jack Nicklaus to a fun match. Nicklaus was nursing a sore back, and on No. 17, the Golden Bear sliced one tee shot after another into the lake. He hacked away until he was out of balls. Norman threw one of his and Nicklaus hit it out into the fairway. Nicklaus left the tee box with a shrug and a smile.

How to Play It

This challenging hole requires average golfers to hit four good shots to make par. The tee shot is the key to a low score.

“You need to aim your tee shot to the left side of the fairway for a couple reasons,” Stephenson says. “You want to avoid the water on the right, and the trade winds come funneling through that valley. They are going to blow your ball to the right. Aim to the left side and let the wind bring it back to center.”

He says the approach shot is more uphill than golfers think. “It plays more than a club different because it is uphill. The green is three tiers, so make sure you check the pin placement and aim for the right level.”

Royal Ka‘anapali Course • Hole No. 9
485 Yards • Par Five
Course Designer: Robert Trent Jones Sr.

“Make two good shots here, and you can be on in two and have a chance at three.”
—Tim Murphy
Director of Golf
Ka‘anapali Golf Resort

This uphill par five faces straight into the teeth of the trade winds. Its location at the highest elevation of the Royal K¯a‘anapali Course gives it outstanding views of the resort, the West Maui Mountains and the neighboring islands L¯ana‘i and Moloka‘i. Director of Golf Tim Murphy says the rolling terrain and challenging winds make this hole his favorite.
“You make two good shots here,” says Murphy, “and you can definitely be on in two and have a chance at three.
“One of my favorite memories on this hole is that it’s where Arnold Palmer made a great putt for birdie [in the 2008 Wendy’s Champions Skins Game]. That’s something I will always remember.”
Fairway bunkers and sidehill slope make placement of the tee shot critical. A figure-eight-shaped green is guarded by bunkers and thick rough.

How to Play It

On this short par five, golfers can choose to play safe and steady and still have a chance for birdie, while big hitters can take their chances and strive for an eagle.

“There is certainly a risk-reward factor on this hole,” Murphy says. “You can bite off more, but you’re going to bring the bunkers into play.”

The fairway slopes right to left, so favor the right on your drive. Headwinds tend to exaggerate any spin you have on the ball. Hook it left and there’s a good chance to roll off the course and into someone’s backyard. Slice it right and you’ll be in the uphill condos. If you are going for the green in two, keep in mind that the greenside bunkers are quite challenging. Land your approach shot on the green to the right of the hole and it will roll left toward the cup.

The Dunes at Maui Lani • Hole No. 3
145 Yards • Par Three
Course Designer: Robin Nelson

“It’s not a long hole, but it can get you into a lot of trouble.”
—Dave Gleason
General Manager & Director of Golf
The Dunes at Maui Lani

Designer Robin Nelson modeled this short par three after the famous fifth hole at Lahinch Golf Club in Ireland. The semiblind par three is bracketed by sand dunes and influenced by stiff trade winds that sweep from right to left and make club selection paramount.

“It really depicts what we are known for,” says course General Manager Dave Gleason. “It has a natural feel. The third hole really says, ‘The Dunes.’”

The hole’s long, narrow green provides a verdant target, but it’s not easy to hit. Deep bunkers are just part of the sand challenge; it’s common for golfers to find themselves scrambling to recover with shots from the dunes themselves.

How to Play It

The key to this hole is properly gauging the wind and distance.

“It’s not a long hole, but it can get you into a lot of trouble,” Gleason says. “It’s  very important to hit that green.”

Miss short or to the right and you will be chipping from the fine white sand of the dunes or one of the deep bunkers. Miss long and you’ll find yourself in the rough with a very tricky downhill chip shot. In general, you are better off short than long. Gleason’s suggested shot is a fade into the green that lets the ball feed back to the hole.

The green has two main landing areas with a crown in the middle. Its grain runs west toward the setting sun.

“Except for a few areas where the dunes come into play, the green has very subtle breaks,” Gleason says.

The King Kamehameha Golf Club • Hole No. 18
559 Yards • Par Five
Course Designers: Ted Robinson Sr. & Ted Robinson Jr.

“It’s a great birdie opportunity.”
—Wendell Inamasu
Pro Shop Manager
The King Kamehameha Golf Club

This downwind, downhill par five is without a doubt the most photographed hole on the private course nestled on the slopes above Waikapu.

Pro Shop Manager Wendell Inamasu says No. 18 reminds him of the “finish” a person gets after a fine glass of wine. “You play the course and it all leads up to this hole,” Inamasu says. “This is a great finishing hole. And you can’t beat the views.”

The green rests next to the course’s distinctive clubhouse, a pink-domed building taken from the blueprints of a home the legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed for actress Marilyn Monroe. High on the West Maui hillside, overlooking the island’s Central Valley, the hole features unobstructed views of Haleakal¯a, Ma‘alaea Bay and Maui’s North Shore. Endangered n¯en¯e—Hawai‘i’s state bird—are common sights around its lake and waterfalls.

How to Play It

No. 18 at King Kamehameha gives short hitters a chance to finish strong against players who may bite off more than they can chew if they try to reach the green in two. Off the tee, golfers should aim a bit right to take advantage of a slope that will roll the ball downhill to the left. A good drive will put you about 250 yards from the hole

“If you want to go for it, you can, but that’s a lot more risk to go with the reward,” Inamasu says. “You can play it different ways, depending on how much risk you want to take.”

The right-to-left slope will carry errant or short shots into the lake guarding the left side of the green. Hit it long and you can also find water. Inamasu says that when he lays up, he tries to leave the ball about ninety yards short of the green. That provides a good angle to get on in three and a putt for birdie.

Wailea Gold Course • Hole No. 8
216 Yards • Par Three
Course Designer: Robert Trent Jones II
“You’ve got it all right here on this little par three.”
—Rusty Hathaway
Head Golf Professional
Wailea Golf Club

Although Robert Trent Jones II frowns on designing “signature holes” for his courses, Wailea Gold’s No. 8 has become the poster child for the Wailea Golf Club. It is “the most photographed hole on the course.”

Jones aimed this downhill par three directly toward the neighboring islands of Molokini and Kaho‘olawe. Beyond the green, boats ply the deep blue waters, and during whale season, it is common to see the leviathans spouting and splashing offshore. Don’t let them distract you. To reach the green, your shot must clear a dry gulch and a section of historic rock wall.

Wailea Head Golf Professional Rusty Hathaway says that when people dream of playing golf in the Islands, this is the kind of hole they envision. “You’ve got it all right here on this little par three,” he says. “The beauty of it makes it stand out.”

How to Play It

The most common mistake golfers  make on this hole is leaving their tee shots short. They tend to read more downhill slope than there really is, and it’s easy to misjudge the wind, especially if you hit a high approach. The ball must carry a trio of traps that guard the front of the green.

“Club selection is real important,” Hathaway says. “A lot of people don’t take enough club. It plays longer than people think. You could sit out here all day watching and hardly anybody would be long.

“The wind knocks it down. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like it’s windy, but the higher you get up, the more wind there is.”

The large green slopes from back to front and is receptive to an aggressive shot.


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