The Itinerant Golfer

The Itinerant Golfer's Take on Kapalua (Plantation)


Kapalua (Plantation)

Architect: Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw
Year: 1991

300 Kapalua Drive , Lahaina, Hawaii 96761
(877) 527-2582

driving range available
motorized golf carts with GPS available
affiliated resort accommodations


A big part of the challenge of playing the Top 100 is having a good logistics plan. I’m not sure I can pinpoint exactly what a good logistics plan looks like, but it definitely involves planning your travel in such a way that you make the most efficient use of time and financial resources. When I started this adventure I knew that Hawaii was going to be a tricky one. To start with, the trip from Richmond to Hawaii requires about 5,000 miles of air travel each direction . . . ouch. Secondly, if there are multiple courses on the list and those courses are on multiple islands, you can really find yourself with a very expensive and travel intensive trip as you bounce from one island to the next playing golf.

I knew for sure that I was going to save Hawaii until near the end of my quest. It didn’t seem to make sense to fly all the way out there early on and have to do it again a few years later if a new Hawaiian course came on the list. It’s not that I don’ t want to go to Hawaii twice, but it’s a rather expensive trip and going two times for my Top 100 quest would be the ultimate in inefficient use of financial resources.

As the list changed every two years I always made note of what was happening in Hawaii. When I started my quest The Prince Course on Kauai was the only Hawaiian course on the Top 100 list. In 2011 the Kapalua Plantation course on Maui was a new addition to the list. At that point it was looking like a multi-island trip was in my future. Let me again clarify something. It’s not that I don’t want to visit multiple islands and play their best golf courses. I would love to do that. It’s just that this Hawaiian trip wasn’t really going to be an official “golf” trip. Let me explain . . .

When I was a little over one year into my Top 100 quest I met a young lady named Brook. At the time I had played exactly 20 Top 100 courses and still had A LOT of ground to cover. To my sheer amazement Brook overlooked my obvious insanity and started to date me. Over the next five years she put up with all of my golf travels, last minute trips and all the other Top 100 nonsense that consumed 95% my leisure time. I was amazed yet again last year when she agreed to marry me and we tied the knot shortly thereafter in a tiny ceremony with just the two of us. We decided to hold off on a honeymoon trip and do something at some point in the future. Well, the future is now and that something is a trip to Hawaii which is why this trip is not officially a “golf” trip.

OK, so the good news about playing the Plantation Course at Kapalua is that it’s a breeze too get access. I called the pro shop and five minutes later I was in their reservation system with the first twilight tee time available. Although the course is owned by the Kapalua Resort (A Ritz Carlton property) golfers are not required to stay at the resort in order to play the course.

The Plantation Course at Kapalua was designed by the team of Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw and opened in 1991. The course can be seen on television each year when the PGA Tour hosts its Tournament of Champions there every January. I have played a number of Coore/Crenshaw designs but none from this early so I was interested to see how they were doing things in the beginning of their partnership.
On the day I was scheduled to play I headed over to the clubhouse where I checked in and was set up with a nice set of rental clubs. They actually gave me a choice of what brand I wanted to play and they had something very similar to what I play at home so that was very convenient. Once I had my clubs they were loaded onto a cart and Brook, who had come along for the ride, drove me up to the secluded little driving range.
 
Kapalua Plantation
 
After a few swings we drove back down to the first tee where I met up with my playing partners for the day. We had Dennis and Peggy, a retired couple from Indianapolis, Indiana who had played the course a number of times before and an investment manager from Portland, Oregon named Patrick. The starter gave us some crucial information about how to read the grain of the greens and then gave us the all ready signal and we were off. The hole descriptions below are all based on the 6,600 yard tees that I played.

Hole 1 – 434 Yards – Par 4
The course starts out with a stout par 4 and an incredible view. The island in the distance is Molokai and the starter informed us that the grain grows towards the left-most tip of the island. Little did we know how important this info would be.
 
Kapalua Plantation
 
Here is a view of the approach into the green.
 
Kapalua Plantation
 
Hole 2 – 196 Yards – Par 3
Here we have a lengthy one shot hole with bunkers on the right side. Short or left is the preferable miss here.
 
Kapalua Plantation
 
Hole 3 – 352 Yards – Par 4
Next we come to a shortish uphill par 4. There is plenty of room on the left side of the fairway.
 
Kapalua Plantation
 
Definitely don’t want to miss left or right on this green.
 
Kapalua Plantation
 
Here is a look backwards across the water and towards Molokai. By this time we had figured out that the down grain putts that run towards that left-most corner of Molokai were absolute lightning. We spent the rest of the day making sure of our orientation to Molokai before we hit our putts.
 
Kapalua Plantation
 
Hole 4 – 317 Yards – Par 4
If the last hole was a shortish par 4 this one is just plain short. The landing zone is blind and the best plan is to hit it right over top the 150 yard marker which is just barely visible in the photo below.
 
Kapalua Plantation
 
A look into the green from the right rough.
 
Kapalua Plantation
 
Note the contours of this putting surface. A lot of the greens had breaks like this which coupled with the grain situation made for some thoughtful putting.
 
Kapalua Plantation
 
Hole 5 – 485 Yards – Par 5
Now we come to the first par 5 on the course and its a short one. As can be seen in the photo below the right side can be death so the left side of the fairway is the safe play. Of course the best chance of reaching the green in two is on the right side of the fairway. A nice risk/reward option.
 
Kapalua Plantation
 
The view from where my drive landed. Needless to say, I did not go for it from here.
 
Kapalua Plantation
 
A view of the short chip to the green for the third shot.
 
Kapalua Plantation
 
Hole 6 – 378 Yards – Par 4
This is an interesting hole with a blind landing zone for the tee shot. the bunker out front is in the middle of the fairway and there is actually short grass on both sides of it. Notice the very top of a bushy tree just to the right of the bunker. That’s where the green is.
 
Kapalua Plantation
 
The fairway makes a dramatic drop off as it nears the green. The photo below was taken from about 100 yards out.
 
Kapalua Plantation
 
Hole 7 – 484 Yards – Par 4
Next we come to a very long par 4 that doesn’t even seem reachable in regulation. The fairway slopes from right to left so anything hit down the left side is likely to end back up in the middle of the fairway.
 
Kapalua Plantation
 
What an amazing view. This hole plays so far downhill that not only did I reach the green in two, but I rolled right off the back. Be careful with club selection here.
 
Kapalua Plantation
 
Hole 8 – 188 Yards – Par 3
The second par 3 on the course is another that is a little longer than average and will require a mid or long iron from most players. Definitely err on the side of being long here. Short is instant death.
 
Kapalua Plantation
 
Hole 9 – 490 Yards – Par 5
Even though this hole is fairly short for a par 5 it should not be underestimated. The fairway runs out where you can see the it disappear into the valley and then picks back up at the top of the hill on the other side. The smart way to play the hole is to hit a tee shots that stays at the top of the hill, then lay up over the valley on the second shot and try to wedge it close for a birdie opportunity.
 
Kapalua Plantation
 
The view into the green from the top of the hill.
 
Kapalua Plantation
 
Hole 10 – 314 Yards – Par 4
The back nine starts out with a very short par 4 with a blind landing zone. The flagstick can be seen in the distance and players who want to drive the ball as close to the green as possible should hit a shot over the 150 yard marker.
 
Kapalua Plantation
 
The view of the green from about 75 yards out.
 
Kapalua Plantation
 
Hole 11 – 161 Yards – Par 3
It doesn’t get much prettier than these holes that overlook the water. If you go during the winter, keep an eye out for humpback whales breaching. You’d be surprised how many of these we saw during the course of our round. It was at least 15-20.
 
Kapalua Plantation
 
Hole 12 – 373 Yards – Par 4
Here we have another hole with a blind landing zone. The ideal line is just off the right side of the of the bunkers on the left side of the fairway.
 
Kapalua Plantation
 
A view of the green from about 75 yards out. Note the splash in the water on the right side of the photo. That is a humpback whale breaching.
 
Kapalua Plantation
 
Hole 13 – 352 Yards – Par 4
Another shortish par 4 is next and the fairway disappears down into a valley that makes the approach shot considerably uphill.
 
Kapalua Plantation
 
The approach into the green from the left rough.
 
Kapalua Plantation
 
Hole 14 – 275 Yards – Par 4
Here we have another short par 4 following a shortish par 4. This one is drivable for many players so take dead aim.
 
Kapalua Plantation
 
Hole 15 – 510 Yards – Par 5
Next we come to the first par 5 on the back nine. Note the guard rail along the right side of the hole. I think it safe to assume that any balls hit into those trees are not going to be found. The hole runs downhill and bends to the right and then left.
 
Kapalua Plantation
 
A view of the green from about 200 yards out.
 
Kapalua Plantation
 
Hole 16 – 313 Yards – Par 4
Here we have yet another short par 4. Players hitting driver need to pay attention to the bunkers in front of the green. The safest play is to bunt a little 180-200 yard shot down the middle. There is actually fairway on the other side of the bunkers on the left too. This may be the widest fairway I have ever seen.
 
Kapalua Plantation
 
A view of the short shot into the green.
 
Kapalua Plantation
 
Hole 17 – 467 Yards – Par 4
The final par 4 on the course is another long one, but another one that plays downhill and considerably shorter than the numbers indicate. Note the gulch at the bottom of the hill on the left side of the hole. A perfect tee shot will run down the right side.
 
Kapalua Plantation
 
Here is the view into the green from the very bottom of the hill. It’s about a 180 yard shot from here.
 
Kapalua Plantation
 
Hole 18 – 585 Yards – Par 5
Its not very often that you feel like you might have a chance to reach a 585 yard par 5 in two strokes, but if there ever was one, it’s here. This hole plays significantly downhill and a well placed tee shot will help get the ball down the hill and possibly in position to go for the green in two.
 
Kapalua Plantation
 
A view of the approach shot into the green from about 180 yards out.
 
Kapalua Plantation
 
Sitting in the clubhouse restaurant sipping on a Mai Tai after the round I went back over the course in my head and thought about how it compared to the other Coore/Crenshaw courses that I’ve played. There was no question that it was different. In fact, there was no sign of the signature Coore/Crenshaw aesthetic (mostly found in the bunker design) that is seen a their other courses. Interestingly, this course is one of only two Coore/Crenshaw designs that was done before they built Sand Hills Golf Club. My hunch is that they were still figuring out their style when this course was built and it wasn’t really cemented until after they finished at Sand Hills a few years later.

Although there was no signature Coore/Crenshaw aesthetic the course does feature a wide variety of long and short holes which is something that Coore/Crenshaw are very good at doing. I thought the course had a number of fun holes and the views were simply amazing, but for some reason it didn’t really grab me like I thought it would. The two biggest knocks that I would have on the course is that the routing is a little disjointed and not walker friendly at all and the two finishing holes are very, very similar. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the setting and I thought there were some very good holes on the course but I had just been ready for a little something more. The bottom line is that it’s a great place to play a round of golf if your on Maui, but it’s not necessarily a golf course that would make my list of places that are not to be missed. All that said, I had a great time, enjoyed the company and absolutely loved my first trip to Hawaii.

  • Gotta love the views at Kapalua! I was lucky enough to stop there last March and also got a glimpse of the humpbacks in the distance. It’s great to see you had a beautiful day to play, and I’m glad you and Brook enjoyed the rest of your time on Maui. My sentiments after playing the plantation course were similar… while the surrounding beauty can’t be argued with, something about the layout just didn’t grab me. Thanks for sharing!