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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A swing through paradise

Feel like a champ on Maui's emerald fairways and gorgeous beaches

Posted: 12/20/2008 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

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KAPALUA, Maui -- A few minutes after winning the 2008 Texas Open, Zach Johnson sits down for an interview with The Golf Channel's Todd Lewis. The 2007 Masters champ has scored his first victory in almost a year and a half, collecting a tidy $810,000 as the winner's share of the purse from the PGA Tour event.

But what's got Zach really jacked is the same perk every PGA player gets for winning an event on the tour... a trip to Kapalua.

"It's very gratifying any time you can get back to Maui... it's fantastic," a beaming Johnson tells Lewis.

Located on Maui's northwest shore, Kapalua Resort stretches from emerald mountain peaks to the edge of the glistening Pacific Ocean.

A sprawling natural paradise unfolds, featuring award-winning accommodations, two world-class golf courses, unspoiled beaches, ancient lava flows and fields of fresh pineapple.

Kapalua's Plantation Course is home each year to the Mercedes-Benz Championship (Jan. 8-11, 2009), the PGA Tour's season-opening event, where only champions from the previous season compete.

Thankfully, you don't have to win a PGA Tour event to visit Kapalua, and on a recent trip to Maui, we had the good fortune of spending four days at the resort. We also ventured a few miles down the coast to the beach resort area of Kaanapali and the "jewel in the crown" of Maui, the historic town of Lahaina.

During our visit, we witnessed one of the wildest Halloween bashes on the planet, enjoyed breathtaking sunsets, got a little education on Hawaii's history, and of course, played some magnificent golf courses.

KAPALUA

Named for its dramatic lava peninsulas, Kapalua is one of Hawaii's premier resort areas. Loosely translated to mean "arms embracing the sea," Kapalua was ranked Hawaii's No. 1 golf resort by Travel and Leisure Golf in 2007, and No. 5 in the U.S., behind Pinehurst, Kiawah Island, Pebble Beach and Bandon Dunes.

The resort features two world-class tracks, the Bay and Plantation courses.

The Bay Course, designed by Arnold Palmer and Francis Duane, which hosted the inaugural Kapalua LPGA Classic in October, is a par-72 6,600-yard layout with gently rolling fairways and generous greens. This is resort golf at its best.

The Bay's fifth hole is its moment of glory. A visual treat, the 162-yard par-3 sits on the ocean bluffs, and your ball has to clear rocks and the surf below to reach a green that narrows and sticks out like a peninsula. Choose your weapon wisely.

The par-73, 7,411-yard Plantation Course is the course of champions. Designed by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore, it unfurls across natural geographic formations and pineapple plantation fields that take your breath away.

Now for the moment of truth, the most commonly asked question about these magnificent courses... How much?

Green fees top out at $295 for the Plantation course and $215 for the Bay course. There are deals for guests of the resort and twilight rates. You can also buy green-fee bundles for courses on the island that will save you a few bucks. But the best deal in town -- and one of the most attractive we've seen in our travels -- is a stay-and-play package at the Kapalua Villas.

Starting at $279 per person per night, you receive villa accommodations plus your choice of golf at either of the resort's courses.

This is a great spot for those looking for a taste of the high-life without blowing the budget.

Also on the resort's grounds is the AAA Five-Diamond, 463-room Ritz-Carlton Kapalua, which has recently undergone a $180-million transformation.

After an early-morning tee time, Kapalua has plenty more to offer: zip-line tours, 100 miles of hiking trails, pineapple plantation tours, kayaking, snorkelling, diving trips and world-famous beaches.

Kapalua Bay gained worldwide attention when readers of Condé Nast magazine voted it the best beach in the world. It has also been named America's best beach by The Travel Channel.

"ö TOULA SAYS: Our friend and golf buddy at Niakwa, David Greenwood, says that when we write these stories, I talk about the golf when I break 100, but when I don't, I talk about the shopping. Well, I did find a great hat (Steve said it looked like a lampshade, but what does baseball-hat boy know) in the Plantation Course's pro shop. But I shot 99 so I guess I better talk about the golf. Even though I was having a great day on the course, I made sure to take every opportunity to soak up the surroundings. Surfers riding the ocean's waves, multimillion-dollar homes perched on bluffs overlooking the fairways, and my favourite trees in the world... palms, palms and more palms. Also, I really liked the Bay Course. Almost ran out of memory on my photo card snapping shots at the amazing fifth hole. The guys sometimes whine when I take so many pictures, but there seems to be plenty of time when they keep hitting it in the water. Loved it in Kapalua.

"ö STEVE SAYS: After trips to Tampa, Kelowna and Maui in 2008, the toughest course I played all year was Niakwa Country Club. If you can play in Manitoba, you can play anywhere. Much like most golf-resort destinations, Kapalua's courses are user-friendly... wide fairways and huge greens. However, in our travels, I notice one mistake being made by GUYS more than any other... playing the wrong tees. Someone asked me why I didn't want to try the back tees to see how I stack up against PGA players. I know how I stack up. They win golf tournaments to earn a trip to Kapalua. I don't. Nothing but good things to say about Kapalua. Great golf, great views, super hospitality and tucked away from the hustle and bustle. I highly recommend it.

LAHAINA

The name means "merciless sun," describing the long hot days and little rainfall. Often called the "jewel in the crown" of Maui, Lahaina town is the second-most visited spot on Maui after beaches. Once the royal capital of the Hawaiian kingdom before it was moved to Honolulu in 1845, Lahaina is the gateway to the resort areas of Kaanapali and Kapalua, but itself has become a top destination due to its art galleries, shopping, restaurants, whale-watching, and one of its signature events, the annual Halloween bash.

Every year, approximately 25,000-30,000 people come to Lahaina's famous Front Street to celebrate Halloween. The incredible costumes and over-the-top atmosphere draws comparison to Mardi Gras in New Orleans. We had been told this was quite an event, but the scope of the celebration was beyond our imagination.

Also in the area is one of the most entertaining history lessons you'll ever have, the Old Lahaina Luau.

The attention to authentic Hawaiian detail and its location, nestled right beside the ocean with incredible views of Lanai and Molokai, make the Old Lahaina a must. Hey, you're in Hawaii. How do you not go to a luau?

We were treated to an evening of wonderful entertainment, the performers revealing their culture through music and dance.

"ö TOULA SAYS: What a peaceful place by day and then Halloween night, look out -- people everywhere showcasing some crazy costumes. I felt a little out of place because I did not dress up, even as a golfer. But, I guess I looked like a tourist taking pictures of the sites. It was like people had been planning for this all year. I will never forget this night.

"ö STEVE SAYS: When I go away to play golf, I'm not always interested in exploring tourist sites. Play golf, maybe hit a few balls, eat, shop, eat some more, watch some TV, sleep and do it all over again the next day. Hawaii, however, has a way of embracing you, and Lahaina has a way a of stirring the senses. Front Street was a great place to stroll. People-watching at its best, especially the Halloween spectacle. And while there are the required number of T-shirt shops with fridge magnets and cheap souvenirs, there are also 40 world-class galleries on the strip. Listen, I know squat when it comes to art, but in one shop, they had several original Picassos. Not something I'm going to see on The Golf Channel. Vacations often force me to do different things... and that's a good thing.

KAANAPALI

As part of Hawaii's first-ever, master-planned resort area, Bing Crosby took the inaugural shot on the Royal Kaanapali Course in 1962, and the famed layout has become a standard for Hawaiian golf. Coming off a major renovation three years ago, they say the course has been restored to its original lustre. We're not sure what it looked like beforehand, but it looks downright superb today.

The Robert Trent Jones Sr.-designed course combines wide fairways with undulating greens and features panoramic views of both the Pacific Ocean and West Maui Mountains.

Home of the Champions Tour Kaanapali Classic for 14 years, the Royal Kaanapali has also hosted Shell's Wonderful World of Golf, the LPGA's Kemper Open, the Canada Cup (now the World Cup) and two years ago hosted The Golf Channel's Big Break Kaanapali. The popular Wendy's Champions Skins Game featuring Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Greg Norman and other senior legends will be contested here Jan. 17-18, 2009.

The Kaanapali area is also home to a variety of accommodations, beach activities, shopping and dining and one of the most spectacular sunset sails on Earth.

There are a number of reputable operators in the Kaanapali area, but after extensive research, we climbed aboard with the crew from Trilogy and were rewarded with a two-hour trip that we'll remember forever. There's no better way to end a day in paradise, as you enjoy the sunset, the beauty of the coast and the fresh ocean breeze.

"ö TOULA SAYS: I tried to remember who won the Big Break show so I asked the young starter, and he quickly reminded me that it was Kim Welch. I was cheering for her during the show. She had great style. I wondered, and worried, how I would do on this course. The first hole was difficult -- all I could see on the street next to us were the shops at Whaler's Village, and I kept thinking about that great purse I wanted. That was my excuse for not driving as well as I normally do. I had to gather my composure and start competing like the ladies on Big Break. In the end, I broke 100 (98) and had a great day golfing. When in Hawaii -- no matter where I was -- I always had to stop and take in the sites. They were beautiful on this course. Kaanapali offers a bit of everything for everyone -- you must come and see it for yourself. Even when I hit a bad shot, I had to remember: I'm in Maui.

"ö STEVE SAYS: It's much more of a tourist-type area than Kapalua. Sunset sail was so cool. Great snacks and the sold-out cruise had just 12 passengers. No jostling for a good seat and plenty of elbow room. Great greens on the course. By the way, it's all Bermuda grass in Hawaii, so ask for all the tips you can get. A marshal named Stan, from Chicago, told me early in the trip that the ball always breaks to the burnt-looking edge of the cup. It was hard to trust at first, but the old boy was right.

Mahalo!

Steve Lyons is night sports editor at the Winnipeg Free Press. He and his wife Toula report regularly on golf destinations. Next up: Scottsdale, Ariz. Watch for their report in March. Also, they'll be touring golf spots in Manitoba in 2009, so watch for their stories next spring and summer.

steve.lyons@freepress.mb.ca

How to get there

"ö WestJet has increased its number of flights to Maui to 11 times a week, direct from Vancouver. Flights leave from Vancouver on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 9:40 a.m., arriving in Maui at 1.56 p.m. and again leaving Vancouver at 6:15 p.m., arriving at 10:31 p.m. (Wednesday, Friday and Sunday just have the evening flight.) Return flights leave Maui on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 3 p.m., arriving back in Vancouver at 10.29 p.m., and leave also at 11:35 p.m., arriving in Vancouver at 7.04 a.m., the following day. Again, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday just have the evening return flight.

"ö www.westjet.com

"ö Tip: WestJet's afternoon departure from Maui will force you to overnight in Vancouver. Better off enjoying your last day in paradise. Play golf in the morning, relax on the beach in the afternoon, watch the sunset and then have a nice dinner before the flight that flies through the night to Vancouver. You'll get home to Winnipeg mid-afternoon the next day.

Where to stay

"ö Kapalua Villas. One-, two-, and three-bedroom vacation villas with ocean or golf views. The Villas are the only Maui condominium rental with Kapalua golf privileges. Stay-and-play packages starting at $279 PP per night.

Weather

"ö Maui enjoys a fabulous year-round climate. Lots of sunshine, cool ocean breezes and temperature averages between 20 and 25 C.

"ö Visit www.gohawaii.com to plan your trip to Kapalua, Maui or any of the other Hawaiian islands.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 20, 2008 E1

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