A Luxurious Value

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The Kahili Golf Course is a first class ticket available for the price of coach: It’s the only way to golf.

Written by John Byrne
Photographed by Bob Bangerter

The Kahili Golf Course is just down the hill from The King Kamehameha Golf Club and is owned by the same company. But where The King Kamehameha Golf Club is a members-only course, Kahili is open to the public, and that is good news for golfers in search of ultra-lush course conditioning, superb course design, and a great clubhouse that boasts the same amazing views of Maui’s two coasts, its central valley, and Mt. Haleakala as its sibling at a slightly higher elevation. If you are looking for views, value, and a chance to play one of the most underrated golf courses in Hawaii, then the Kahili Golf Course is for you.

Hawaii’s most noted course architect, Robin Nelson, originally designed the Kahili Golf Course back in the early ‘90s, when the entire 36-hole complex was first developed. It was a glorious golf course, with fairways so finely cut, even the cart paths were edged by hand. Just last year, the course completed a major upgrade by Nelson, and the result is a brand new course with virtually everything on it improved, rejuvenated, and modernized for today’s resort golfer.

All the carts in its modern fleet have GPS systems, ice coolers and bottled water, and the pro shop, overseen by head golf professional Bradley Bowen, PGA, is packed with the latest and the greatest in golf fashion and logo wear.

But what will make the short drive to Kahili really worthwhile is the golf. Robin Nelson, the same man who designed The Dunes at Maui Lani, Mauna Lani, Royal Kunia, and the list goes on, waved his magic wand across the verdant slopes of Waikapu and in the process created a gem of a golf course.

From the onset, holes go up, down, and around and around. It’s a thrilling roller coaster ride, only it requires that you hit a golf ball during the entire trip. Golfers of all levels will find Kahili a joy to play. No matter what their skill level is, they will need to work the ball on all of Kahili’s 18 great golf holes.

  • No. 1 is an uphill par 4 that beckons the golfer to play their drive and their approach shot as straight as possible. Miss it left or right, and it gets exponentially longer and harder. I guarantee you that after you’ve played this golf hole, you’ll be warmed up!
  • No. 2 is a downhill dogleg right that has fade written all over it. You’ve got to play the terrain and be creative. If you can pull off a fade, not a slice, you’re looking down at a wide, kidney-shaped green with a wedge in your hand. It’s birdie city from there. Any other tactic will be risky, so get ready to be a golfer: you’re going to have to make shots at Kahili.
  • No. 3 is another big opportunity to score. But, once again, you need to work the ball: this time, from right to left. A par 5, No. 3 starts with a tee shot at the bottom of the hill up to a plateau. From there, it’s all downhill and downwind to a receptive two-tiered green. This hole has eagle oozing from its pores. It just takes courage to pull it off. Nothing stands between you and the green on this hole except yourself. A wood on your second shot played short of the green will tumble over the terrain and roll onto the putting surface. All you need to do is execute.

Kahili’s 18 holes all have trees lining the fairways. Holes may run parallel to one another at times, but rarely, and when they do, trees separate the fairways. The whole feeling is very country club-like. There are no hotels, condos, or houses on these fairways. Just golf, and some of Maui’s most phenomenal views.

The downhill, par 3 13th is a great example of Kahili’s exclusive and commanding view of Maui. As golfers look down toward this hole’s shallow, wide green, they see a straight line a mile long of North Kihei Road disappearing as its backdrop unveils the whole of Kealia Pond, Maalaea Bay, and the entire south shore all the way down to Makena. It’s unlike any other view on Maui.

Nelson knows how sloped the Waikapu hillsides are, and so he uses the slopes to make the course interesting and to bring the best out of every golfer. If all you can hit is a fade, you’re going to make double bogey. If all you can do is hit a draw, you’re going to make a triple bogey. If all you can do is hit the hardest shot in golf—a perfectly straight ball—you’re going to make bogeys. On Kahili you have got to play shots that move in all directions.

Nelson provides ample room for bailing. The key is: Do you have the discipline and smarts to hit irons or three woods when all you want to do is blast away with your driver? If you can keep the big stick in your bag on the holes that don’t fit your eye or natural ball flight, you can actually save par and beat the course.

But it takes a smart golfer, and lots of strategy, to conquer all 18 holes with the same swing. This is why Robin Nelson is so good at his craft: he gets the golfer to think, adapt, play every kind of shot, and use every club in their bag

The Kahili Golf Course is everything a golfer could want: it has challenge, it has risk/reward holes, is has beauty, it has meticulous maintenance, it has smooth and fast greens, it has great service, and it has even better amenities. If you’re looking for real bang for your buck, then I recommend that you play the Kahili Golf Course while it’s still public.

It’s that good!

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