Ka’anapali Golf Resort – Royal and Kai Courses

Ka’anapali Golf Resort – Royal Ka’anapali & Ka’anapali Kai Courses
2290 Kaanapali Parkway
Lahaina, Maui, HI 96761

Course Review Date: 10.11.2011
Course Reviewer: Ian

Pictures Below

Sitting on an airplane and hearing the captain announce that Seattle is currently a balmy 48 degrees is not the way I want to start any review.  However, with the approaching standard dreary winter golf season in the Pacific Northwest, a tidy week in Maui was a just what the doctor ordered before the rain gear comes out.  Staying in Ka’anapali Maui, just north of Lahaina we had the opportunity to play and review the two resort courses, Royal Ka’anapali and Ka’anapali Kai.  While not necessarily the most famous courses on Maui due to stalwart Kapalua (host of the PGA, SBC Tournament of Champions) a few miles north, the Ka’anapali tracks are likely the most known given their location directly off the main highway and proximity to restaurants, walking areas, and shopping mecca’s like Whaler’s Village.  The Royal Course at Ka’anapali is also host to the annual Senior Skins Game while the Kai course hosted one of the most recent seasons of Big Break on the Golf Channel.

Ka’anapali Kai Course

We started a brilliant 86 degree Tuesday on the Kai course, the somewhat modest brother to the higher regarded Royal course.  Playing as a single I lucked into another 3 some of some very cool people, one of them the builder of Tethrow Golf Club in Bend, Oregon, a place we have to get down and play asap.  A somewhat nervous tee shot that found the center of the fairway and off we went, walking parallel to the highway to play a wedge into the green and sneak away with par.  Well, one three putt bogey later we had just digested our first taste of bermuda grass on a golf course.  As a northwest golfer, this is going to be a very new experience for you my friends.

Let’s just start by saying that bermuda is very thick stuff and the width of the blades of grass, specifically in some of the areas of rough look foreign for sure.  It’s going to present a couple issues for you out there that take some patience to adjust too.  First, you must adjust your speed on the greens to match the grain of the greens.  An uphill putt that is down grain is not going roll like your standard uphill putt.  You will have to ease off of it or you will surely blow it by the cup.  However, an uphill putt going against the grain will require an anvil not to leave it short.  Besides the putting challenges are the epic troubles that awaits you in thick bermuda rough.

I never appreciated the skill a tour pro has more than when I played my first couple shots out of that thick bermuda thatch.  Wow.  It grabs the club, it turns the face, and it takes away so much distance.  It took me about 5 holes to realize that I had to club up at least one stick, sometimes two when I was going to play out of this stuff.  The skill it takes to accurately predict what this stuff is going to do to the club and ball is just remarkable.  Ok, enough about the grass, that’s a good enough heads up.  On to the Kai course itself.

Kai is the perfect kind of resort vacation golf course.  It can’t be too tough because it primary customer is your everyday average golfer who doesn’t want to spend a bunch of money just to get beat up.  It’s fairly flat and very straight forward so the entire hole is laid out in front of you and it’s also pretty short to cater to the average vacation hacker…like me!   6400 yard par 70 from the tips?  Thank you very much sir!  That being said, Kai still poses enough of a challenge and a quality factor to host the women of Big Break Ka’anapali.  They don’t exactly film this reality series at your everyday average track.

Of the most memorable holes out on the course, #9 really steals the show.  A relatively short par 4 (373 from the tips) with an approach shot that plays to beautiful views of the Pacific.  Hole #11 is no slouch either.  A downhill par 3 coming in at 182 yards from the back tees, it challenges you to carry the three greenside bunkers, but be short enough that the ball doesn’t roll off the back of the green and into trouble.

A couple of other notes about the Kai course;  No matter how “easy” a course looks, if designed well it will still provide a challenge.  Well guarded greens that are difficult to putt on, fairway bunkers in the right place and gnarly rough are the most straight forward way of accomplishing this and the Kai course does this very well.  After 18 holes I was pretty satisfied with an above average ball striking day only to scratch my head and try to figure out how I shot a +18, 88 but hit the ball so well.  Oh yeah, that snowman on 18 did not help the cause.  Ugh.

If you heading out to play The Ka’anapali Kai course they have a pretty sweet interactive hole-by-hole guide available here: http://www.kaanapaligolfcourses.com/kaanapali.asp?id=131&page=2823

Golfchops.com rating: 21/25
Customer Service: 4
Condition of Greens: 5
“Perceived” maintenance level of course: 4
Value: 3
Amenities: 5

Rating Notes: 
– Excellent resort golf hospitality.  The ice cold towel on a wooden plate at the end of the round is exceptional.  As a first timer I was lost figuring out where to go.  That one detail would be very helpful from the proshop folks.
– Greens seemed to be in perfect shape.  I definitely think they were slower than the ones on Royal but they were still in great shape.  By the way, everything breaks to the ocean!
– Golf course is in pretty excellent shape as you would expect resort golf to be.
– $195 for non-resort guests, $145 for guests.  It’s steep, but keep in mind its Maui resort golf.  I think range balls should be included at this price.  The extra $4 for a small bucket isn’t necessary.
– Nice driving range (mats) and a couple different putting greens to warm up on.  Lots of water buckets out on the course and regular visits from the cart staff.  Great proshop packed with merchandise and a solid sale rack J

Royal Ka’anapali Golf Course

Royal Ka’anapali is the gem of the golf resort and host to the annual Senior Skins game featuring the likes of Fred Couples, Tom Watson, and Jack Nicholas to name a few.  Designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. the Royal course has been hosting major champions and giving weekend warriors the business for almost 50 years now.  Similar to the Kai Course, part of Royal runs along the highway but showcases a couple spectacular holes that start or finish right next to the water.  The Royal course comes with a hefty price tag unless you have a discount (hint: try ezlinks.com) but it certainly doesn’t take long to realize why.

Driving wise, Royal is a pretty wide open and forgiving track allowing you to spray the ball around a touch off the tee box without getting in too much trouble.  As I ended up demonstrating, you can have a below average day driving the ball, but still score with some good plays out of the thick bermuda rough and some timely putting.  Besides the general layout and “story” the course tells as you wind though hole after hole, the biggest difference is the greens.  The Kai course featured a lot of very flat greens without much undulation, but the green of the Royal course have tiers, slopes, and also use the ‘break towards the ocean’ feature to make your read that much more difficult.

The Royal course also gives you your fair share of “oh wow” moments which is exactly why we play these types of courses.  The first example of this is the 474 yard, par 5th, which play to a dogleg left from an elevated tee box.  A wide open landing area gives you some flexibility for the approach shot to a green that is tightly fit in front of a pedestrian walking path and the ocean.  The little path gets quite a bit of traffic so your approach shot and putt/putts are watched by quite a few people.  Hit it right or long and you have a heck of a chance at clicking a family out for a leisurely stroll.

The views get ever more exceptional as you hit the 8th hole where a panoramic view of the Pacific opens up to you.  The tee shot on #10 (see picture below) will make you a bit giddy with the entire ocean sprawled out in front of you just begging you to blast away.  Easily one of the funniest shots I have ever taken on a golf course.  The Royal course also finished you off in excellent fashion by throwing some water at you on 17 and 18.  17 is straight forward, 155 yard par 3 to a somewhat narrow green.  You have to be long enough to clear the water but short enough to not end up in one of the back bunkers.  A very simple yet well designed hole.  18 is an excellent 440 yard, par 4 with water running all the way to the green on the right side.  Having a good score at this point you immediately get the, “don’t hit it right” swing going.  I thumped my way rough the left rough the whole way home.

After those 18 holes it’s not too difficult to see why the Royal course the more expensive option of the two tracks.  Although updated in 2002, it still has an “old world” design type of feel to it that challenges players with shot placement, green protection, and putting.  It takes a really big miss to be totally lost on a hole, but requires more than one good shot to make a par.  Golf as it should be really.  The weekend warrior can play their way through without finding too much trouble and still have a great time, while the low handicapper can use precision, accuracy and putting to go low.

I would like to thank the entire staff at Ka’anapali Golf Resort and a special thank you to Melissa Ludwig for having us out and showing such exceptional service and a great time.

Golfchops.com rating: 23/25
Customer Service: 5
Condition of Greens: 5
“Perceived” maintenance level of course: 5
Value: 3
Amenities: 5

Rating Notes: 
– Day two at Ka’anapali and the service was even better the second day.  There is something to be said for head to toe outstanding customer service at a golf course.
– Greens were exceptional.  Loved the challenge that the Royal course provided.  Remember, it breaks towards the ocean no matter what your read says!
–  A couple of slight areas of maintenance, one temp tee box out there, but everything is in great shape.
– $235 American dollars for a non-resort guest, $189 for resort guests.  It’s steep for sure, but you are on vacation on a stinking tropical island.  These views and quality of golf come with a price tag.
– Nice driving range (mats) and a couple different putting greens to warm up on.  Lots of water buckets out on the course and regular visits from the cart staff.  Great proshop packed with merchandise and a solid sale rack J

Pictures of Ka’anapali Kai

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