It was Arnold Palmer who put Kapalua on the golf map, not Tiger Woods and Ernie Els with their epic mano-y-mano playoff duel in the 2000 Mercedes Championship (now known as the Hyundai Tournament of Champions).
Palmer, with help from Ed Seay, designed the first two championship courses in this corner of West Maui -- the Bay Course, which opened in 1975, and the Village Course, which followed in 1980 but is now closed because of the economic slowdown.
The famed Plantation Course, designed by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore, opened in 1989 and would bring thousands more tourists to the island once they saw this sweeping giant during the Lincoln Mercury Kapalua Invitational -- an unofficial PGA Tour event that was played in November and showed Maui could support a major event.
The Plantation Course, with a par of 73, measures 7,263 yards and plays to a USGA rating of 75.2 with a slope of 142, but despite the omnipresent trade winds it is very playable from the resort tees because of its expansive fairways.
The Bay Course, which has a par of 72, plays to 6,600 yards with a rating of 71.7 and a slope of 138.
Everyone wants to play the Plantation Course, especially the daunting 663-yard 18th hole, which can be reached with two long, precise shots because it plays dramatically downhill toward the ocean with the prevailing wind helping.
Els and Woods were tied for the lead going to the final hole in the 2000 Mercedes. Both made eagle to force a playoff, starting on the 18th, where both made birdie before continuing to No. 1. There, Woods sank a dramatic 35-foot downhill birdie putt to win the tournament.
Another memorable hole is the 203-yard eighth, which plays across a canyon of natural vegetation to a green that slopes from back to front, with a series of traps in the back to catch shots by those who use an extra club or two to ensure they carry the precipice. Hit your tee shot short and you need a new ball.
The Bay Course plays mostly on a plateau above the Pacific Ocean, but features two spectacular holes right on the water. The 357-yard fourth hole is a short but deceptive par-4 with a large bunker waiting for shots trying to cut the corner, pushed that way by the prevailing wind off the ocean. It’s followed by the 205-yard fifth, which sits on a lava promontory and is perhaps the most scenic hole at Kapalua. It requires a tee shot across a corner of Oneola Bay, usually with a tailwind.
OTHER COURSES IN THE AREA: Five minutes down the Honoapi’ilani Highway is the Ka'anapali Resort, where Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf brought this slice of paradise into homes across the United States in 1963. The televised match featured Bob Charles of New Zealand, the reining British Open champion, and American Dave Regan. The Royal Kaanapali Course hosted the Wendy’s Champions Skins Game on the Champions Tour and the Ka'anapali Kai Course offers some of the best views of the Molokai Channel.
In between are several outstanding public layouts, including Sandalwood Golf Course in Waikapu, Silversword Golf Course in Kihei, Grand Waikapu Country Club in Wailuku, the Dunes at Mauna Lani, a links-style course in Kahului, and Pukalani Golf Course, a delightful and relaxing Up Country experience with spectacular 360-degree views of the South Pacific.
WHERE TO STAY: The exclusive Ritz-Carlton Kapalua, where most of the pros stay with their wives during the season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions, is the jewel of Kapalua, but you can get almost as much for less at its charming neighbor, the Kapalua Bay Hotel.
Other fine accommodations can be found at the Kapalua Ridge Villas, the Napili Bay Resort, Embassy Suites Resort, the Kapalua Golf Villas, the Sands of Kahana, the Aston Papakea and the Aston Paki Maui.
In South Maui, you can choose from the Makena Beach & Golf Resort, formerly known as the Maui Prince Hotel, Grand Wailea Resort, the Four Seasons Resort, the Outrigger Wailea Resort, the Fairmont Kea Lani Maui and Renaissance Wailea Beach Resort.