Maui – where women golfers feel right at home

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Last summer the National Golf Foundation released their 2008 report on the number of people who played golf in the USA over the past decade.

Of the 25.7M adult golfers in the US in 2008, only 5.2M of them were women – just over 20.2% of the total.  That’s the lowest percentage we’ve seen since 2000.

It’s a sad trend to say the least, and there is lots of speculation about why more women don’t golf, but one of the biggest issues for women in this male-dominated sport is that on many courses in North America, women golfers do not feel welcome. 

But if there is one place in the USA where the welcome mat has been laid out for us golfgals, it’s on Maui and its neighboring island, Lana’i.

So how does one determine if a golf course is women-friendly? I always start with what Golf for Women Magazine used to use to rate golf courses.

Taking a look at the courses I played on Maui and Lana’i in November, here’s how they stacked up using GFW’s system…


Ka’anapali Kai and Royale Ka’anapali
Golf For Women Criteria
Ka’anapali
Kai
Royal Ka’anapali
At least one set of tees fewer than 5,300 yards
At least two under 6,000 yards
At least two tees rated for women
Few forced carries from forward tees
Be in top condition
Unpretentious setting
Traditional Design
Compliment players of all levels

Both of these courses got top marks on all the GFW technical criteria and topped it off with a wonderfully stocked pro shop for women’s golf apparel and accessories with lots of bling. The Royal is quite a bit longer than the Kai and challenging enough to host the Wendy’s Skins game, but that doesn’t mean it’s not friendly for women. But, if you are a high handicapper hitting the links for the first time on Maui, my recommendation is to get your sandbaggers wet on Kai first. 

The 11th green at Ka’anapali Kai.
It’s less expensive; the rough is a bit more forgiving; the views are wonderful and you’ll get a feel for the tricky greens before you tackle its big sister.

Wailea Emerald and Gold Courses
Golf For Women Criteria
Wailea Emerald
Wailea Gold
At least one set of tees fewer than 5,300 yards

At least two under 6,000 yards

At least two tees rated for women
Few forced carries from forward tees
Be in top condition
Unpretentious setting
Traditional Design
Compliment players of all levels

Both of these Wailea courses are wonderful to play and complement golfers of all skill levels.  But if you have to choose between them, and have a handicap over 20, you’ll probably want to stick to the Emerald.  A recipient of a Top Fairways Award from GFW seven times, Wailea Emerald it is one of the most women-friendly golf clubs in all of the USA, and I think, one of the most beautiful. 
The first hole is a wonderful way to start your game, not only for the view straight out to the ocean, but the fun as well.


I love courses that almost guarantee you early success and this 11 handicap, short par 4 is a treat to play.  Walking away with a par on the first, you’ll be ready to face the hardest hole on the course without quaking in your shoes, the par 5 second.
From the first tee to the last putt, your senses will be pampered with the sites, sounds and smells from this garden paradise.
The pro shop has a nice selection of women’s golf apparel and, something you don’t see that often, women working behind the counter to check you in.
The practice facility has everything you’d want in a range/short game area, including grass tees. The women’s locker room is spacious and clean with complementary lotions, large private showers and tons of lockers.  The electric carts come complete with GPS systems, ice, water and towels.
It also has one of the best 19th holes on the island; and with Chef Beverly Gannon’s revamp of the Seawatch restaurant, patrons are treated to first class cuisine as well.

Makena Golf Course
Golf For Women Criteria
Makena
At least one set of tees fewer than 5,300 yards

At least two under 6,000 yards

At least two tees rated for women
Few forced carries from forward tees
Be in top condition
Unpretentious setting
Traditional Design
Compliment players of all levels

Although it doesn’t quite meet the yardage requirements with the two sets of women-rated tees at 5,303 and 6,151 yards, the Makena Golf Course was good enough in other ways to receive recognition from Golf for Women with a Top 100 Women Friendly Courses award, along with a dozen other accolades from the “who’s who” in golf and tourist magazines.  And if you are into sustainability, you’ll be happy to know that it’s also certified by the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program in the areas of Environmental Planning and Wildlife and Habitat Management. 
We had the pleasure of playing a round of golf with the Golf Operations Manager, Erik Johnson, who was fairly new to the island himself (moved to Maui and joined Makena a year ago), but made a point of knowing more about the island and it’s culture and history than I could learn in a decade.  A man full of funny stories and interesting factoids, Erik kept us entertained during the whole round.
Makena is an impressive Robert Trent Jones JR. design.  With winding fairways that meander through the Kiawe trees, elevation changes that provide breathtaking views, and fun risk/reward holes that add spice to your game, Makena has everything one could ask for in a great golf course.  

14th hole, Photo courtesy of Makena Golf Resort

But the thing that you’ll really appreciate is the peace and tranquility you’ll experience while playing this award-winning course.  There is almost no wind; every hole seems separate from the others; the only sounds you’ll hear are those of Mother Nature.
The Makena clubhouse and pro shop may not be as extravagant as some of the others on the island, but there’s a laid back friendliness from the staff, which makes the whole experience relaxing and very enjoyable.
There are actually two courses at Makena, but the old “South” course has been under renovation for a couple of years.  They are hoping to open up 9 holes early in 2010, so I’ll put that on my must-play list for next year.
The Dunes at Maui Lani
Golf For Women Criteria
Dunes at Maui Lani
At least one set of tees fewer than 5,300 yards
At least two under 6,00 yards
At least two tees rated for women
Few forced carries from forward tees
Be in top condition
Unpretentious setting
Traditional Design
Compliment players of all levels
Now this course really surprised me, pleasantly.  After reading that it is Maui’s highest USGA slope-rated course, I was sure it couldn’t possibly be women-friendly, but I was wrong.
The Dunes is a unique links-style golf experience that is a must-play for anyone who loves golf.  It may be one of the hardest courses from the tips, but from the forward tees, it’s a fun introduction to links golf for higher handicappers.
The 16th hole at The Dunes of Maui Lani
I love how the course meanders up, down and around ancient alluvial sand dunes that were sculpted by the winds over a million years. It’s like Mother Nature herself had a hand in its design. 
Add to the 18 fun-filled holes, the Dunes’ friendly staff, affordable green fees, an excellent practice facility and the Café O’Lei and you’ve got a winner in my books.

Kapalua Plantation and Bay Courses
Golf For Women Criteria
Kapalua (Bay)
Kapalua (Plantation)
At least one set of tees fewer than 5,300 yards

At least two under 6,00 yards

At least two tees rated for women


Few forced carries from forward tees

Be in top condition
Unpretentious setting

Traditional Design
Compliment players of all levels


At the risk of being lambasted by readers who think the Kapalua Plantation Course is God’s Gift to Golf, I have to say that, as a woman, I much prefer the Bay Course than the home of the SBS Championship. 

I played the Plantation Course for the 3rd time this past fall with my new friends on Maui that organize the annual Aloha Team Classic – a charity golf tournament which supports various youth agencies across Maui. 

Hosts Stuart and Debbi Katz are members at Kapalua and I am not I would have survived the round without their help on a very knock you over day.   Thankfully they help us understand how to play this course and read its very tricky greens.  Yup, they seemed to have this puppy tamed, but for me, The Plantation Course is still a beast.  I’m glad I played it, but  wouldn’t call it “women-friendly” — more like gorgeous but deadly.

On the other hand, the Bay Course at Kapalua felt like it was made for me.  I only played it once, but it definitely won’t be my last.  It was love at first site when I started off birdie-ing the first hole.  From there it just got better from the mountain holes to the surfside fairways and greens.

The Bay Course photo, courtesy of Kapalua
I was surprised that the second set of tees at only 5,676 yards weren’t rated for women.  I guess that’s why it never quite made the cut when it came to GFW’s rating system.  Nevertheless, The Bay Course is fun to play and much more laid back than the Plantation Course. But it still offers up beauty, variety, challenge and spectacular views within a women-friendly environment. 

So go ahead and try the Plantation – it’s a great course.  But if you’re feeling a little beat up after that experience, don’t worry.  Just down the street, The Bay Course will make it all better.  Trust me – been there, got the crying towel.


On Lana’i: The Challenge at Manele and The Experience at Koele

Golf For Women Criteria
Manele
Koele
At least one set of tees fewer than 5,300 yards

At least two under 6,00 yards

At least two tees rated for women
Few forced carries from forward tees
Be in top condition
Unpretentious setting
Traditional Design
Compliment players of all levels


Well, I guess the results speak for themselves – on Lana’i, Manele would rank higher than Koele in terms of women-friendliness under GFW’s yardstick.   But it’s hard for me to agree with that since I shot my best round of golf ever the first time I ever played The Experience at Koele.  Funny how some courses just fit your game, regardless of yardage or ratings.
GFW might disagree, but for me, both of these courses are ‘must plays’ for any golfer – young, old, male or female, these two masterpieces are not to be missed if you are planning a golf vacation in Maui.
They may be pricey, but they are worth every penny.   Playing each of these courses was pure delight for me.  The moment I stepped off the 18th green, I wanted to play the course again.

The 6th hole at The Challenge at Manele
Immaculate conditions, signature course designs, gorgeous views, staff who exemplify the Aloha spirit and great 19th holes make a day at either club a memory you will relive in your mind forever.  I really don’t know which course I liked more – they are so different. 

All I know is, “I’ll be back!” 


Golfgal


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6 comments

  1. Great article! Thanks for providing such a comprehensive guide for women who are interested in golfing on Maui!

  2. Thanks Sheralyn! I love that island and all the golfers on it!

    I can’t wait to play it again in Nov.

    Off to Palm Springs in 3 weeks. Looking for women-friendly courses there – do you know of any?

    cheers
    Gayle

  3. Great article! The photos are gorgeous and make me wish I was in
    Hawaii playing!

  4. Thanks Nathan 🙂

    I use Maui pics as my background on my laptop. Every minute of everyday I wish I was there too.

    cheers
    Gayle

  5. I’m afraid I’ve never golfed in Palm Springs! It sounds like fun though! 🙂

  6. I’ll make sure a post a review of Palm Springs golf as well when I get back.

    thanks!
    Gayle

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