Kapalua Golf: The Bay Course

The short, Par 4 13th hole plays toward the Pacific Ocean and views of the island of Moloka'i.
The Par 4 13th hole plays toward the Pacific Ocean and views of the island of Moloka’i.

More than 15 years before The Plantation Course was ever a glint in anyone’s eye, Arnold Palmer and Francis Duane designed and built The Bay Course at Kapalua. The year was 1975.

By 1983, the course was already hosting the first-ever live primetime televised golf event, the Kapalua International, and has since hosted more than 20 major professional tournaments. That’s the most of any neighboring island course in the state of Hawaii.

The Bay Course was the site of Australian Greg Norman’s first win on American soil, Fred Couples and Davis Love III have each won there – twice, and Morgan Pressel won the 2008 Kapalua LPGA Classic by a stroke thanks to a birdie on the final hole.

Sadly, the tournament was only held for one year, even though it was originally announced that it would be played for a minimum of three, after event organizers announced its cancellation due to the lack of a title sponsor.

As the course web site will tell you, “The Bay Course has consistently faced the best players in golf and withstood the test of time and technology. It is as challenging as it is beautiful.” The only reason it plays second fiddle to The Plantation Course is because it lacks a PGA or LPGA tournament presence.

The Bay Course plays just 6,600 yards from the Championship Tees to a Par of 72, a course rating of 73.5, and a slope of 135. Like Plantation, there are four sets of tees with combo sets in-between. Here are some of the highlights of the round:

Holes Worth Writing Home About
The signature hole at The Bay Course, and one of the prettiest holes anywhere on any island, is the 205-yard Par 3 5th hole. It’s the only hole on Maui that plays over the ocean, and the views are breathtaking. From the crystal blue turquoise-water waves crashing in the reef below to the views of Moloka’i in the distance, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more beautiful golf hole. Then you have to play it.

The wind is typically blowing hard off the ocean to the right of the tee boxes, which makes the tee shot that much more difficult, and if the wind catches your ball just right, it can blow it out of bounds into the condominiums to the left of the cart path. There are saving bunkers short and long right as well as a bunker long left, but there’s really not a whole lot of room to miss anywhere short or right.

The view from the Bay Course's signature Par 3 5th is spectacular. Not a bad place to own a condo either.
The view from the Bay Course’s signature Par 3 5th is spectacular. Not a bad place to own a condo either.

My wife’s dad’s cousin has a condo overlooking the hole. It’s the only unit that has views of both the sunrise and the sunset,and it just so happens that it’s also currently on the market. For $3.75 million. There’s a sale currently pending, but we’re silently rooting for it to fall through.

My wife and I and the friends we were traveling with visited the condo the night we arrived just before going to dinner. We watched the sunset from the lanai (Hawaiian for patio) while sipping Dom Perignon. Not a bad way to spend the evening.

My favorite hole on the back nine could have been a couple of different holes, but the honor goes to the short, Par 4 13th. At just 345 yards (the Par 4 14th is four yards longer), the hole is a slightly downhill, dogleg right that plays right toward the ocean and views of the island of Moloka’i. The 15th hole’s not bad either. It’s a downhill, 539-yard Par 5 that’s reachable in two with a well-placed drive out the right.

Hit it to the left, and you’ll find yourself in the middle of a fairway bunker with a giant tree growing out of the middle of it. It looks cool, but that’s about it. If you find yourself up against the trunk, you could be punching out backwards. Keep it out of the bermudagrass rough too. Again, if you can find it, it’ll sink down.

What you will find is that The Bay Course is not as windy as The Plantation Course because the terrain’s not as exposed. There are way more trees and building surrounding it, but it’s still very windy and it was another windy day. Perhaps it was just the day we were playing as the remnants of Hurricane Lester were still moving through the Pacific, but it was still a three-club wind.

The greens were exactly the same at Bay as they were at Plantation, although I thought they were in much better shape. This fact was best-illustrated on the back nine, where there was a guy on his hands and knees with what looked like a paring knife, removing thatch from the greens by-hand. You’ll hardly make or find a ball mark to repair on either course. If you read my previous post about Kapalua, you know all about my detailed description of the grain. I also thought the overall course conditions were significantly better.

The historic Honolua Store, established in 1929 is a local secret. Stop in for breakfast after the 2nd hole.
The historic Honolua Store, established in 1929, is a neighborhood hotspot. Stop in for breakfast to-go after the 2nd hole.

Quiet Please…
We had a morning tee time, so we decided to grab breakfast at Pineapple Grill. I ordered the giant egg sandwich with bacon on a croissant and my wife got the juevos rancheros, which were both suprisingly good for what felt like a golf course restaurant. Try the POG (passion fruit, orange, guava) juice or go bold and order a POG mimosa.

The Bay Course meanders through historic buildings and tropical gardens to the coastline. Your cart ride from the 2nd green to the 3rd tee is the best illustration, as it takes you directly through the middle of town. There’s a church, a variety of restaurants and shops, including the historic Honolua Store, established in 1929. Locals will pop-in for a quick, to-go breakfast of scrambled eggs and cheese, sausage, and sticky rice with Tabasco Sauce during the round.

We missed our chance after the 2nd hole but decided to stop in again between the 6th and 7th holes. I’ll be honest, it’s one of the nicest stores I’ve ever been inside. Kapalua Resort includes several residential communities ranging from mountain slopes to beach front property: the Ritz-Carlton bordering the Par 3 3rd hole, several vacation home rental programs, and the Kapalua Tennis Garden complex. Bay is a lot more residential (with mostly condos) than Plantation, which feels more rugged and tropical. But the homes are coming.

If you’re going to be at the resort for more than a week, you might want to check out the Kapalua Golf Academy, which looks like the best practice facility on the resort. It had better be. The two other ranges leave a lot to be desired. Ninety-five to 100 practice balls will cost $15, there’s also a 3-hole walking course for $25, and an 18-hole putting course, which is complimentary.

The driving range at Bay was even worse than Plantation. There were these yellow plastic restricted flight golf balls that fluttered this way and that when you hit them. We got rained on pretty good as we were warming up (the first of three times), so thankfully, our time there was brief.

The golf shop at The Bay Course is awesome! It’s far better and way bigger than the one at Plantation and well worth a few minutes of your time if only because of its huge sale racks. Now’s your chance to get a little something back if you know what I mean. They have plenty of mediums, and they even offer an online option, the Kapalua Retail Store.

There's a giant tree growing out of the fairway bunker on the Par 5 15th hole. I thought it was a cool look.
There’s a giant tree growing out of the fairway bunker on the Par 5 15th hole. I thought it was a cool look.

Rates are slightly different than Plantation. They vary depending on the time of day you wish to play and can range anywhere from $109 on the low end to $219 on the high end. Kapalua also offers live views of both courses here, which I highly recommend viewing. You even have the ability to control the webcam. There are ten different positions from which to choose!

You always want to make par or better on a course’s signature hole. I hit a cut 6-iron from 184 yards out (it was playing up a tee box). It was a pretty unnerving shot with the wind blowing in off the ocean to the right and out of bounds left, but it found its mark. My wife made a pretty nice bogey and nearly saved her par after bailing out left off the tee and pitching up to 15 feet.

We really loved The Bay Course! Even though it feels just as windy despite the shelter provided by the pine trees and surrounding condos, it’s still much more playable than The Plantation Course. Then again, it’s also more than 800 yards shorter.

The Bay Course is also prettier and more scenic than Plantation in spots. The stretch of holes from 3-5 is fantastic. Holes 3 and 4 play toward the ocean, and No. 5 plays right alongside it while the waves are crashing down below.

While We’re Young
We teed off at 9:54a and were done a little after 2:00p, just as another rainstorm was blowing over. There weren’t too many people out on the course when we played it, probably because it was a Tuesday morning. If you pick and choose your spots, you can really fly around the course.

Next On the Tee
Saratoga National Golf Club in Saratoga Springs, New York. My wife and I are heading back east for a family wedding next month, and there’s a golf outing. In fact, Saratoga National was recently ranked No. 8 in the state of New York by Golf.com for 2016-2017.

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