Category: Maui

December 15, 2011

Lanai: Where Maui residents go to escape stress, chaos of life on Maui

Posted at 1:42 PM by Jeff Ritter

Have you ever been to place so remote, so pristine and so luxurious that the whole thing almost felt a little absurd?

Let me take you there.

Just nine miles off the coast of Maui lies Lanai, Hawaii’s smallest inhabited island. For the final phase of my Maui adventure, I hopped a 45-minute ferry ride to Lanai, which was once largely owned by James Dole of the eponymous fruit company and for most of the 20th century was the origin of most of the world’s pineapples.

BeachToday, new ownership has shifted the island’s focus from pineapples to tourism. Not that it’s crowded. Earlier in the week, when I mentioned the subject of Lanai to Maui locals in golf clubhouses, restaurants and poolside cabanas (it’s been a tough week), more than once I was told, to some effect, “Oh I love Lanai. It’s where I go just to get away from it all.” My typical response was a pause to see if they were serious. Come on. Get away from Maui?

Now it all makes sense.

On Lanai you’ll find little more than 3,000 residents, 30 miles of paved roads, zero stop lights, zero fast-food restaurants and one gas station. How remote is Lanai? Residents have no mailboxes, which sounds reasonable when you learn that they also don’t have street addresses. If I lived on Lanai and you wanted to mail me a nice Christmas card, the correct address would be:

Jeff Ritter
Lanai City, Hawaii

TurkeysWild turkeys roam free here, and after I checked into the Four Seasons Resort Lanai at Manele Bay, a few of the birds strolled past my ground-level patio. But the Four Seasons, of course, isn’t known for turkeys; it’s the scene and the service. Four examples:

1) Staffers buzz around the pool offering to massage your hands, should you grow weary from all that pesky text-messaging.
2) Ocean-side hales (cabanas) can be rented for meals, where you set your menu and customize the playlist for background music.
3) Spinner dolphins roll into the bay just about every day and you can see them easily from the resort’s crescent-shaped beach.
4) Daytime activity options include croquet, skeet-shooting and gecko hunts.

One quick story: Near the lobby’s front desk there’s a large glass dispenser of “orange-infused water” for guests to sip as they check in or out. After finishing a cup, I asked a pleasant woman behind the desk named Fran where I could find a trash can to dispose of it. She quickly grabbed my empty cup and tossed it into a receptacle behind the counter and said, “There are no trash cans in the lobby, Mr. Ritter. We want our guests to come to us directly for all of their needs.”

That about sums it up.

No-1A three-minute shuttle away was the Challenge at Manele, a faultless resort track that hosts a mere 20,000 rounds a year -- it’s a serene, spotless, almost heavenly place, but it’s not for beginners. (Hey, there are plenty of activities for the whole family back at the resort.) Nearly every par 3 and several approach shots have forced carries, even from the forward tees, and at times the course can get tight. But overall, it’s still a great time.

The first hole [right] is a tepid, straight-ahead par 4, but it gets taxing from there. No. 2 is an uphill, dogleg-left par 4 with not one but two forced carries, No. 3 is a par 3 over lava rocks to a horseshoe-shaped green, and No. 4 is a short par 5 with a bunker smack in the center of the fairway that devours straight tee shots.

No-5No. 5 is the best hole on the front side. It’s the highest point on the course, and the tee shot is blind and straight up to the crest of a hill. But once you get to the top, it’s a 60-foot drop [right] for your approach to the green. The view is fantastic.

Naturally, it’s not the only photo op on the course.

The 12th tee is the most renowned spot at the Challenge because it was the scene of Bill Gates’s 1994 wedding to his wife, Melinda. Here’s more info, and a short-right tee shot that led to a double-bogey.

For his wedding, Gates didn’t just reserve a little spot on the tee box -- the billionaire rented out all of the island’s hotel rooms and the air space above it. (Side question: Why did he feel compelled to block air traffic over an entire island? Was the media really that interested in Bill Gates’s wedding? I thought in 1994 the paparazzi were only tailing Madonna, Julia Roberts and Kato Kaelin.)

No-17The entire back nine has teeth, and the most intimidating tee shot on the course is the par-4 17th [right], which bends to the right around a dramatic, ocean-side cliff. 

The Four Seasons Resort Lanai at Manele Bay is one of two jumbo resorts on the island. I took a 20-minute shuttle up the hills to the Lodge at Koele for an excellent lunch at a clubhouse joint called Terrace. The resort is in a setting that, thanks to tall pines and more temperate weather, felt more like the northeastern United States than Hawaii. I didn’t have time to try the resort’s course, the Experience at Koele. Hopefully next time. Hey, you can’t do everything in one trip, you know?

In fact, it’s probably a smart idea to leave an excuse to return to Lanai. And Maui. This trip was an incredible adventure, one I will never forget. A big mahalo to all the folks on Maui and Lanai who assisted me during the journey. As they say in the islands, ahui hou -- until we meet again.

- Part I: Solid Gold at Grand Wailea
- Part II: Blissful misery at Kapalua
- Part III: Kaanapali and the legend of Tommy Tang


 (Photos: Top - Four Seasons Resort; All others - Jeff Ritter)

December 12, 2011

Maui Adventure Part III: Kaanapali and the legend of Tommy Tang

Posted at 2:42 PM by Jeff Ritter

When it comes right down to it, playing golf while on vacation is supposed to be fun, right?

After getting knocked senseless by Kapalua’s Plantation Course, I drove about 15 minutes south for some stress-free, scenic resort golf on an excellent course, and that’s exactly what I encountered in Kaanapali, home to two championship courses and the former site of the Senior Skins Game and Golf Channel’s “Big Break Kaanapali.”

Kaanapali-No1My first round was on the Royal course, and it was a good one: picturesque, playable, tricky at times and perfectly enjoyable. At right is my photo of No. 1, a right-bending par 5 with water on the right that can jump up and bite you if you've left your mind back at the beach. The finishing hole is also a brute –- a par 4 with a forced carry over water off the tee and a pond that’s just waiting to gobble up shots that fall short-right of the green. But my favorite was hole No. 5, a straightaway par 4 with a slightly elevated tee and a nice Pacific view as you approach the green. Never get tired of seeing that ocean, you know?

RocksEach of the 18 holes at Royal has a Hawaiian-inspired name that’s always apt and occasionally interesting. For instance, No. 6 is called “Na Pohaku," which means “two stones,” an homage to the pair of large boulders just off the green. (Incidentally, I would’ve named this hole “two chips,” but then again, my short game has been a 14-car pileup this trip.)

Kaanapali likes to look after the locals, and in addition to weekly competitions, the course also offers a "Fit Club,” where tourists and residents can pay $50 a month to walk and play as many holes as they can each afternoon from 4 p.m. to sunset. Also, an excellent steak and seafood restaurant, Roy’s, will soon be moving down the highway to the Kaanapali clubhouse, which should be a coup for the resort and a bonanza for hungry golfers.

Havens-LessonDavid Havens, a PGA teaching pro based at Kaanapali, kicked around a few of the smaller tours, then spent six months teaching golf to children in Bhutan and briefly caddied for Tour pro Brendon de Jonge before eventually settling in Maui. Today he lives at the end of Kaanapali’s driving range and runs a nonprofit, "Spare For Change," that sends golf clubs to underprivileged young golfers around the world.

He’s an affable guy with plenty of stories to fill up a one-hour lesson. We played a breezy round on the Kai Course, a nice track that was less stern than the Royal Course and accessible for players of all abilities. That's where he straightened my tee shots and jump-started my climb back to mediocrity with this tip for handling island winds.

Both courses at Kaanapali are great, and the service is excellent. But with all due respect to AOL founder Steve Case, pop singer Nicole Scherzinger and the cast of “Hawaii Five-O,” the biggest celebrity in the islands might be roaming the fairways in a marshal’s cart at Kaanapali. His name is Tommy Sarashina, and he’s a quick-witted 86-year-old who loves to tell jokes or recount his time fighting in World War II, when he was held prisoner in Russia for nearly two years. Strapped in the back of Sarashina’s cart is a jumbo cooler filled with a drink that immediately took me back to my childhood. He first buzzed up to my group on the 11th hole at the Royal Course. Here he is.

Remember Tang? It comes in a powder that’s mixed with water to form a sweet, nuclear-pumpkin-colored drink. I probably hadn’t sipped Tang since I was seven years old, but it was just as good as I remembered. Mr. Sarashina is the perfect person to deliver this drink (free of charge to all golfers) and the childhood memories that come with it. In fact, good times and great people are probably what I’ll remember most about Kaanapali. That’s really what resort golf should be about, isn’t it?

At this stop I stayed at the Westin Maui Resort and Spa, which isn’t much more than a long par 5 away from the opening tee on the Royal Course, and it’s yet another luxurious, mammoth oceanside resort hotel. There are several pools, easy access to the beach and a nice little poolside lunch and happy hour spot called 'OnO. But the highlight of the hotel entertainment was the Westin Wailele Polynesian Luau. Here attendance is kept to a relatively modest 200-250, the food is great and fire dancers serve as the climactic act. When you think about it, a good luau really is a quintessential Hawaiian experience.

Sorry, did you want to see fire dancing?


A fire-dancer video is a sure sign I’ve drifted off the rails here, so it’s probably time to move on. Hey, at least I haven’t turned into a tacky, mai-thai-chugging tourist in a gaudy Hawaiian shirt who finds it amusing to take photos with hula girls after the show. Who even does that?














With that, it’s time to wrap this up and head to the final stop of my trip. It’s going to be a good one. Until then, leave those Hawaiian shirts in Hawaii, America.

- Part I: Solid Gold at Grand Wailea
- Part II: Blissful misery at Kapalua

(Photos: Jeff Ritter, Kaanapali Golf Courses)

December 08, 2011

Maui Adventure Part II: Blissful misery at Kapalua's Plantation Course

Posted at 2:54 PM by Jeff Ritter


“Ready to get beat up today?”

Those were the prophetic words from Steve Pike, a fellow golf writer and member of my foursome as we exchanged greetings near the first tee of what is arguably Maui’s most famous golf course -– the Plantation Course at Kapalua. I confidently responded that I was ready. Of course, Steve wasn’t the one preparing to hit me in the face -- the course would inflict all the damage on this day.

The PGA Tour will swing through the 7,411-yard, par-73 Plantation on Jan. 5-8 for its annual season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions, and the track was tournament-ready during my visit –- and so was the clubhouse grill, the Plantation House Restaurant. If you’re ever fortunate enough to hit the Plantation, arrive early so you can try their eggs Benedict breakfast special and hit a few putts on the practice green near the first tee. Those greens aren’t easy. More on this shortly.

Ritter2Standing on the tee at No. 1, I found a straightaway par 4 with the Pacific in the background, but there’s also a ravine jutting into the right side of the fairway that isn’t visible from the tee box. This ravine gobbled up what I thought was a solid drive, producing Lost Ball No. 1 on the day.

The carnage can pile up quickly.

The par-3 second hole usually plays into a cross-wind, and even though the green looked inauspicious from the tee box, it runs hard left-to-right thanks to the grain and breeze. No. 3 is an uphill, blind tee shot. No. 4 is straight into the wind. Come to think of it, I don’t think I saw the same wind direction on consecutive holes, which added to the challenge, frustration, and overall Plantation experience. (Let’s face it, playing Plantation with no wind would be like playing St. Andrews with no rain.)

RitterOne thing that does remain consistent from hole to hole is the dramatic landscape. Ocean views, lush forests and deep, rugged ravines are the common setting. But those greens were murder on my scorecard. Let me put it this way: At the Plantation Course it’s very possible that an uphill putt that’s downwind and downgrain moves faster than the comebacker straight down the hill. It’s an optical illusion that can mess with your head.

Because of the views, perfect landscaping, lost balls and mountain of three-putts, the whole experience was probably the most enjoyable miserable round of golf I’ve ever had, if that makes sense. By the time I reached 18, I was wind-burned and tired and had given birth to a unique putting problem I dubbed “green yips,” where I lost all belief in my ability to read a putt of any length. But at 18, I did summon the perfect blend of confidence and stupidity to play the hole from the tips. From there, it’s the longest hole on the PGA Tour at 663 yards. Here’s my tee shot.

Upon arriving at my ball, the cart GPS said I had 326 yards left, which meant my drive sailed and rolled 337 yards –- about 70 yards farther than my average drive. It helped that the fairway is essentially a ski slope, and at a course filled with memorable moments, that famous finishing hole truly is the best. I reached the green in regulation, then –- wait for it -- three-putted from 20 feet for a bogey.

Golf is the main attraction in Kapalua, but there are also great spots to grab a bite within minutes of the Kapalua Golf Villas, my comfortable, condo-style accommodations at this stop. The Pineapple Grill is adjacent to the Bay Course –- the second of the two championship courses at the Resort -- and if you don’t order the pineapple upside-down cake at a place called Pineapple Grill, I can’t help you. There’s also a great sushi joint called Sansei right in the town square that has daily specials and was made somewhat famous in 2011 when Ben Crane and Ryan Palmer's karaoke endeavor hit YouTube. The Honolua Store is the resort’s only grocery store, but the prices are reasonable, and it doubles as a restaurant with a budget-friendly lunch.

Then there’s the Kapalua Spa, an off-the-charts luxurious spot that’s frequented by the Tour pros and their wives during the event. If you enjoy relaxing in a horizon pool overlooking the ocean and having a rubdown as a Pacific breeze rustles the palms, you might find this spot worth a stop.

Ritter3The Bay Course, which hosted an LPGA event in 2008, is not as famous as Plantation, but it is no slouch. Like the Wailea courses, it offers plenty of “visual hazards,” especially on the oceanside par-4 fourth and par-3 fifth holes. On this morning, there were a few sea turtles bobbing around in the water below the fifth tee, and I was also informed that the stately home next to the fifth green belongs to none other than NBC golf announcer Mark Rolfing. (You can see it on the left side of the photo at right.) Mark Rolfing: I envy you. And yes, that’s a sentence I never thought I’d type.

Anyway, while Plantation heaps abuse on players of all abilities, the Bay Course is much tamer and also offers a set of uber-forward tees dubbed the “Bay Express” that cuts the course down to 1,700 yards and makes a nice option for seniors, juniors and tourists in a hurry.

King-academyBefore skipping town for the next island stop, I swung by the Kapalua Golf Academy to meet head teaching professional Jerry King. The high-energy instructor is one of Golf Magazine’s Top 100 Teachers, and if he ever decides to give up teaching golf, he could probably run for mayor of Kapalua. I stopped in just to say hello, but when I casually mentioned that my golf game was in a death spiral, he quickly said, “Let me see your action!” and proceeded to offer a few simple tips as I flailed away at a tee station. King’s mantra is to “train it dramatic,” which means overemphasizing each step until it becomes secondhand –- and it’s a fitting expression given that his school sits on a hill with a dramatic view of the Pacific. King also gave me a tip for reading those grainy, island greens that was so good I thought you might like to see it, too.

With that, we’re off to the next stop. Watch out for those three-putts, America. More from Maui coming soon.

- Part I: Solid Gold at Grand Wailea
- Part III: Kaanapali and the legend of Tommy Tang

(Photos: Jeff Ritter, Kapalua Resort)


December 06, 2011

Maui Adventure Part I: Solid Gold at Grand Wailea

Posted at 3:16 PM by Jeff Ritter

Grand-WaileaAloha and greetings from Maui. This is the first in a series of installments from Hawaii's second-largest island, and the journey begins in Wailea, a sun-soaked community on Maui's Southwest side.

It's a fitting place to start given that Wailea's resorts boast 54 holes of championship golf, countless shops and activities, and -- naturally -- plenty of prime real estate right on the Pacific. I checked into the Grand Wailea, a supersized resort hotel that was designed to resemble a turtle exiting the ocean (check out the photo above) and gobbles up 40 acres of this coveted land -- and they know how to use it. We're talking 780 rooms, 15 shops, nine separate pools, seven waterslides, five restaurants, a 50,000-square-foot spa and a partridge in a pear tree flock of mynah birds in the palm trees.

Sea-BassA couple of hours after deplaning in Maui and checking in, it was time for dinner. (Side question: Why is the act of getting off an airplane called "deplaning," but exiting a train is not called "detraining"? And why isn't hopping off a truck "detrucking?" English makes no sense sometimes. Back to Maui.) I stayed at the resort and wandered over to one of the island's most acclaimed restaurants, Humuhumunukunukuapua'a. This is not a typo -- it's also the state fish. Locals refer to the spot as "Humuhumu's," but tourists can also have a little fun with the name. For instance, you can say things like HeyI'mFeelingHungrySoIThinkI'llGoTo Humuhumunukunukuapua'a. Rolls right off the tongue. Anyway, the thatched-roof joint sits seaside, and master chef Isaac Bancaco cooks up some of the best surf and turf on the island. On this day Bancaco's daily special happened to be crab-crusted sea bass, and if that photo doesn't say enough, I'll add one more word: sensational.

WaileaThe first round of golf was at the Wailea Gold Course, and it's a great way to start a week if you're into perfect landscaping, challenging greens, exotic wildlife and 18 consecutive holes with a view of the Pacific. The service is also great, and Valerie on the beverage cart was quick to persuade me to ditch the traditional morning bloody mary for a "pink gecko" -- guava juice and vodka. "Good for 100 percent of your daily allowance of vitamin C," she said happily. Who am I to argue?

As great as the course was, the views were even better. I mean, even the driving range has an ocean view.

The Gold is fantastic, but it's not the only act in town, as the Wailea's other courses, the Emerald and Old Blue, also bring the heat when it comes to a resort golf experience. After the Gold, I swung by Old Blue and found a course with wide fairways, sculpted greens and a more budget-friendly price tag -- especially for you and the kids, as the course offers junior rates, family rates, and four-person golf carts. Before there were resort hotels at Wailea -- or much of anything -- there was Old Blue, which opened in 1971. Like the Gold course, ocean views abound. Barry Helle, Old Blue's general manager, said that at Blue these views are known as "visual hazards." That's so good I plan to use it the rest of the trip, and I will probably attribute my soaring scores to these diabolical hazards.

Maui by The Numbers:
12: Hours spent in the air on two flights from New York City to Maui. Totally worth it.
3: Number of trips down the jumbo waterslide at the Grand Wailea pools. It's the longest waterslide in Maui, and I don't care what you say, you're never too old for waterslides.
1: Mai Thais consumed.
4: Lost golf balls at Wailea Gold.
6: Three-putts at the Gold. Those greens are tricky, America.
0: Minutes spent worrying about my total score.

SpamRandom snack of the day: Spam Musubi
One of my colleagues tipped me off to this processed meat treat before I departed, and it took all of 24 hours on the island before I stumbled upon it at a hotel café. Musubi is a slab of friend spam pressed into a block of rice and then wrapped in nori, the edible seaweed often found in a sushi roll. Sounds awful, doesn't it? Looks atrocious, right? (Maybe even another form of visual hazard.) I actually liked it. I'm not even ashamed to admit it. And at $2 a pop, it could turn out to be one of the best value snacks of the trip.

More surprises, dietary and otherwise, coming soon. Until then, Aloha.

- Part II: Blissful misery at Kapalua
- Part III: Kaanapali and the legend of Tommy Tang

(Photos: Grand Wailea, Jeff Ritter)

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