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Maui, Hawaii – This is the first installment in a series of stories on vacationing in Maui.

One golf course hosts a PGA tournament and provides some serious shot-making challenges, while a second one serves as a feel-good track that should keep many vacationing golfers smiling and content.

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Located on the beautiful tropical island of Maui, the Kapalua Resort golf complex caters to golfers who want to test their varying abilities while soaking in the exotic Hawaiian landscape and many of its awe-inspiring ocean views.

Built around the natural wonders of the West Maui Mountains, the Plantation Course is easily the toughest of the two Kapalua Resort courses. If the famed trade winds are howling, the course will play much longer and tougher for an elite group of PGA players that descend on the Plantation Course the first week of January, competing in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.

Of course, those same menacing winds can also create havoc on the more submissive Bay Course at Kapalua. But the Bay Course terrain, which features gentle rolling fairways and lacks the severe slope of Plantation, is still highly playable even in windy conditions. The Bay lacks the teeth of its Kapalua counterpart, thanks to being 811 yards shorter than the Plantation’s back tees.

Since the Kapalua Resort courses are in great demand, it’s advisable to make tee times well in advance of your Maui visit. Both courses offer a very good full set of rental clubs ($70) and two complimentary sleeves of golf balls. And don’t forget to do some picture taking so you can show off the spectacular scenery to your golf buddies when you return home.

Here’s a look at the two Kapalua Resort courses.

PLANTATION COURSE: Are you a golfer who loves the challenge of a long course? That can certainly be achieved at the Plantation, where the tips will measure a whopping 7,411 yards for the PGA pros who officially open the 2015 season Jan. 9. For shorter hitters, the “regular” tees go a reasonable 6,674 yards and the forward tees are 6,019.

The par-73 Plantation is considered one of the toughest and most spectacular golf courses on Maui. Designed by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore, it features dramatic elevation changes that may be lost on first-time golfers who fail to truly examine each hole off the tee.

A price will be paid for getting mesmerized by the scenery and failing to pay attention to detail, even though the fairways are wide. Aim for the middle of the fairway on many holes and the ball will roll sideways and wind up in the difficult rough, or even worse, be unplayable. Even though the Bermuda grass is short, the ball sinks down low in the rough and makes hitting woods and long irons extremely difficult.

Course management is crucial, so remember to play safe whenever possible. Gambling with wild, high-risk shots can turn pars into double bogeys or worse. Even reaching the greens in regulation is no guarantee for par. The large greens are well bunkered, roll fast, and the amount of break is often hard to fathom, which can lead to a number of dreaded 3-putts.

There’s nothing boring about a round at the Plantation. While challenging, the winds and extreme elevation also combine to make for an array of fun shots throughout the round. If your golf ball isn’t obedient and the scorecard is getting ugly, distractions can still make this a very pleasurable round. Spotting a whale is possible (mid-November to April), sunrise and sunsets are amazing, and the sizable waves and athletic surfers are pleasing distractions as well.
Cost: $135 to $295

BAY COURSE: Although the course no longer hosts a professional tournament, it does possess a proud past. The Bay Course opened in 1975 and has hosted over 20 major professional tournaments – the most of any Hawaiian course.

Greg Norman’s first victory on America soil was in Maui and Morgan Pressel’s had a dramatic win at the 2008 Kapalua LPGA Classic, the last professional tournament hosted by the Bay Course, which was designed by Arnold Palmer and Ed Sean.

But enough about the pros – how will the average hacker fare? The Bay is a fun test of golf on a track that is not very penalizing or terribly long (6,600 yards from the tips). There are several holes with blind shots off the tee, but the layout doesn’t require much course knowledge, which is a great plus for first-time players.

The front 9 runs along the beautiful Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua hotel property down to the ocean, where two short but tricky holes reside. No. 4 is a short (357 yards) dogleg that requires some caution off the tee and an accurate second shot into the ocean-side green.

What lies ahead is arguably the most scenic golf hole in Maui. No. 5 is a gorgeous, cliff-side par-3 over the crashing waves that often plays into the wind. Make sure to take a few pictures on this breathtaking hole and make liberal use of the mulligan. Tourists are often mesmerized by the view and find the tee shot intimidating, which can often lead to a shanked first shot into the ocean.

As a rule, the Bay fairways are wide and manageable. There are several enjoyable risk-reward holes that most golfers love. Fairway roughs and bunkers are not very penalizing, and the course flows through the gently sloping topography. Uneven lies are far less frequent than the Plantation course and the greens aren’t nearly as severe. The back 9 is sheltered from the wind and plays a little easier than the front.

The Bay Course is a beautiful track that is frequently a “couples golf” outing. It’s a layout where single-digit golfers playing extremely well may be able to make a run at par (72) and high-handicappers will find pleasurable as well.

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