Makena Golf Courses…Maui’s best!
Story & Photos by: Ed Stone

Playing golf anywhere in Hawaii is not a tough assignment.  Pick a course, any course; even the bad shots you thought you had left behind don’t seem so bad.  When you combine a stay at the magnificent Maui Prince Hotel with golf, located just across the street, then you have a real taste of Golf Heaven.

The beautiful beaches of Maui, Hawaii
Wine, cheese and fruit overlooking Maui beach at sunset
Gardens surround the Maui Prince Hotel

The Makena Resort is located on the southwestern most point of the Island of Maui.  The Maui Prince Hotel rests on a peaceful Hawaiian white-sand beach at the foot of Haleakala, Maui's highest mountain.  To say this is “the last resort” on Makena Alanui (street) is an understatement.  The resort is at he end of the road on this portion of the island.  This location sets it aside from all the other resorts on Maui; it is like a whole different island.

As you enter the open lobby of the Maui Prince Hotel, you are captivated by the Japanese meditation garden that sets the mood for visitors looking for a quiet place to stay on this island paradise.  All rooms overlook the gardens and either the beach or pool. There are no immediate neighbors to the resort, so the beach is only for the guests who occupy the 310 rooms.

The Maui Prince Hotel is noted for being a perfect place to enjoy Maluaka Beach, but to also enjoy hearing and seeing the great humpback whales that migrate from November through May.  Other highlights include swimming, body surfing, kayaking, tennis, the Ho’ohana-fitness center, a massage center, volleyball, shuffleboard, two lounges two restaurants, and meeting facilities to accommodate 20 to 500 attendees.

Flowers adorn the lobby of the Maui Prince Hotel

And then, there is golf.  Yes, some of the best in Hawaii.  This resort lays claim to 36 of the best to be played holes on the Islands of Aloha.  The courses, split into Makena North and South, were designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr. with lots of land to use, say 1,800 acres of unspoiled coastline.  Lets just say, in this part of the world that is highly unusual.

No. 10 of the Makena North Golf Course

Recently, I had the pleasure of playing the Makena North Course with the head professional, Kirk Nelson, PGA.  Upon checking in at the pro shop, I was graciously greeted by Assistant Head Professional, Rene Smith, PGA.  The entire staff is well trained to handle most all golfers’ requests.  They are courteous, observant to the customer’s needs and very professional, a reflection of the entire golf experience.

The Makena North Course opened in 1993 to rave reviews. The North Course feels more like a nature walk than a golf course, with captivating mountain views of Haleakala Crater (some 7 to 8 miles away) and sweeping views of the blue Pacific Ocean. Hawaiian rock walls remain where they were found, and natural gullies and streambeds are left intact.  There are francolin birds that resemble partridge as well as mongoose. 

The par-3, no. 15 hole of Makena North course

From the first tee to the 18th green, every hole offers the golfer a challenge.  Doglegs, elevated greens, strategically placed sand bunkers, undulating greens or any other obstacle that can be placed on a golf course, the North Course has it!  Several of the holes play over or around former lava flows, like numbers 3, 6, 12 and 13.  Come prepared to play every club in your bag but know that every hole has its own character.  In most cases you will enjoy awesome views of either Haleakala or the Pacific Ocean, sometimes both.

The signature hole for this course is number 14.  It is a very narrow 582-yard, par 5 from the “resort tees” and plays pretty much on a downhill sloping elevation like a 200-foot drop from tee to green.  For “tournament play,” it is 620 yards.  Only the long-hitters can make the green in three and all shots must be in the fairway, since much of the landing areas are sloping to the sides with plenty of rough.

No. 6 crosses a volcanic ravine

To illustrate how classy this resort and golf course operations are, upon returning to the clubhouse, I was met with a gracious aloha greeting and a very cool and damp Dr. Hoy’s red mango scented towel.  This refreshing touch made me feel almost as good as the birdie I made on the 18th hole.  What a way to finish a round of golf on a magnificent golf course!  To top this, Kirk, Renee and I enjoyed one of the most delicious Ruben sandwiches I have ever tasted.  This final event of my visit was at the Clubhouse Restaurant overlooking the number one tee of the South Course with the admiral blue waters of the Pacific in the distance.  What a way to spend a day in Hawaii!

Makena North Golf Course
Photo courtesy Makena Golf Club

Although I did not play the Makena South Course, it is worth mentioning for those wanting to play both courses when visiting the Island of Maui.  These 18 holes were opened in 1981 with the current back nine and the lower nine of the North Course being available.  It wasn’t until 1993 when both course were ready to take on separate identities.  There are only three golf courses on the Island that offer “ocean holes” and Makena South is one of them.  Here, numbers 15 and 16 play to and along the ocean respectively.  The par 3, 167-yards for resort (188 tournament), number 15 is the signature hole for the South Course.  Number 16 is a par 4 playing with the ocean on the left side from tee to green.


The Makena Golf Club Pros:
L-R: Renee Smith & Kirk Nelson

Kirk Nelson is the head golf professional at the two Makena Golf Courses.  He is a most affable, tall and tan individual.  Growing up in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, he brings to the Aloha State a very laid back and personal approach to making his guests feel comfortable.  In the fifth grade, one of his classmates invited him to play golf.  His mother told him, “You don’t know how to play golf.”  Well, his uncle Karl who was an avid golfer told Kirk, “He was a natural.”  A week later after playing with his classmate, he played at Tinker Air Force Base.  Years later, as a senior in high school, he won the club championship at Tinker.

Kirk worked at the Oklahoma City Golf & Country Club and later at the Dornick Hills Country Club.  He came to Makena in 1997 from the Raven at South Mountain in Phoenix, Arizona.  He is indeed a natural for this job.

Renee Smith is the assistant head professional at Makena and she too is well suited for this location.  Her golfing career began around the age of five.  She grew up in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and graduated from Penn State University.  Recently when the Nike football coaches came to Maui, their golf tournament and other events were held at the Makena Courses.  One of Renee’s biggest thrills was to meet her favorite coach, Joe Paterno, and 30 other big name coaches.

For more information and rates:
The Maui Prince Hotel
5400 Makena Alanui
Makena, Hawaii 96753
Phone: (808) 874-1111
Toll Free Reservations: (866) PRINCE-6
Fax: (808) 944-4491

The Makena Golf Courses
Phone: (808) 879-3344
E-mail for tee times:

For information on the Islands of Hawaii:
Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau
2270 Kalakaua Avenue, Suite 801
Honolulu, HI USA 96815
Phone: 800-464-2924