LAHAINA, Hawaii -- Taking your girlfriend or spouse on a golf vacation to Maui is a win-win for the both of you.
She gets to enjoy a little fun in the sun. And you won't have fine china hurled at your head when you walk out the door for the airport and leave her behind.
I spent a week on Maui, and like most golfers here, my girlfriend Abby came along for the trip. She is relatively new to the game, but I was able to talk her off the beach and onto a few golf courses with me.
Playing with a beginner makes you look at a golf course in a new light. I wasn't concerned so much with championship tee difficulty or how it would rank on a top 100 list. Instead, I was more curious with how playable it would be for her and whether the atmosphere of the club was intimidating or not.
If both of you can walk off the 18th green and a smile is still on her face, it's a successful afternoon.
And that's easy to find on Maui.
Ka'anapali Golf Resort is wonderfully attuned to couples, evidenced by its "Golf my way" package, which allows you to book 18 holes and spread the round out over the course of your stay.
One of Maui's older courses, Royal Ka'anapali is a Robert Trent Jones Sr. design that isn't horribly penal for beginners, even though some of the larger bunkers had Abby spooked.
Ka'anapali Kai is the more beginner friendly course of the two, with a 4,600-yard forward set of tees and even a "Keiki" set for juniors and beginners that is about 2,000 yards.
But Ka'anapali's ace in the hole is the staff, which is positive and encouraging from the time you pull up to the bag drop. The staff is led by Head Professional Sutee Nitakorn, whom my girlfriend took a shine to when we were paired up with him for a round.
"He was very easy going, calm and upbeat," Abby told me. "He told me, 'No one is an awesome golfer,' and it made me feel better."
Even though he may not be able to join your group, channel your inner, positive Sutee when playing with your partner, or inquire about a couples golf lesson.
With top-notch course conditions and a peaceful setting beneath Mount Haleakala shielded from the trade winds, it's tough to beat Wailea Golf Club as a spot to take your partner.
While the Gold Course at Wailea Golf Club is generally considered the toughest of the three, it's still plenty playable for anyone. It does, however, have the longest red tee yardage (5,442) of the three.
The better option is next door. The Emerald Course at Wailea Golf Club is a less intimidating design that tends to be more women friendly. Golf for Women awarded the course a Top Fairways Award seven times.
The Old Blue Course at Wailea Golf Club is the shortest from the red tees and the easiest (and usually a little less expensive), with a good amount of space off the tee, few bunkers with steep lips and easy-to-access greens.
Wailea Golf Club is also home to a David Leadbetter Academy at the top of the driving range. All shots are played downhill toward the ocean, perhaps to help raise a beginner's confidence.
You can also reward your spouse after the round with dinner at Gannon's A Pacific View Restaurant, a contemporary restaurant with a menu stocked with signature cocktails, fresh seafood and other choice meats.
If the game has driven her straight to the bottle, head to Old Blue's Irish Pub, Mulligan's.
King Kamehameha Golf Club isn't necessarily the easiest golf course for beginners. There are few flat lies in the sloping fairways up into the West Maui Mountains, many greens are elevated and some are guarded with ponds and waterfalls.
But everything else about the club makes it very welcoming to beginners. With fewer than 300 members and public play limited to a select few groups each day, the course's tee sheet is often wide open, meaning you'll likely have a few holes of buffer between yourself and any other groups.
She'll love the club's amenities more than the golf course. The Member-For-a-Day green fee includes lunch and full use of the facilities in the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed clubhouse, which is a marvel. It may tempt her to skip golf altogether, receive a spa treatment and spend all day in the women's locker room. She can meet you for lunch when you're done.
Set just below King Kamehameha, daily-fee Kahili Golf Course is a little more protected from the elements and gives women a pretty good break (4,946 yards from the red tees). It's also easy on the wallet, if you're not sure you want to spend three-figure green fees on a beginner.
The forward tees did seem quite forgiving in a lot of spaces, especially on downhill holes such as the par-3 13th that Abby had no problem reaching with a 5-wood. On the par-3 eighth, she skipped her ball across the water until it hit a rock and scared a bird off, which got a kick out of all of us (except the bird, maybe).
I'd be nervous about taking a beginner onto the Plantation Course at Kapalua Resort, even though the fairways are wide and many holes play downhill. It can get windier here than in south Maui, and thick bush lies off both sides of most fairways. There are lots of uneven lies, and the course plays long (5,500 yards from the forward set). She may be better off driving the cart and bringing some food to feed the stray dog that lives on the fifth hole.
The shorter Bay Course at Kapalua Resort isn't necessarily a pushover, either. It's set on hilly terrain and has some uphill shots. The forward tees play 5,124 yards (69.6/121). There is also a junior tee set up on the front nine that plays about 2,000 yards.
But Kapalua has beginners covered in other ways. There is a three-hole short course with nine tee box options, with holes playing between 66 and 278 yards. Or visit its 18-hole grass-putting course.
January 7, 2011