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Take two ocean-snuggle holes and hope: Kapalua Resort's Bay Course needs LPGA rebirth

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

MAUI, Hawaii - "Ocean course" is one of those terms that's often open to as much interpretation as Bill Clinton's carefully worded statements about Monica Lewinsky.

Bay Course at Kapalua Resort - No. 4
The fourth hole at Kapalua Resort's Bay Course has you shooting right at the Pacific.
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I did not say how close you'd actually get to that blue.

There are ocean courses in Maui that give you looks at a far, far away ocean. After a while, you may be tempted to go with a pair of binoculars as your 14th club. And then there's the Bay Course at Kapalua Resort.

You can get up close and personal with the surf on two holes at Bay Course. These two holes are the reason you play Bay Course, the sister course to the famed Plantation Course that's definitely a step sister twice removed.

Can you play a golf course just to experience two holes?

When you're in Maui, looking to come home with some stories about ocean golf, and you don't want to go to the trouble of getting to the little island of Lanai for its showcase Jack Nicklaus ocean course, the answer's probably yes.

And these are two really nice holes.

"Most people talk about the visuals after playing the Bay Course," Assistant Professional John Shaw said. "They like the two holes on the water, the two holes right on the ocean. Those holes normally get a lot of compliments."

Their greatest compliment may be how many non-golfers who are staying in Kapalua find their way out to the Bay Course's fourth and fifth holes. As you're waiting to tee off on No. 4, you'll see them wandering down the edges of a hole that runs along the ocean and takes a dogleg turn at one section of Pacific.

It's not the easiest place to walk to on the course, but the Japanese tourists with camcorders still make the hike.

On the afternoon of this review visit, someone had even abandoned a baby stroller at the rocks off the cart path near the fourth green. Thankfully, the baby wasn't left in it. Though it no doubt still caused more than a few wayward hackers anxious moments of consternation when they realized with a start that their Pro V1 was hurtling toward a baby stroller.

Fore! Err ... Mom!

You can't really blame the little one, though. He or she was probably off enjoying the view.

The Bay Course's fourth hole is a doozy. It's a short par 4 (357 yards from the back tees) that makes you step back from the tee and think how you really want to play it. You're shooting straight at ocean blue that's almost as close as it appears (and it looks like you could almost reach out and touch it).

That's because the hole takes a sharp dogleg at that ocean, leaving you to play along the Pacific for the rest of the trip to a tucked away green blocked by twisting bunkers.

The smart move is to play it as safe as a Mormon on a Saturday night. Or to pretend you're Zach Johnson at the Masters. But who plays resort golf to be smart? You're going to try and cut around a section of ocean - and you're going to flirt with losing a ball in the waves.

It's one for the books no matter which way it turns out anyways.

The fifth doesn't provide the same strategy debate, but in some ways it's even more visually impressive. This 162-yard par 3 sits right on the ocean bluffs. Your ball has to clear over rocks and the surf below to reach a green that narrows and sticks out like a peninsula.

This is the part of Kapalua's Bay Course where the round slows down, and you tend not to mind the wait at the tees as golfers snap photos or explain to their buddies how their shots came as close to their target as that drunk, overweight geezer at the bar did to landing that model's number.

In truth, the stretch starts on No. 3, the wedding chapel hole. So many nuptials have been exchanged here that there is a little gazebo tucked off to the side. While everyone talks about The Bay Course's fourth and fifth holes, you see plenty of ocean along the par 3 third too.

No binoculars required.

The Verdict on Kapalua's Bay Course

For a two to three-hole ocean golf jolt, The Bay Course delivers. Yes, it otherwise rides The Plantation Course's coattails like Turtle lives off Vincent Chase in "Entourage." To its credit, the Kapalua management team seems determined to make Bay a better overall golf course, though.

It's redoing all the greens with new grass, giving this 35-year-old course a much needed jolt. For years, The Bay Course's greens played so slow that visitors could have been excused for thinking that co-course designer Arnold Palmer (with Francis Duane) built the course with his future senior citizen nerves in mind.

The back nine was closed for the project at the time of this visit, and an impromptu look around found the early results to be very promising.

Starting in October 2008, the LPGA will play an annual tournament at The Bay Course, and vacationing golfers should see some better conditions as a result. It's been 10 years since Kapalua's Bay Course has received tournament TV time, and there's a definite drive to make a good impression.

"Bay probably does get overshadowed by Plantation," Shaw said, "but maybe that can change a little with the LPGA coming."

If it does, with some much needed groundskeeper fussing included, The Bay Course might become more than a two-hole ocean wonder. There are plenty of tall pines here that would look impressive next to greener fairways; holes like No. 6 - a long uphill climb with trees all around it - could get some recognition of their own.

Maui hotels

Kapalua is basically one big, sprawling outdoor resort with five beaches within a two-mile-radius and the two golf courses. The range of ways you can stay is extremely varied, though. You can rent a villa, a condo or, when renovation is done, get a plush room at the Ritz Carlton.

The condos are a good way to go. They almost all seem to have good views. There is a big difference in the newness of the furniture and the quality of the beds in the condos, though. Kapalua places its condos into quality levels in a color-coded scheme (no terror threat level jokes please), and the cheaper the level you select, the more likely you'll be lounging in 1970s-level furniture.

Go Kapalua Gold and you'll be in big resort luxury but paying plenty for it.

Fast Facts

In the wake of the LPGA tournament deal, Kapalua Resort signed Morgan Pressel to be its official "LPGA touring pro." Which basically means Pressel will be a paid ambassador who tries to convince other big names they should play in the fall event.

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.


 
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Dates: January 1, 2014 - December 20, 2014
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