Review: Ka’anapali Golf Courses (Royal and Kai Courses)

Golf on Maui. It’s what dreams are made of, and the Ka’anapali Golf Courses help make those dreams come true. Managed by Billy Casper Golf, Ka’anapali is home to 36 holes known as the Royal Ka’anapali Course and the Ka’anapali Kai Course, which provide plenty of fun and challenging golf.

First impressions at a golf course are important to the overall experience, and the friendly and welcoming staff who checked us in upon our arrival got our days at Ka’anapali started off on the right foot. They truly value their customers, and that goes a long way.

We started off our Ka’anapali experience by playing the Royal Course on a Saturday, and followed that up with the Kai Course on a Sunday. There is one pro shop for both courses, so you check-in at the same spot for both. There is a large putting green and driving range, where the range balls were included in our round.

The Royal Ka’anapali Course

This Robert Trent Jones Sr. design opened in 1962 and is the more challenging of the two Ka’anapali golf courses. The 6700 yard, par 71 layout boasts a stern course rating of 74.2/131 from the back tees — and yes, I played the back tees, and just barely survived to tell the tale.

The Royal Course has played host to many noteworthy events including Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf, the LPGA’s Kemper Open, and the Ka’anapali Classic (Champions Tour) for 14 years.

The genius of the Royal Course is how playable it is given the difficult rating. Robert Trent Jones Sr. made an ideal resort course which could double as host to the world’s best. He provided plenty of room off of the tee, yet managed to challenge anyone to score with the undulating, well-protected greens. The Royal puts a premium on quality approach shots and your short game.

View from the par-5 1st tee:

Kaanapali Royal 1st tee

Looking back at the narrow approach into the 1st green:

Kaanapali Royal 1st green

The Royal Course starts out pretty flat and incorporates more contouring and elevation change through the middle portion of the round, which helps offer up some great ocean views no matter where you are on the course. The tee shots are inviting, and approach shots must be precise.

Looking back from the par-4 4th green:

Kaanapali Royal 3rd hole

The bunkers protecting the raised 7th green:

Kaanapali Royal 7th hole

There is a premium on short game on the Royal Course. Missing greens above the hole or on the short side can make it nearly impossible to get it close, especially when your ball nestles down in the rough.

The view overlooking the 7th green:

Kaanapali Royal 7th hole

Approach to the par-4 12th hole:

Kaanapali Royal 12th hole

We were extremely impressed with the conditioning of the course, particularly the greens which rolled quick and smooth. It’s not a course where you want to find yourself putting from above the hole too often, or from the wrong tier.

All-in-all, the experience at the Royal Course was one I hope to have again. The layout was great, the greens were challenging, the pace of play was good, we saw the beverage cart several times, and they had regular water stations to fill up your bottles, which is important on those hot and humid Maui days.

The Royal Course provides plenty of challenge, great conditions, stunning views, and most importantly, is a lot of fun. It is one of the best on Maui.

The Kaanapali Kai Course

The Kai Course is the easier of the two courses, but isn’t a pushover, with a course rating that is still slightly over par from the back tees. The 6400 yard, par-70 layout plays a bit shorter than the Royal Course. It’s biggest claim to fame is that it played host to The Big Break series on The Golf Channel in 2008.

Like the Royal Course, the tee shots on Kai are inviting and most players should be able to keep their ball on the golf course. You might expect the Royal Course to overshadow the Kai Course, but that isn’t the case. The Kai Course stands strong on its own — it was an absolute blast to play.

It starts out with a flat and fairly simple 1st hole, and then heads across the highway up into undulating and interesting terrain, which lends itself to some great views.

Overlooking the 2nd green:

Kaanapali Kai 2nd hole

Beautiful views even as you head further inland. Looking back on the par-4 7th hole:

Kaanapali Kai 7th green

It was a bit difficult to focus on approach shots when whales were jumping in the background. The downhill approach to the par-4 9th hole:

Kaanapali Kai 9th hole

For a course that isn’t overly lengthy, the par-3’s are brutes, ranging from 182 to 225 yards from the back tees. The par-3 11th hole was the shortest one of the day:

Kaanapali Kai 11th hole

For the final three holes of Kai, you cross back over the highway and finish your round on flat terrain but are still challenged by two water hazards and the need to block out resort traffic which parallels the finishing two holes. My brother-in-law, Matt, did his best to put his golf ball in the back of a convertible on the 18th, but was saved by a palm tree.

Approach to the par-4 16th hole:

Kaanapali Kai 16th hole

Looking back on the par-4 finishing hole:


The best way to sum up the Kai Course is simple — it’s fun. It’s playable for most skill levels and if you’re a decent player you’ll probably give yourself quite a few looks at birdie. Who wouldn’t love that?

Which course should you play?

If you have time, I recommend playing them both. You get two first class golf experiences with a down to earth feel.

If your budget is tight, the Kai Course comes in a bit cheaper at around $130, whereas the Royal Course will run you closer to $170. Both mid-range prices for Maui.

If you’re looking for the best combination of value and experience on Maui, you’ve found it with either of the Ka’anapali Golf Courses. Whether you play Royal, Kai, or both, you’ll go home with a memorable Hawaiian golf experience.



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17 thoughts on “Review: Ka’anapali Golf Courses (Royal and Kai Courses)

  1. Wow. A great write up, as always, but the pictures…oh my.
    I won’t be traveling to Hawaii without my clubs, I can assure you that.

    Thanks for sharing, Mike

  2. Aloha Josh,

    Another great post! And I totally agree – the Kaanapali courses are both beautiful and FUN. Of course just finding my tee shot usually puts a smile on my face.

    A Hui Hou,

    1. Aloha Wayne,

      Thanks buddy! Luckily I was smiling after most of my tee shots…some of the approach shots challenged the smile, but the fun never ended.


  3. With that scenery, it might be hard to keep my mind on the game! How did you do it?! Definitely adding this to the bucketlist. And Hawaii makes it easy to convince the wifey!

    1. Hi Adam,

      It is certainly challenging to keep your mind on the game! It’s all part of the amazing experience of golfing in Hawaii, and golf is just one of many amazing things to see and do there. I recommend it!


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