On a cold and rainy day in Northern California, I slathered myself in sunscreen, gripped a driver and watched my tee shot go bounding down a fairway of Bermuda grass with a backdrop of glimmering, calm Pacific Ocean.
So glad I was on Maui and not in Northern California.
With February issue looming, I wanted to give readers an escape hatch from the gloom of golf in most parts of the country this time of year. Wowie, warm Maui, did I ever find one. Maui offers a special aloha spirit for women who love the game, far beyond what is to be found at those golf destinations that call to the tee one foursome of men after another.
OK, so there weren’t any cute shirtless guys driving the beverage carts, yet. But I found a woman general manager at one of the island’s top golf clubs, a woman head pro at another, and a former USC women’s golf coach who years ago eloped to the island and opened shop at a teaching station so scenic, there are no bad-looking shots.
I also learned about a 17-year-old girl who’s been beating the boys in the islands and will head for the mainland to hone her game. I found pro shops with as much as half of their space devoted to the latest merchandise for women – and I played golf with women wearing fantastic-looking golf shoes. When I finally did play golf with a man, it became apparent quickly that he might have the biggest female following in Maui for making his club’s monthly ladies’ days too much fun to be missed.
Maui’s “we love women” campaign doesn’t start and end with the golf business, of course – the resorts offer their own brand of lady love, pampering them at the spas, transcending them at the adults-only tranquility pools and feeding them fresh and local from the island farms.
But, back to that shot down the first fairway of Wailea Golf Club’s Emerald Course. Driving us to our golf balls, which were sunbathing just a few feet apart, Jennifer McNally shares the dirty little secret behind Maui’s woman appeal.
The thing is, she says, “A guy cannot tell his wife or girlfriend, ‘Honey, I’m going to Maui with the guys for a little golf getaway next month.’ That is just too hard for him to sell.”
Not without inviting the wife or significant other along. No wonder the golf courses here strive for at least a one-in-four ratio of women players. And no wonder women have risen to prominent roles in the island’s wonderful world of golf.
General manager Anne Takabuki runs the two courses at Wailea Golf Club, with Rusty Hathaway the head pro and McNally the director of sales and marketing. The shop is bigger than many sporting goods stores and seems to devote half its space to women, with many lines of golf attire as well as shelves filled with purses and trinkets.
It’s the Emerald Course that women like, the staff says – at just over 5,200 yards from the front, it’s not the shortest (that would be Old Blue), but it mixes great ocean vistas with interesting holes that do not all require driver. The 17th hole, for example, is just 234 yards long, and McNally shows me a line along the left side, over bunkers, to the shortest approach without risking running into the pond at the end of the fairway on the right.