I didn't want to go.

I mean, sure, it was freezing in New York City, and the hard-earned golf callouses on my hands were disappearing faster than the Indian summer afternoons, and I repented all the times I'd ever cursed the July heat. I was starting to try out SADD home therapies, gleaning every scrap of electromagnetic radiation I could: staring into my desk lamp for half an hour at a time, falling asleep two feet in front of the TV set, moving the microwave into the bedroom.

You'd think I'd be raring to go to Maui.

But as my departure date drew closer, so did all those excuses: I can't got take a vacation with all the work I have to do!... There's no place like home... Need to catch up on reading... Suppose someone I know makes "Millionaire" and needs me to be one of his lifelines?

Might as well be a sport about it, I figured groggily as I roused myself at the crack of dawn to catch the 8AM plane -- though I almost didn't, thanks to a peevish ticket agent. Twelve hours later it's only 4 o'clock in the afternoon, and I'm squinting at the warm sun from the balcony of the Diamond Resort in Wailea, remembering how much better it is flying west, 'cause it's kind of like a really, really long day that improves, since you end up in... Hawaii.

Located on a north-south stretch of Maui's western, leeward shore, the Wailea Resort is sheltered from much of the rain that falls on the island's windward side. Here, quiet mornings in the shade of Mount Haleakala give way to comfortable humidity under brilliant midday blue skies, and after towering over a dazzling afternoon, the sun lowers slowly over a glare-speckled ocean, yielding ocean sunsets set so spectacularly against palm-tree fronds, it's almost corny. Wailea's three golf courses are perhaps not quite as reknowned as those at Kapalua or Makena -- but that will almost certainly change now that the Senior Skins Game is moving to Wailea's Gold course in 2001.

Ranked in difficulty, the three courses at Wailea are the Gold, Blue, and Emerald -- the newest being the Robert Trent Jones, Jr.-designed Gold and Emerald, both completed in 1994.

The Gold course is bracing and dramatic, with rolling fairways that criscross the foothills and prehistoric lava walls of Haleakala (hah-lee-AH-ka-lah), ingeniously winding a 7078-yard stern test of golf through relaxing views of enchanting ocean vistas.

In a trade chock-full of hucksters, Robert Trent Jones, Jr. is a master of self-promotion -- but unlike some of his colleagues, he actually often also designs brilliant golf courses as well. Jones, who wrote a book about reading a golf course's features, never fails to furnish visual clues from tee and fairway: faroff peaks and landmarks indicate driving targets you'll want to follow on the Gold. Bunkers edge most fairways here, but it's around the greens where the sand becomes most penal. The first hole, a downhill par-4, isn't particularly testing if you don't leave your drive short -- but the second, a short par-5, starts you off at the edge of big, rolling fairway which sweeps to the right over a big bunker; up by the green, an ominous trap threatens your layup on the left, and two deep, scary-looking bunkers guard either side of the elevated green.

The par-5 7th, at 590 yards unreachable for us mortals, begins with an uphill left-to-right dogleg -- bang yourself a good drive and you've got a layup with a fairway wood that looks easier than it is thanks to a pair of bunkers pinching the fairway. From 200 yards in you might start to feel that you're in a increasing-radius left-hand turn as you move closer to a small elevated green not so much surrounded by sand traps as swallowed up by 'em.

Then there's the 12th hole -- a par-4, according to the scorecard, though when you get onto the tee and see "470" on the yardage marker (it'll play a scant 487 for the Seniors) and in front of you, a green which plays slightly uphill, you may wonder if it's a misprint. It isn't, so be sure and drive it straight, and then plan your ahem approach carefully.

Wailea's Emerald course -- a few notches lower on the scale of difficulty, but no less scenic -- is where you'll want to play first, especially if it's the first round you've played in a month. Most everything about this course is gentle and inviting -- from the abundance of exotic plants and flowers, to the courteous fairway bailouts and on-ramps that beckon you onto many greens -- so you can beat your handicap by a few strokes. Not that it isn't challenging: the uphill 352-yard seventh demands a crisp right-to-left drive to avoid a yawning bunker to the right right, and then a precise short iron -- but the odds are your most satisfying memories of the Emerald are apt to be of some of the graceful landscaping, like number 12, a short par-four through a rustic stand of small trees right out of Tuscany. The par-5 18th, with its twisting fairway reaching a small, bunkered green, is at least as good a finishing hole as the Gold's.

Wailea's third course, the Blue, is down the road from the other two, which it predates by 20 years. It hasn't got the big pro shop or hyper-efficient staff the Emerald and Gold share, but it's plenty attractive and just plain fun, especially in the middle after it winds past condiminium housing: the uphill par-5 10th gives you a broad landing to uncork your drive, and once you get over the hill, there's a placid elevated green with a pretty view of a few trees (well, they look kind of like mesquite) laid out against the sky. If you're in the mood for regular old bar grub, reasonably priced (by Hawaiian standards) stop by the Blue retaurant for a beer or two and enjoy the local color as interpreted by the resident ex-pats from the mainland.


Flights: There are nonstop flights to Honolulu from Atlanta, Newark, Dallas, Houston, St. Louis, Minneapolis, and Chicago. Better yet, flights depart directly to Maui from San Francisco, LA, Phoenix, Vancouver, and Calgary. If you don't want to drag your own clubs through the airport, consider renting -- Big Bertha woods and irons are available, or you can ask for Titleist DCI set -- call the clubhouse to be sure (808/875-7450).

Accommodations: Wailea resorts run the gamut from affordable to ultra-luxurious. The Outrigger, the original Wailea hotel, offers a golf package for three nights and four rounds of golf (per room) starting at $799. At the other end of the scale, golf packages at the truly elegant Four Seasons begin at $650 per night. Best bang for the buck may be the Kea Lani -- a recent national magazine poll listed the Kea Lani fourth in "Hotels for Value," and 2nd in "$200-300 A Night."

Dining in Wailea is excellent. Most all of the resorts have a healthy variety: Hawaiian, Italian, German, seafood and more are available at all prices.

One of the things Maui has going for it is the breadth of activities. The Wailea Renaissance has a top-rated tennis facility; for ocean-lovers, there is some of the best snorkeling and scuba in the world -- it isn't hard to get surfing lessons, and the windsurfing's world-class as well. Funseekers can take a trip down the inside of a volcano at sunrise, and there's a great aquarium down the road from Wailea in Lahaina, the Maui Ocean Center -- great fun even if you don't generally go in for that sort of thing.