By Jeff Shain, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent
To the delight of PGA TOUR fans -- and the 20 players jetting over from Kapalua -- two factors immediately stand out about this week’s Sony Open in Hawaii.
Winds at Waialae Country Club aren’t forecast anywhere near as relentless as what put the Hyundai Tournament of Champions on hold for three days. And even if gusts blow stronger than expected, chances are slim that a ball would roll off the green.
“We don’t have all that undulation,” said Dave Nakama, in his 13th year as Waialae’s superintendent.
“Of course, we were talking about 50 mile-an-hour gusts (at Kapalua). The ball will still move a little, but I don’t think it’ll blow off the greens.”
Waialae, on Honolulu’s eastern outskirts, lies in stark contrast in terrain to Kapalua’s mountainside layout on Maui. And though the two are separated by just a 20-minute flight, they don’t often share the same weather.
“We’re in the middle of an ocean and each (island has) little microclimates, unless there’s some big storm that affects the whole state,” Nakama said. “It’s not unusual to have rain on one side of the island but not on the other.”
For the record, Nakama said, Waialae has taken about a half-inch of rain in the past week -- “actually about perfect” to keep the turf green but provide competitors with firm fairways and putting surfaces.
Other than thicker rough, Waialae’s setup for the Sony Open in Hawaii isn’t much different from what members see the rest of the year. And even the rough, Nakama said, has been scaled back over recent years.
Perhaps five years ago, rough of 3 ½ inches awaited those who strayed from Waialae’s narrow fairways. This year’s orders are for 2-inch rough, with an eye on giving players options other than to bump the ball back into the fairway.
“They run the chance of hitting flyers,” Nakama said, “but they want players to go after the green.”
A wind switch also could come into play on the weekend. Trade winds from the north are forecast for Thursday and Friday, turning into southeasterly “Kona winds” starting with Saturday’s round.