January 1 2014
By Jeff Shain, PGATOUR.COM
Even as David Smallwood’s crew hustles to put the finishing touches on Kapalua Resort’s Plantation course for this week’s Hyundai Tournament of Champions, last year doesn’t seem far from everyone’s minds.
“You remember last year with all the rain and wind,” Smallwood said barely a minute into discussing this year’s preparation. “That put a hardship on everybody.”
And how. Three days of pummeling winds made last year’s winners-only showcase something not likely to be forgotten by anyone who was on the property.
So to answer everyone’s first question: Though January winds are as common on Maui as leis and hula melodies, nothing in the forecast indicates gale-force potential.
“We’re not seeing any speeds above 15 [mph],” said Smallwood, the resort’s chief superintendent. “Fifteen mile-an-hour wind at Kapalua is very normal. We’ll be able to handle it just fine.”
The question, of course, is whether balls can remain at rest on Kapalua’s undulating greens. Last year, it wasn’t until the following Monday that conditions finally allowed play to go unaffected.
It’s a fine line. Kapalua’s severe slopes already prompt officials to keep a check on green speeds – no more than 10 on the Stimpmeter.
If anything, though, the Plantation course might be just getting up to speed after winter storms doused the resort with some 5 inches of rain in the past two weeks.
“We’re right on our number right now,” Smallwood said. “I think if we can maintain what we have and Mother Nature doesn’t serve up too much, we’ll be in good shape.”
Smallwood already has declared the Plantation layout’s greens to be in the best condition since he arrived four years ago. An aggressive program of verticutting the Tifeagle bermudagrass and topdressing has given the putting surfaces a smoother roll.
“Thatch accumulation over the years had gotten pretty excessive,” Smallwood explained.
“Then not only are we firming things out by removing thatch, we’re cutting down on disease development, insects and things like that that thrive in those conditions.”
Kapalua also has removed a lot of native grasses around the course, not only for aesthetics but part of a program to speed up play by resort guests who all too often have found themselves trying to chop out of the vegetation.
That change, though, should have little effect on the PGA TOUR’s elite.
“The native grass really wasn’t in play for them,” Smallwood said. “Their average distance is so much greater than the usual golfer that plays here. I don’t think it’ll impact them at all.”