NEED TO KNOW
Five Things to Know: Kapalua's Plantation Course
January 03, 2022
By Jeff Eisenband , PGATOUR.COM
- January 03, 2022
All-time shots from the Sentry Tournament of Champions
It’s that time of year again, when you turn on the TV for the Sentry Tournament of Champions and ask yourself, “Why did I go another year without booking a trip to Kapalua?”
The 2021 PGA TOUR winners (and Olympic gold medalist Xander Schauffele) open 2022 in Hawaii with a no-cut event that has provided some of the wildest finishes in recent memory. We’ve witnessed two playoffs and a final-round 62 to win in the last three years.
A big reason for the theatrics? The uniqueness of Kapalua. The Plantation Course is not your everyday TOUR venue. This track comes with mountains and valleys and tropical weather providing an unpredictable and dramatic four days in paradise. The unique design of Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, so we are celebrating by bringing you Five Things to Know about the course that opens the calendar year on the PGA TOUR.
It’s a rare par 73
Ernie Els won at 31 under in 2003, and Jordan Spieth nearly caught him with a winning score of 30 under in 2016. These scores for a four-round event may seem crazy until you check the scorecard. Kapalua is the only par-73 course on the PGA TOUR schedule, as it comes with just three par 3s.
The long holes are long and the short holes are short at Kapalua. The course has seven holes that regularly play longer than 500 yards – four of those are par 5s – but also has four par 4s playing shorter than 400 yards (all on the back nine).
Weather, especially the wind, is often a factor in Maui, but six of the last seven champions have shot 21 under or better, so players making the trip to the South Pacific better be ready to make some birdies.
The 18th hole is full of trouble
From the tee box, the 18th hole provides one of the most beautiful drives in golf, looking straight down into the Pacific Ocean with mountains in the distance. But the journey, more than one-third of a mile when played at its longest, brings danger into play.
The par 5 can stretch all the way to 667 yards, making it one of the TOUR’s longest holes. With a wide fairway, players can take a rip off the tee but need to catch some help from the ridge if they want to attack in two.
On the second shot, a ravine, along with scattered bunkers, make missing short and left a disaster, and with a usual front-left Sunday pin position, this all comes into play. Justin Thomas found the hazard in 2020 and made a bogey to fall into a playoff with Patrick Reed and Xander Schauffele, which Thomas eventually won after playing No. 18 three more times.
A more conservative second shot is directed out to the right, where the contours will guide the ball back toward the green upon landing. However, if the ball does not get a kick, a downhill pitch shot awaits.
While having a par-5 as the 18th hole seems like an obvious birdie opportunity to finish each round, the 600-plus-yard gauntlet also provides a long strip of danger en route to the clubhouse. Birdie is manageable. Eagle is feasible, but risky.
Recent renovation was also a restoration
When the Plantation Course opened in 1992, Coore and Crenshaw made sure to use the West Maui Mountains and Pacific Ocean for stunning views on every hole. Those features won’t change, at least for a few thousand years.
But the bounce of the course had decreased at a much faster rate and required a fix after almost three decades of existence.
“Years ago, you would hit a tee shot and it would chase and chase and chase unbelievable distances. But as the grass grew and grew for 30 years, a lot of that element was lost,” Coore said before the 2020 Sentry TOC. “The course had gotten so soft that it was easy pickin’s for TOUR players and really long for resort players.”
In 2019, 100 acres of the Plantation Course’s fairways were stripped and regrassed with a new surface: Celebration Bermudagrass, a denser playing turf than the original Bermuda. This surface could be mowed tighter and controlled against year-round trampling.
“The idea at Kapalua always was to land a shot 60 yards short of a green and let it roll on,” Coore said in 2020. “In recent years, a ball landing 20 yards short of a green would just stop. It will play differently this year. Players will be able to use sideslopes to feed shots to a flag. And drives will roll out farther, sometimes closer to trouble.”
The greens, which had shrunk over almost three decades, were expanded closer to their original sizes.
“There’s no question our greens needed a little more calming to offer some more pin positions,” Crenshaw said.
Perhaps 2020’s winning score of 14 under, the highest since 2007, was representative of this change. But it didn’t last. Harris English and Joaquin Niemann went low again last year, each reaching 25 under.
It’s way, way up
Most tourists may come to Maui for the beach. TOUR players come for the elevation.
The Plantation Course reaches a high point of 510 feet and spans 316 acres of property. The following week’s Sony Open at Waialae Country Club on Oahu will peak at roughly 10 feet of elevation change on a 120-acre property.
The Kapalua Golf website embraces the elevation change by noting, “This course offers plenty of downhill tee shots. You’ll feel like one of the pros when – with the aid of the aggressive slope of the 18th fairway – you will enjoy hitting one of the longest drives of your life.”
While most holes feature ocean views, there is no water on the course. However, various canyons, including the notorious penalty area on 18, provide potential trouble. Mountains, not water, define Kapalua.
Americans have dominated
America’s 50th state has been an automatic U.S. victory for the last decade and change. Coming into the 2022 event, the Sentry Tournament of Champions has seen 11 consecutive American winners, from Jonathan Byrd in 2011 to Harris English in 2021. Former world No. 1s and FedExCup champions Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth are among those who have also won and often contend there.
It wasn’t always this way. After David Duval, Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk won the first three editions at Kapalua from 1999-2001, the U.S. went nine straight years without a win on Maui. Aussies Stuart Appleby and Geoff Ogilvy won three times and two times, respectively, while Vijay Singh, Ernie Els, Sergio Garcia and Daniel Chopra each lifted the trophy once.
Since last year’s Sentry, the TOUR has had 17 different international winners, including Marc Leishman and Cameron Smith, team winners of the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.
Five of the fall’s nine winners are from countries outside of the United States. Will that trend continue at Kapalua?