You'd have to be a cynic to believe that there was room for improvement at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. Throughout the year, Maui is the destination cited by winners before the applause has ended post-victory. The smiles that thought generates reminds us that only winners qualify. For that reason, it's the most exclusive tournament on the PGA TOUR schedule.
So, let's agree to agree that what already was great is simply greater after every square inch of the Plantation Course at Kapalua Resort on the northwestern edge of the Hawaiian island was reshaped, updated and/or modified in some fashion for the first tournament of calendar-year 2020. It's still a perfect vision.
For details on the work, how it expects to impact this year's field of 34 and more, scroll past the ranking of the projected contenders.
The other 19 in the field will be ranked 16-34 in Tuesday's Fantasy Insider.
Since the conclusion of the last edition of the Sentry TOC, original designers Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw returned to overhaul the Plantation Course that opened in 1991. Attention was comprehensive. In addition to numerous changes to tees, fairways and rough, all were fitted with Celebration bermudagrass. Primary rough is trimmed to two inches. Bunkers were removed, repositioned, added or upgraded to align with today's talent. All 93 have new support, drainage and sand imported from Vietnam.
In many cases, surfaces of greens were flattened to create new or reintroduce original hole locations that elevate the quality of approach shots. On average, targets are still expansive, but many either were enlarged or shrunk to balance challenge with playability.
All greens feature TifEagle bermuda. They figure to be a bit springy in their debut, but strong trade winds (from the northeast) should restrict Stimpmeter readings to a customary 10 feet, although a slicker reading is hopeful in the future.
After a relatively tame opening round on Thursday, gusts from 30-40 mph (and maybe higher) will settle in as the norm for the remainder. Rain is almost never ruled out here, but it won't be an issue. Daytime highs will camp out at a seasonable 80 degrees notwithstanding the impact of passing clouds.
With just three par 3s and the full complement of four par 5s, the Plantation Course is the only par 73 on the PGA TOUR. Its fresh look includes 78 more yards that results in a competitive walk capable of stretching 7,596 yards. Numerous new tees will be in play, but not all result in longer holes. For example, while the par-4 third (+44 yards), par-5 ninth (+29) and par-4 10th (+30) have new back tees, shorter tees at the par-4 13th (-24) and par-5 15th (-14) help neutralize distance overall.
Despite its length, significant elevation changes present the opportunity for all games to thrive. A proper test rewards every style of good golf, and this one does. However, once upon a time and not unlike the value of lessons learned at places like Colonial and Augusta National, experience on the Plantation Course was a primary factor in victory. Yet, four of the last five champions prevailed in just their second appearance. That fact in conjunction with the restart of the learning curve for veterans raises hope for the 15 first-timers in the field.
Eight qualifiers elected not to compete: Brooks Koepka, Shane Lowry, Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson, Francesco Molinari, C.T. Pan, Justin Rose, Tiger Woods.
ROB BOLTON’S SCHEDULE
PGATOUR.COM’s Fantasy Insider Rob Bolton recaps and previews every tournament from numerous angles. Look for his following contributions as scheduled.
TUESDAY*: Sleepers, Fantasy Insider
* - Rob is a member of the panel for PGATOUR.COM’s Expert Picks for PGA TOUR Fantasy Golf, which also publishes on Tuesday.