TOUR Insider: Kapalua no breeze of a season-opener

January 03, 2013
Fred Albers,

KAPALUA, Hawaii -- ‘Iniki: A sharp, piercing Hawaiian wind.

Pali: A Hawaiian word-meaning cliff.

‘Iniki and Pali. Those two words are all you need to know about Kapalua’s Plantation Course.

‘Iniki is the reason the course was designed and laid out on the side of a mountain and the reason players can face a 500-yard par 4 and lay up off the tee.

Pali is the reason there are seven holes measuring 500 yards or longer and why Gary Woodland can hit a 450-yard drive on the 18th hole.

These are no gentle tropical breezes that come off the western course of Maui. These are not the trade winds in which palm trees sway and orchids rustle. Nope.

These are winds that rumble down the side of mountains and pluck hats off unsuspecting spectators. ‘Iniki makes players hit drivers on 380-yard par 4s and hit lay ups off the tee of the 520-yard par 4 first hole.

The Plantation Course runs down the side of a mountain, rambling toward the ocean, with the wind blowing in the same direction. You don’t need spikes this week to anchor your feet while hitting wedges; you need the extra grip to avoid a summersault down the 12th hole into Honoloa Bay. ‘Iniki.

The Plantation Course has the largest greens on the PGA TOUR with an average of 8,000 square yards. You could not build smaller greens when the wind constantly blows 20 miles per hour.

The Plantation Course gave up 41 drives in excess of 400 yards last year. There were only another 26 drives breaking the 400-yard mark for the remainder of the 2012 PGA TOUR season.

Mark Rolfing of NBC Sports helped Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coor determine the distance of the par-5 18th hole and placement of the tee. They knew, with the hole playing downhill and downwind, the yardage would be intimidating. The architects kept moving back, further and further until the hole measured 663 yards.

Players still hit the par 5 with their second shots.

There is a John Wayne movie, “The Undefeated,” in which he gives shooting instructions, saying, “windage and elevation, Mrs. Langdon; windage and elevation.”

The same is true this week at the Kapalua Plantation Course.

Windage and elevation.

‘Iniki and Pali.


Weather watch: We have trouble in paradise. The forecast calls for rain and wind every day of the tournament with 40 mph winds predicted for Saturday. That might render some courses unplayable, but the Plantation Course was designed for extreme conditions. Play is not expected to be interrupted.

Tree removal: More than 70 trees were removed from the 516-yard, pa-4, seventh hole. Those trees were sheltering the hole from trade winds. Course officials reasoned that by opening the fairway, winds will no longer be blocked and the hole will become more interesting.

Slope: It’s not hard to remind yourself which way the fairway slopes. If you see the ocean, you are walking downhill and account for the discrepancy in elevation. However, that also pertains to the greens. Even though the putting surface may appear flat, it’s not. There are several holes that allow players to land the ball short of the green and let it run downhill onto the green. The low runner is a great shot this week to avoid wind gusts.

Compass: With the exception of two holes, the course runs on an east-to-west axis. That means most holes play either uphill or downhill and directly into or with the prevailing wind. Only the second and sixth holes run north-to-south.

Sunset: Those beautiful Hawaiian sunsets are not only for postcards. Players take note of the western sky and mark the sun’s location in their yardage books. The grain in Bermuda greens runs toward the setting sun and grain is very pronounced this week. It has a dramatic effect on putts — particularly on the 18th green. If you look off to the western tip of nearby Molokai, that’s the direction of the grain.

Winner, winner: Dustin Johnson will be your winner. He plays well on ocean courses, ie: Pebble Beach, and his length will be great in extreme winds. Dustin arrived in Hawaii on the 27th and has had nine days to adjust to the time and conditions. He ranked 50th on TOUR last year in strokes gained-putting, 32nd in scrambling and 166th on approaches between 50 and 125 yards. Johnson says he has identified his weaknesses and worked on those three specific areas during the offseason.

Fred Albers is a course reporter for SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio. For more information on SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio, click here.