Kapalua – The Plantation Course
If a Valhalla or a Sahalee or a Hazeltine were to contract a disastrous grass disease two weeks before hosting the PGA Championship, the authors would unreservedly put forward the Plantation Course at Kapalua as the ideal host course on short notice. No rough would need to be grown, as the course doesn’t rely on rough as part of its challenge. The course is always maintained fast and firm. It has plenty of length. And, unlike so many PGA sites in August, Hawaii offers an ideal climate for golf.
Who would the winner be of such an event? He would resemble past Masters and Open winners where imagination and playing in the elements takes precedence over the ability to hit straight shots to such narrow fairwaysas are generally associatedwith thePGA and U.S. Open championships. Someone like Seve Ballesteros perhaps.
At first glance, few peopleassociate the traditional golf design aspects of such fabled and historic coursesas Augusta National and The Old Course at St. Andrewswitha modernHawaiian resort course. However,the three courses share manysimilar design principles:50 yardplus wide fairways, large dramatic greens, little rough, greens that slope from front to back, greens that are open in front to promote the ground game and finally fascinating chipping areas.
Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw are the architects who had the vision to design this course. Like Augusta National, the course is laid over a vast piece of property. The Plantation course sits on 240 acres of former pineapple fields. The rugged terrain presented an immense challenge, as the architects had a number of gorges and valleys with which to contend. The architects originally found the stunning 665 yard 18th and built the rest of the course around it. Nonetheless, the property was far from ideal.
A lot was at stake as Coore and Crenshaw stalked the property during 1990- a poor routing would have doomed the course as it would have left the golfer forever fighting the hillside. In the end, the architects are to be congratulated for what must qualify (along with another of their designs, Sand Hills) as one of the two or threefinest routings in the modern era, if you accept as a given that the course was never going to be too walker-friendly.
Given the course is laid out over the broad sweep of a hill down toward the Pacific Ocean, the property was always going to yield some spectacular downhill holes. And did the architects deliver! The glamour holes like the 475 yard 1st, 485 yard 7th, 485 yard 17th, and the 665 yard 18th are indeed unforgettable. The experience of playing them is unique to this golf course. However, what goes down, must go up and it is the quality of the uphill holes that elevate the Plantation Course from a typical resort course with four or five postcard holes to a ‘must play’ course.
The 3rd, 4th, 9th , and 10th holes are most appealing examples of uphill architecture. Combine those holes with the unforgettable stretch from the 13th tee to the 16th green where the golfer climbs 200 feet without realising it, and the golfer appreciates he is witnessing the work of the finestdesign team in golf today.
The green sites make the uphill holes. The 4th green features the most imaginative interior contours on the course. The 10th and 13th greens are perched on top of knolls which shrug balls away. As an exampleThe author paced off that his ball rolled thirty-seven yards off the 10th green and well back into the fairway. A similar event happened to the other author on the 15th hole as his attempt to reach the green in two just failed. To watch the slow roll of the white ball against the green turf for forty yards or so is an enjoyable frustration that is all but gone from most courses built in the past 50 years.
The view from each hole is notdwelled uponin the Holes to Note section becausesuperlatives would run out. Suffice to say, the golfer has a clear view of the next door island Molokai and the Pacific with its whitecaps from every hole with whale watching apotential distraction. Also, the normalone to twoclub trade wind that blows down off the mountain has been assumed in the descriptions below.