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.
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.
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.