Re­fined Kapalua presents test

Antelope Valley Press - - Sports - By DOUG FER­GU­SON

Lush green grass, Pa­cific blue hori­zon. That much about the Plan­ta­tion Course at Kapalua hasn’t changed for the 34 win­ners on the PGA Tour last year who have assem­bled for the Sen­try Tour­na­ment of Cham­pi­ons. Fif­teen play­ers are com­pet­ing for the first time and won’t no­tice the $12.5 mil­lion re­fine­ment project by de­sign­ers Bill Coore and Ben Cren­shaw.

KAPALUA, Hawaii — Lush green grass, Pa­cific blue hori­zon.

That much about the Plan­ta­tion Course at Kapalua hasn’t changed for the 34 win­ners on the PGA Tour last year who have assem­bled for the Sen­try Tour­na­ment of Cham­pi­ons. Fif­teen play­ers are com­pet­ing for the first time and won’t no­tice the $12.5 mil­lion re­fine­ment project by de­sign­ers Bill Coore and Ben Cren­shaw. Dustin John­son did.

“It’s def­i­nitely a lit­tle harder,” said John­son, who has been play­ing ev­ery morn­ing as the sun climbs over the hori­zon and is done with 18 holes be­fore the break­fast buf­fet has been cleared. “The greens are firmer be­cause they’re new. The greens are firm and the fair­ways are soft. I think it will play more dif­fi­cult.”

What re­ally got his at­ten­tion was the third hole, which for 10 years has been a driver and a wedge. With a new tee some 30 yards far­ther back, and fac­ing a stiff trade win, John­son blasted driver and reached for a 6-iron.

“I knew it was longer and that I’d have longer in,” John­son

said. “I didn’t think I’d have that far. It’s a dif­fi­cult green with wedge to get it close. With a 6-iron, it’s not that much fun.”

This re­fine­ment was not all about length.

The Plan­ta­tion Course had grown old enough that it lost its speed from so much thatch in the grass. The idea was for this course to play fast. That would make it more dif­fi­cult for elite play­ers to con­trol their shots, and make it easier for re­sort guests who found the course too long be­cause the ball wasn’t rolling as far as it once did.

The en­tire course was grassed with a new strain called “Cel­e­bra­tion Bermuda.” The greens were re­done with Tif Ea­gle

Bermuda, with some ridges and plateaus added to cre­ate more hole lo­ca­tions and re­store some shot-mak­ing value. Miss­ing on the wrong spot of cer­tain greens be­comes more pe­nal.

“In­stead of hav­ing one grad­ual slope, now it’s kind of turned into shelf,” Justin Thomas said. “And you have to maybe fo­cus a lit­tle bit more on be­ing on the cor­rect side of the shelf, or the cor­rect side of the hole.”

The course re-opened two months ago. The first big test is the Tour­na­ment of Cham­pi­ons.

Be­cause the grass is new, and with am­ple rain over the last month, the fair­ways re­main rel­a­tively soft. That should change over time, but there have been enough ex­am­ples dur­ing prac­tice to let play­ers know what to ex­pect.

De­fend­ing cham­pion Xan­der Schauf­fele ham­mered a drive on the down­hill, 667-yard clos­ing hole and was sur­prised to see it hop out of pitch mark in­stead of bounc­ing for­ward. The pitch mark was 8 feet be­hind where his ball fin­ished.

“If it firms up, it’s go­ing to be awe­some,” said Kevin Kis­ner, who needs some roll to play a 7,596-yard course at par 73.

All the bunkers were re­built with drainage. Some were moved to tighten the land­ing area, such as on the 16th and most no­tice­ably on the par-5 fifth. It ap­pears to be in the mid­dle of the fair­way, but it nar­rows the land­ing area. For now, that might not be an is­sue be­cause the fair­way is soft enough it’s hard for any­one to reach it.

The big­gest change, at least for the play­ers who have pre­vi­ously played this win­ners-only event, are the sharp­ened slopes on some of the greens and the length, mainly on No. 3, 4, 9 and 10.

“An­other one they ren­o­vated they didn’t make shorter. I’ve yet to see that,” Kis­ner said with a grin.

Associated Press

CHANGES In this 2017 file photo, Dustin John­son hits for the fourth fair­way dur­ing the third round of the Tour­na­ment of Cham­pi­ons golf event at Kapalua Plan­ta­tion Course in Kapalua, Hawaii.

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