One astonishing look is all it takes to realize Kapalua Plantation is not like any other golf course.
Its location on the West Maui Mountains comes with a thousand-foot elevation change and gasp-worthy view of the Pacific Ocean and Pailolo Channel to Moloka‘i.
That view appears early and often. Whales are just a bonus.
The course covers 107 acres, more than three times most golf layouts. It overlooks Kapalua’s 22,000-acre resort, complete with shops, restaurants and cozy places to stay (Ritz-Carlton, The Montage and Kapalua Villas).
Plantation is home to massive greens and some of the craziest tradewinds on the PGA Tour, whose Sentry Tournament of Champions has opened here each year since 1999.
The Plantation Course opened in 1991, designed by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore, with help from Kapalua resident/golf broadcaster Mark Rolfing.
“They are into finding unique pieces of property,” Rolfing says, “where they can build a unique course.”
Plantation has absolutely been that, but after almost 30 years it was time for a major “refinement” that followed updates to Kapalua’s Bay Course and all the resort’s golf amenities.
The course closed in February of last year. When Plantation re-opened Nov. 23, every hole was different—some dramatically, just in time for the TOC and the greatest players in the world.
They have taken turns torching Plantation the last few years as tradewinds became less prevalent and the talent level rose relentlessly. Last January, Zander Schauffele made up a five-stroke deficit the final day. He shot 62—11-under par on the Tour’s only par-73 layout—to beat Gary Woodland by one.
Rolfing, Coore and Crenshaw and a Design, Development and Agronomy team from Kapalua’s Troon Golf Management group then took on an audacious task: Make it harder for the pros and more user-friendly for recreational players, who love to follow in the pros’ footsteps the rest of the year.
The $10 million-plus result—almost as much as the course cost originally—came out better than even Rolfing could imagine.
He loved the way Coore and Crenshaw “calmed down” the greens, allowing for more pin positions for the pros and giving the rest of us a break by eliminating devious twists and turns.
“The pros will see the need for strate- gy that they did not have before,” Rolfing says. “The (par-3) eighth hole across the gulch is the best example. The green used to be really diabolical. The two-tier green, I think the hardest green on the course, has been turned into a one-level green now.” And, “because that (back) tee has been moved from straight across the gulch to where you walk off the seventh green, right below you in the gulch, it’s not only longer for the pros but it changes because it’s cross-wind.
“It’s a harder shot for the best players, but we will never play over there so it’s easier for the rest of us.”
Rolfing says Crenshaw likes the word “elasticity” to describe how the holes can bend to suit the best and the rest, particularly with new tees and more pin placement options.
The course also has new grass and all 93 bunkers have been upgraded. Trees have been removed, to open up a course already known for wide fairways. And, new turf and top dressing allow balls to roll farther and give players more options around the greens.
“It has more of a ‘links’ feeling—more open,” Plantation head pro Michael Castillo says. “You see a lot of golf. With the vegetation in the past it felt corridorish, every hole was its own arena. Not so much anymore.”
Carts were not allowed off the path from the time the course re-opened until after the TOC. Castillo says the average round took 5 hours, which translates to about 3:40 for someone allowed to leave the cart path—a major improvement, and proof the “restoration” worked.
“The whole golf course plays the same tee to green,” Castillo says. “It’s still a second-shot golf course, but it has different hole locations for resort play that fit more.
“By no means will I say the golf course is easy. It is not. It’s still a championship golf course, but the subtleties make it more enjoyable when it comes to course setup.”
And all that surrounds it.
Golfweek’s Best Golf Course in Hawai‘i for the last 13 years also had its clubhouse updated, along with the locker rooms, restrooms and Plantation House restaurant, which re-opened in December—its great view and wine list intact.
The Bay Course also has a new clubhouse, and moved back down by Honolua Store and Taverna Restaurant in 2018. The hole sequence has been changed and practice areas renovated. Kapalua Golf Academy will also get a facelift.
“The bones are all the same,” Castillo says, “but all the functioning pieces are brand new so you definitely feel more shine.”
Kapalua Golf, 2000 Plantation Drive, (808) 669-8044, golfatkapalua.com