The Plantation Course, Hawaii

January 19, 2008 2:29:31 PM PST
It has been a long time since I felt good about finishing a round at plus eleven. But, after playing Kapalua's Plantation Course from the back tees in a four club wind, that's practically chirping.

You see this course every year during PGA's Mercedes Championship, but television cameras fail to do it justice. The Plantation Course plays much tougher than it looks.

The course is long, at 7263 yards, but breezes and downhill terrain, mitigate some of that distance. This Coore/Crehsnaw design requires power, strategy, and accuracy. The Plantation Course defends itself with blind tee shots, uneven lies, strong winds, and many lateral hazards. There are no out-of-bounds.

The Plantation Course opens with one of those long, downhill and downwind par 4's. The first is 473/434/381 yards. Three fairway bunkers guard your optimal approach from the left. If you block your drive to the right, you will likely carry jungle down to the green. This hole's most dominating feature is the first of several deep, grassy ravines. The course has several of them. This one about 135 yards from the green. Lay back.

As you play into or with the wind, your fortunes may change. The 380/352/260 yard, par 4, 3rd required a driver and four-metal to reach, followed by then a lucky putt for my only birdie of the day. Here is a photograph of the flag on that green during a calmer moment.

As with many great golf courses, The Plantation's layout has a rhythm to it. Coore and Crenshaw provide mini-respites in their routing. But, at no time cab you let down your guard. Every shot brings a challenge, a value, and a purpose.

The 532/485/445 yard, par 5, 5th, for instance, is one of those 'respite' holes---a dogleg right, climbing a ridge above thick vegetation. It requires a strong, cutting drive, but you cannot let up for the second shot, either. Play it as long and left as you dare, or else challenge that jungle uphill with your third. The more you bite off, the easier your approach. The 5th is a wonderfully strategic hole that begging for well- executed shots.

I was fortunate to have good company during this round---Mike Cox, an 11 index at Pumpkin Ridge, near Portland, Oregon. Mike was a good strategist, co-conspirator, and guinea pig, at times. Neither of us knew what to hit upon into the 203/172/146 yard, par 3, 8th, which plays downhill, and across a jungle in quartering wind. "I'm hitting 7-metal," Mike announced. "That's a 195 yard club." He made good contact, but his ball fell way short. Baving seen that, I hit my 235 yard club, a 4-metal, to the middle of the green. "That ball looked straight at the flag, and it was cutting into the wind," said Mike. My ball landed pin high, but thirty-feet left, and I three-putted.

The 521/490/401 yard, par 5, 9th, provides a different set of challenges. This is the number one handicap, into the wind, across the same ravine that guards the 1st. I hit driver, 4-metal, and then a pitching wedge from ninety yards. My ball landed in the middle of the green, blew back to a gentle false front, and trickled down the hill. So, watch out.

The Plantation Course serves up more of the same on its back nine. Make sure to turn left, and not right, after finishing the 10th, or you will play the 14th out of order, missing the 164/145/120 yard, par 3, 11th. That would be a shame because it is one of the pretties, and easiest holes on the course---a shot downhill to a green that appears to teeter high above a frothing Pacific Ocean. Sorry, no photograph. We were in a hurry.

Every hole on this course is memorable, but on the nine, two par 5's stand out. The uphill, 555/510/474 yard 15th requires brute force to clear yet another deep, grassy depression running down the fairway, and up to the green. After a 274 yard drive, then an equally well-struck 4-metal, my ball rolled all the way back down, leaving a blind, uphill approach.

The Plantation Course finishes with a gargantuan, 663/585/489 yard, par 5. Do not let the yardage intimidate you, however. The hole plays all downhill, and somewhat downwind. Once again, success depends on strategy as much as strength. With a big drive down the right side, the 18th might be almost reachable for some players, assuming they have the nerve. If your second shot misses short or left, however, you will need a machete to play your third. The 18th is a great last hole.

As we finished our round, I asked Mike Cox if he felt The Plantation Course had given him his $300 worth. "It's everything I imaged it to be," said Mike. "For this course, you'd better bring your 'A' game, and sadly, this was my 'D', instead. I wish I was playing better. And when I am, I will be back."

I would like to play The Plantation Course, again, too---but on a day with fewer atmospherics.

So much for PGA Tour aspirations--again.