Kapalua faces winds of change

After three do-overs last year, the Hyundai Tournament of Champions at the Kapalua Plantation Course sprinted to the finish with 54 holes played in less than 30 hours.

The first three days of play all began but each was wiped out by adverse weather conditions before Dustin Johnson emerged to win the event.

With Kona winds predicted to continue from now through the first two rounds Friday and Saturday, Boo Weekley said during a practice round Tuesday that the unusual conditions remind him of the last time he was here, in 2009.

“This is the kind of wind that was blowing when we were here last time,” Weekley said after hitting his tee shot on the 14th hole. “It’s pretty good, it’s nice to be back over here, of course, because it’s a beautiful place and a great golf course. I’m curious to see if the winds stay this way.”

Mark Rolfing, a longtime resident of Kapalua and an analyst for NBC Sports and The Golf Channel, said normal trade winds are forecast to return for Sunday and Monday. The course was designed to be played in trade-wind conditions, but they have not been around much in the last month, Rolfing said.

Kona winds are from the southwest, trades are from the northeast.

“I’m not in any way saying the climate change here is manmade – it could be a natural cycle,” Rolfing said in the media center on Tuesday. “But when we planned the Plantation Course and when (course architects) Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coor first looked at the property, the trade winds were the overwhelming factor in the way the design turned out.

“They were extremely consistent, we measured them over a period of time, we did rainfall analysis for many, many years, we did wind analysis and the one thing we knew we could count on was the trade winds. Consequently all the holes that are long holes on the Plantation Course play downwind in a tradewind.”

Rolfing points to Nos. 1 (520-yard par 4), 17 (508-yard par 4) and 18 (663-yard par 5) as key to needing trade winds to blow.

“Three holes, that’s almost a mile of golf,” he said. “Those are typically downhill and downwind in the trade winds and in the last decade we have seen more situations competitively when the wind has not been a trade wind – the wind has either been a Kona wind or no wind – that those holes were playing completely different than the way they were designed.

“That’s pretty much the same throughout the entire course. The ninth hole, the tee shot at 9 was supposed to be a 3-wood or a driver to get you up to the edge of the cliff to go over for your second shot. Now, with the opposite winds the players are having to hit 5-irons off the tee so they don’t hit it too far, on a par-5. The holes have become completely different.”

Weekley said that the winds can also affect putting. The Plantation Course has the largest greens on the PGA Tour with an average of 8,000 square yards.

“Great golf course, the greens are real hard to read,” he said. “Trying to determine where the grain is and get the speed of the grain (is key) because the wind is a factor when you’re trying to putt. It is very challenging around the greens.

“I think it’s a great layout when you play it right according to the winds. It can be really long when the winds get up pretty good. It just all depends on how they set it up for us, but then again I think what really makes this golf course tough is the winds and the greens.”

Crenshaw will be on site this weekend and there are several things Rolfing thinks he might consider to help the course with the wind conditions.

“The other issue is the course has become much softer,” Rolfing said. “When the trade winds blow it always blows the water right off the side of the mountain. When we get rains when there isn’t any wind or a Kona wind, the ground gets more saturated. Even though we haven’t had a whole lot of rain lately out here, the golf course is as soft as it has ever been because there hasn’t been a consistent trade wind here in a month. It is extremely soft – I have never seen it like this.”

Crenshaw will “look at some alternative tee locations on some of the holes. I think some of the conditioning practices may have to change to get it back to where it needs to be. The course was intended to play hard and fast where the ball rolls and bounces. You play along the ground more than in the air.

“Yesterday I played a few holes out there and you could fly an iron shot to any one of these greens and stop the ball. That was not the intention. More than anything it is going to be the tee locations and where are you going to play these holes from.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com