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Kapalua ready to reveal revamped Plantation Course

Home of Sentry TOC to reopen Saturday after $10 million renovation

The Kapalua Plantation Course’s No. 8 hole is shown earlier this month. The Plantation Course’s $10 million renovation is complete, and the course’s reopening is set for Saturday. JOE WEST PHOTOGRAPHY photos

The first round of the 2020 Sentry Tournament of Champions is 43 days away. The Kapalua Plantation Course opens in one day after a nine-month, eight-figure enhancement project was recently completed.

“It’s really a monumental day for us,” said Mark Rolfing, the longtime Kapalua resident and NBC and Golf Channel analyst who helped coordinate the project. “I couldn’t be more excited about it. The refinement is now complete and it is just absolutely spectacular. It has turned out way better than I ever imagined.”

Rolfing has been a large part of golf at Kapalua for decades — the Kapalua International tournament he founded was the predecessor to the TOC event that began in 1999 and brings PGA Tour winners from the previous calendar year to play the event on the Plantation, which opened in 1991.

“When I look back on it, when my career is over, I think I will remember it as maybe one of the most enjoyable and fulfilling projects I’ve ever been involved in,” Rolfing said.

Rolfing said the challenge of the work was to keep the only par-73 layout used on the PGA Tour challenging enough for professional champions one week a year, and not too hard for regular players to enjoy the other 51 weeks.

The No. 5 hole of the Kapalua Plantation Course is shown earlier this month. Among the changes done to this hole during the course’s $10 million renovation include the addition of a fairway bunker and an approach bunker, the removal of a greenside bunker, the elevation of the right greenside bunker and a slightly smaller green.

“The course is almost three decades old and that’s a long time in the life of a golf course, so it needed some polishing and … if you look at the overall magnitude of what happened, we spent almost as much money in this refinement as we did to build the entire course originally,” Rolfing said, adding that the price was “a bit north” of $10 million.

The project touched all 18 holes: All bunkers were rebuilt with new drainage, capillary concrete, reshaped and new sand; all greens were rebuilt including new drainage, new sand and grassed with TifEagle Bermuda grass; all tees were laser leveled; and the entire course was replanted with Celebration Bermuda grass.

“It was a massive project,” Rolfing said. “We actually had four months to do the actual work we couldn’t begin until after the Sentry Tournament of Champions was over last year and we had to have the grass planted by June.”

The original pair of architects — Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw — oversaw the project along with Troon’s design, development and agronomy team. Troon manages the property.

“It involved a variety of crews and people all coming together to do pretty much what should have taken a year to really do it in four months,” Rolfing said. “I just spent the morning on the course and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it in better condition for any tournament that we’ve ever had than it is right now.

“The growing season has been really good, could not have been better for what we needed to do growing the grass. It is just phenomenal — it looks great. The fairways are just perfect and the greens are fast and rolling well.”

The sightlines on The Golf Channel for the 2020 TOC, which will play its pro-am on New Year’s Day with the tournament proper to run from Jan. 2-5, will be noticeable, Rolfing said.

“The bunkers is maybe the change that people are going to see first,” he said. “That is, they’ve got a renewed energy to them, new life. … They really are a brilliant aesthetic feature that is just going to dominate this course again like it did in the early days. They had lost a little bit of their dazzle over the years.”

Rolfing marveled at the teamwork that went into all the work.

“I’ve never seen a group come together to do a renovation like this,” he said. “Obviously Troon led the renovation, but if you think about what we did, it was kind of like getting the band back together.”

Coore, Crenshaw and Rolfing were all deeply involved with the original building of the layout, but Jimbo Wright returned to rebuild the greens he originally built; Jeff Bradley, who did the original bunkering — “Maybe the best bunker shaper in America,” Rolfing said — came back to do the bunkers; Riley Johns and Keith Rhebb — “Two of the top-10 shapers in America,” according to Rolfing; and construction manager Dave Axland also returned to the project that he helped build.

Rolfing is certain the changes will receive great marks from the field that steps on the course to celebrate 2020.

“I’ve been smiling for months,” Rolfing said. “My role was as much being the cheerleader and keeping everybody together. Really, if you think about what the goal was, it was not an easy goal. We were trying to make it more challenging and a more difficult test for the best players in the world, but at the same time make it easier for the recreational golfers.”

Rolfing said it was mission accomplished from what he can see.

“The main way it was accomplished was the greens, as Ben Crenshaw would say, have really been calmed down,” Rolfing said. “We calmed them down, so not nearly as much slope and undulation on some of the greens from what you had before, so that makes it easier for the average golfer. And then there’s been a number of new tees added, and bunkers, that I think are going to make it more challenging for the best players.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.