Aloha means good golf

By Paul ArnettJanuary 6, 2009, 5:00 pm

poipu bay
Poipu Bay Golf Course is just one of many options for oceanside golf in Hawaii
 
There are two dozen golf courses in the remote island chain of Hawaii that will make you forget you didnt break 100.
 
The sweeping beauty of the mountain vistas, the death-defying ocean cliffs jagged from centuries-old battles with Big Blue far below and the emerald rain forests featured on the hit TV-show Lost await anyone with a bag of clubs and enough time to swing them.
 
Sure, youre going to leave your share of golf balls on the lava rocks of the Big Island, in the steep ravines on Maui or Kauai and along those picturesque beach holes featured in magazines and brochures alike.
 
But who cares?
 
Those ragged scrawls on the scorecard can be blamed on all the digital shots youre beaming back to your jealous buddies trapped in the frigid air of the Midwest. Seeing you in Bermuda shorts and flowered aloha shirts, rescue club in hand, standing on the par-3 seventh at the Prince Course is worth every painstaking step of planning you took for your dream golf vacation.
 
Theres nothing quite like playing the Prince Course in north Kauai one day, then taking a ride through Jurassic Park on the way south to Poipu Bay the next. Scorecard? You dont need no stinking scorecard. You just saw humpback whales breaching off the par-3 11th at the Plantation Course at Kapalua. This isnt some municipal course in Jersey. This is golf mecca located thousands of miles away in the central Pacific.
 
You have enough air miles to make the flight, the boss gave you two weeks vacation and your significant other is willing to go with you to these exotic locations, just as long as you drive the cart.
 
So where to begin?
 
The first thing you have to do is be willing to island-hop once you touch down in Honolulu on the island of Oahu. Most of the people live on this rock known as the gathering place by the ancient Hawaiians. The other main islands with golf courses are Maui, Kauai, the Big Island, Lanai and Molokai.
 
The trick here is deciding which islands to visit and what golf courses to play. Even if you had a month and an unlimited pile of cash, youd be hard-pressed to play the top 25 courses in the islands. Heck, Oahu, Maui, Kauai and the Big Island alone would keep a professional busy, much less a weekend hacker.
 

Barack Obama Hawaii
President-elect Barack Obama gets in a round at Olomana in Kailua, Hawaii
The keys are to pace yourself and have a plan. If Oahu is your first destination, there are several courses that offer you a place to swing and not be overwhelmed by the difficulty of the 18 or 36 holes you plan to play that day. Courses the locals tour regularly include Coral Creek Golf Course, Pearl Country Club, Luna Hills Country Club, Olomana Golf Links, where Barack Obama enjoys a round or two, and the Hawaii Kai Golf Course.
 
These are all great places to play and are spread across the island to give you the unique views of the big city and the country vistas enjoyed by Hawaiian royalty centuries past. And they arent even the name courses, some popularized by major professional events.
 
Those belong to Ko Olina Resort located on the west coast of Oahu where the LPGA once called home and the Arnold Palmer Course at Turtle Bay where this years SBS Open will be played minus defending champion Annika Sorenstam. This North Shore location is 40 miles from downtown Honolulu and requires a good 90-minute drive from Waikiki.
 
If you come in the winter, the famed waves of the North Shore are only 15 minutes away from the Turtle Bay Resort, home of the Palmer and Fazio designs. There arent a lot of ocean holes on either course, but theyre fun and challenging. The Champions Tour has also held events here, as well as U.S. Open qualifiers, so you get the idea that par isnt always part of the plan.
 
Up the way from Ko Olina, which is located just outside Kapolei, is what many believe are the most beautiful 18 holes on Oahu ' the West Course of the Makaha Resort and Golf Club. This is one of those courses where your final score is secondary to your immediate surroundings.
 
A good 45 miles from Honolulu and a 70-minute drive on a clear day, Makaha feels like another world. You can get this setting on the neighbor islands and the difficult Koolau Golf Club on the Windward Side, but thats about it for Oahu. If you do decide to put Koolau on your list, bring plenty of golf balls. This striking layout is tough, although local golfer and PGA Tour veteran Dean Wilson holds the course record with a blistering 62.
 
After youve stayed on Oahu a few days, enjoying the nightlife of Waikiki and historical Pearl Harbor, its time to do a little island-hopping. We recommend Maui for the first-time visitor, Kauai on the next sojourn and maybe even the Big Island or Lanai on the trip after that. You cant lose with any choice.
 
Maui is the second-largest island in the chain, both in size and population. While Oahu is about 60 miles long and 12 miles wide, Maui is big with two distinct mountain ranges. On one side, you have the West Maui mountains, home to Kaanapali and Kapalua where four wonderful courses can be found.
 
The east side belongs to the Haleakala volcano that reaches 10,023 feet. On one slope, in the small community of Wailea, just down the road from Kihei, are five more courses that will keep you busy if you let them. Among this cluster of layouts is the Gold Course at Wailea Golf Club, former home to the Senior Skins Game. At the right time of day, the sunlight bathes these 18 holes in pink and orange hues that cant be fully appreciated until seen firsthand.
 
A 90-minute drive to the west and you find yourself in a true tropical setting at the Kapalua Resort, home to the Ritz Carlton and too many villas to count. Here you will find the Plantation Course where the PGA Tour begins each season with the winners-only Mercedes-Benz Championship.
 
kapalua 1st hole
The first hole at Kapalua's Plantation Course during the 2008 Mercedes Benz Championship
Built on the side of a mountain, this course will test your skill and endurance, but will award you with views of the Molokai and Lanai islands that will make you stop and stare. A slow guy in your group? You wont mind. Watching the surfers and the sunsets will leave you feeling lucky to be swinging a golf club in January.
 
Just down the road about 10 minutes away are the two Kaanapali courses. The Kai Course is home to Big Break Kaanapali and the Royal Kaanapali is the current home of the Senior Skins where Greg Norman is expected to make a rare appearance. Both of these courses are near several resorts, as well as the beach-side community of Lahaina where quality restaurants and shops await the discerning traveler.
 
If you fly in to Maui via Kahului, make sure you play The Dunes at Maui Lani (North Course) on your way in or out of town. Many believe these are the most unique 18 holes of all the islands. Its links-style design in a tropical location is pleasing to the senses.
 
Its not a bad idea to stay an extra day or two and take the ferry over to Lanai where two of the most beautiful courses in the world await. They are The Experience at Koele and The Challenge at Manele, both home to Four Seasons resorts. When Bill Gates was married, he reserved the entire island for the weekend. Enough said.
 
Should your choice be the Big Island on one end of the chain or Kauai on the other, plenty of scenic golf awaits at both locations. Kauai is a small island to the north with eight incredible courses at your disposal, including the Makai and Prince designs to the north and Poipu Bay and Kiahuna Golf Club to the south.
 
Kauai is called the Garden Isle and its hard to argue that description. The farthest north of the main islands, expect plenty of rain, especially in the winter, hence rain forests. There is very little nightlife, but the beaches are to die for and a trip to Hanakapiai Falls or Waimea Canyon a must.
 
The Big Island offers a much dryer climate, particularly in the lava fields of South Kona where you will find some of the most beautiful resorts in the world. The South Course at Mauna Lani Resort and the 18-hole layout at Hualalai Golf Club, home to the season-opening tournament on the Champions Tour, will leave you longing for more. Youll find just that at the Mauna Kea Beach Golf Course and Waikoloas Beach Course where the ocean holes rivals those on Kauai.
 
These places will pamper you, so much so, you might not wander down to the coastal community of Kailua-Kona, but you should on your way to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to witness how the Earth was formed. Kilauea remains an active volcano and produces what the locals call vog. When the wind is from the south, it can rival Los Angeles on a bad day, so be prepared. If the prevailing tradewinds are blowing, youll be fine.
 
Make sure when you come to the 50th state, you adjust to the local lifestyle, check your road rage at the counter and enjoy what Hawaii has to offer. The golf is the most beautiful and challenging in America. And best of all, your money is good here in this tropical paradise.
 

Paul Arnett is the sports editor of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. He covers professional golf during the Aloha Season in Hawaii.
 
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LPGA awards: Ryu, S.H. Park tie for POY

By Randall MellNovember 20, 2017, 1:56 am

NAPLES, Fla. – In the end, the CME Group Tour Championship played out a lot like the entire 2017 season did.

Parity reigned.

Nobody dominated the game’s big season-ending awards, though Lexi Thompson and Sung Hyun Park came close.

Thompson walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for low scoring average. If she had made that last 2-foot putt at the 72nd hole Sunday, she might also have walked away with the Rolex Player of the Year Award and the Rolex world No. 1 ranking.

Park shared the Rolex Player of the Year Award with So Yeon Ryu. By doing so, Park joined Nancy Lopez as the only players in LPGA history to win the Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year titles in the same season. Lopez did it in 1978. Park also won the LPGA money-winning title.

Here’s a summary of the big prizes:

Rolex Player of the Year
Ryu and Park both ended up with 162 points in the points-based competition. Park started the week five points behind Ryu but made the up the difference with the five points she won for tying for sixth.

It marks the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

Ryu and Park join Inbee Park as the only South Koreans to win the award. Park won it in 2013.


Vare Trophy
Thompson won the award with a scoring average of 69.114. Sung Hyun Park finished second at 69.247. Park needed to finish at least nine shots ahead of Thompson at the CME Group Tour Championship to win the trophy.

There were a record 12 players with scoring averages under 70.0 this year, besting the previous record of five, set last year.


CME Globe $1 million prize
Thompson entered the week first in the CME points reset, but it played out as a two-woman race on the final day. Park needed to finish ahead of Thompson in the CME Group Tour Championship to overtake her for the big money haul. Thompson tied for second in the tournament while Park tied for sixth.

By winning the CME Group Tour Championship, Jutanugarn had a shot at the $1 million, but she needed Park to finish the tournament eighth or worse and Thompson to finish ninth or worse.


LPGA money-winning title
Park claimed the title with $2,335,883 in earnings. Ryu was second, with $1,981,593 in earnings.

The tour saw a tour-record 17 players win $1 million or more this season, two more than did so last year.

Ryu came into the week as the only player who could pass Park for the title, but Ryu needed to win to do so.


Rolex world No. 1 ranking
The top ranking was up for grabs at CME, with No. 1 Feng, No. 2 Sung Hyun Park and No. 3 So Yeon Ryu all within three hundredths of a ranking point. Even No. 4 Lexi Thompson had a chance to grab the top spot if she won, but in the end nobody could overtake Feng. Her reign will extend to a second straight week.


Rolex Rookie of the Year
Park ran away with the award with her U.S. Women’s Open and Canadian Pacific Women’s Open victories among her 11 top-10 finishes. She had the award locked up long before she arrived for the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

Ko ends first winless season with T-16 at CME

By Randall MellNovember 20, 2017, 1:07 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Lydia Ko carved a hybrid 3-iron to 15 feet and ended the most intensely scrutinized year of her young career with a birdie Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

“Nice to finish the season on a high note,” Ko said after posting a 3-under-par 69, good for a tie for 16th. “Obviously, not a top-10 finish, but I played really solid. I feel like I finished the season off pretty strong.”

Ko posted two second-place finishes, a third-place finish and a tie for fifth in her last eight starts.

“Ever since Indy [in early September], I played really good and put myself in good positions,” Ko said. “I felt like the confidence factor was definitely higher than during the middle of the year. I had some opportunities, looks for wins.”

Sunday marked the end of Ko’s first winless season since she began playing LPGA events at 15 years old.

Let the record show, she left with a smile, eager to travel to South Korea to spend the next month with family after playing a charity event in Bradenton, Fla., on Monday.


CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship


Much was made of Ko beginning the year with sweeping changes, with new equipment (PXG), a new coach (Gary Gilchrist) and a new caddie (Peter Godfrey).

In the final summary, it wasn’t a Ko-like year, not by the crazy high standards she has set.

She saw her run of 85 consecutive weeks at No. 1 end in June. She arrived in Naples holding on to the No. 8 ranking. She ends the year 13th on the LPGA money list with $1,177,450 in earnings. It’s the first time she hasn’t finished among the top three in money in her four full years on tour. She did log 11 top-10 finishes overall, three second-place finishes.

How did she evaluate her season?

“I feel like it was a better year than everyone else thinks, like `Lydia is in a slump,’” Ko said. “I feel like I played solid.

“It's a season that, obviously, I learned a lot from ... the mental aspect of saying, `Hey, get over the bads and kind of move on.’”

Ko said she learned a lot watching Stacy Lewis deal with her run of second-place finishes after winning so much.

“Winning a championship is a huge deal, but, sometimes, it's overrated when you haven't won,” Ko said. “Like, you're still playing well, but just haven't won. I kind of feel like it's been that kind of year.

“I think everybody has little ups and downs.”

For Ariya, Lexi, finish was fabulous, frustrating

By Randall MellNovember 20, 2017, 12:47 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Lexi Thompson can take a punch.

You have to give her that.

So can Ariya Jutanugarn, who beat Thompson in the gut-wrenching conclusion to the CME Group Tour Championship Sunday at Tiburon Golf Club.

They both distinguished themselves overcoming adversity this season.

The problem for Thompson now is that she’ll have to wait two months to show her resolve again. She will go into the long offseason with the memory of missing a 2-foot putt for par that could have won her the championship, her first Rolex Player of the Year Award and her first Rolex world No. 1 ranking.

Thompson took home the CME Globe $1 million jackpot and Vare Trophy for low scoring as nice consolation prizes, but the Sunday finish was a lot like her season.

It was so close to being spectacular.

She was so close to dominating this year.

That last 2-foot putt Sunday would have put Thompson in the clubhouse at 15 under, with a one-shot lead, which would have added so much more pressure to Jutanugarn as she closed out.

Instead of needing to birdie the final two holes to force a playoff, Jutanugarn only needed to birdie one of them to assure extra holes. She went birdie-birdie anyway.

Thompson was on the practice putting green when she heard the day’s last roar, when Jutanugarn rolled in a 15-foot birdie to beat her.

“It wasn’t the way I wanted to end it,” Thompson said of the short miss. “I don’t really know what happened there. It just happens. I guess it’s golf.”


CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship


Thompson was asked if the weight of everything at stake affected her.

“No, honestly, I wasn’t thinking about it,” she said. “I putted great the whole day. I guess, maybe, there was just a little bit of adrenaline.

“We all go through situations we don’t like sometimes.”

Thompson endured more than she wanted this year.

She won twice, but there were six second-place finishes, including Sunday’s. There were three losses in playoffs.

There was the heart-wrenching blow at the ANA Inspiration, the season’s first major, when she looked as if she were going to run away with the title before getting blindsided by a four-shot penalty in the final round. There were two shots when a viewer email led to a penalty for mismarking her ball on a green in the third round, and two more shots for signing an incorrect scorecard.

Thompson was in tears finishing that Sunday at Mission Hills, but she won a legion of new fans in the way she fought back before losing in a playoff to So Yeon Ryu.

There was more heartache later in the spring, when Thompson’s mother, Judy, was diagnosed with uterine cancer, requiring surgery to remove a tumor and then radiation.

For Thompson fans, Sunday’s missed 2-foot putt was a cruel final blow to the year.

This time, there were no tears from Lexi afterward.

“Just going through what I have this whole year, and seeing how strong I am, and how I got through it all and still won two tournaments, got six seconds . . . it didn’t stop me,” Thompson said. “This won’t either.”

After Thompson bounced back from the ANA loss to win the Kingsmill Invitational in May, she acknowledged how the loss motivated her.

“I'm as determined as any other person out here,” Thompson said. “We all want to win. I have a little bit more drive now.”

She was so close this year to elevating herself as the one true rock star in the women’s game. She will have a long offseason to turn Sunday’s disappointment into yet more fuel to get there.

Thompson will prepare for next year knowing Jutanugarn may be ramping her game back up to dominante, too.

Jutanugarn looked as if she were going to become a rock star after winning five times last year to claim the Rolex Player of the Year Award and then rising to No. 1 with a victory at the Manulife Classic back in May, but it didn’t happen.

Jutanugarn struggled through a summer-long slump.

She failed to make a cut in six of seven starts. It wasn’t as miserable a slump as she endured two years ago, when she missed 10 consecutive cuts, but it was troubling.

“Even though I played so badly the last few months, I learned a lot,” Jutanugarn said. “I’m growing up a lot, and I’m really ready to have some fun next year.”

Her surgically repaired shoulder was bothering her again, but it was more than that.

“This time it was more about becoming No. 1,” said Gary Gilchrist, her coach. “I think all of the responsibilities got to her.”

Gilchrist said he could see a different focus in Jutanugarn this week. He credited Vision 54s Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott for helping her deal with all the pressure that has mounted with her growing status.

“It’s been a long process,” Nilsson said. “She’s felt too much expectation from everybody else, where she loses focus on what she can do.”

Marriott said they asked Jutanugarn to come up with something she wanted to do to make herself proud this week, instead of worrying about what would please everyone else.

It worked.

“I told my caddie, Les [Luark], that thinking about the No. 1 ranking wasn’t going to help me be a better golfer,” Jutanugarn said. “I wanted people to say, `Oh this girl, she’s really happy.’ That was my goal, to have fun.”

Late Sunday, hoisting the trophy, Jutanugarn looked like she was having a lot of fun.

Thomas vs. Rose could be Ryder Cup highlight

By Rex HoggardNovember 19, 2017, 11:40 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – For those still digesting the end of 2017 – the European Tour did, after all, just wrap up its season in Dubai on Sunday – consider that the PGA Tour is already nearly one-fifth of the way into a new edition.

The Tour has already crowned eight champions as the game banks into the winter break, and there are some interesting trends that have emerged from the fall.

Dueling Justins: While Justin Thomas picked up where he left off last season, winning the inaugural CJ Cup in October just three weeks after claiming the FedExCup and wrapping up Player of the Year honors; Justin Rose seems poised to challenge for next year’s low Justin honors.

The Englishman hasn’t finished outside the top 10 since August and won back-to-back starts (WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open) before closing his year with a tie for fourth place in Dubai.

Note to U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk: Justin v. Justin next September in Paris could be fun.

Youth served. Just in case anyone was thinking the pendulum might be swinging back in the direction of experience over youthful exuberance – 41-year-old Pat Perez did put the veterans on the board this season with his victory at the CIMB Classic – Patrick Cantlay solidified his spot as genuine phenom.

Following an injury-plagued start to his career, Cantlay got back on track this year, needing just a dozen starts to qualify for the Tour Championship. He went next level earlier this month with his playoff victory at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.


RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the RSM Classic


They say these trends come and go in professional golf, but as the average age of winners continues to trend lower and lower it’s safe to say 25 is the new 35 on Tour.

A feel for it. For all the science that has become such a big part of the game – from TrackMan analysis to ShotLink statistics – it was refreshing to hear that Patton Kizzire’s breakthrough victory at the OHL Classic came down to a hunch.

With the tournament on the line and Rickie Fowler poised just a stroke back, Kizzire’s tee shot at the 72nd hole came to rest in an awkward spot that forced him to stand close to his approach shot to keep his feet out of the sand. His 8-iron approach shot sailed to 25 feet and he two-putted for par.

And how far did he have for that pivotal approach?

“I have no idea,” he laughed.

Fall facelift. Although the moving parts of the 2018-19 schedule appear to be still in flux, how the changes will impact the fall schedule is coming into focus.

The Tour’s goal is to end the season on Labor Day, which means the fall portion of the schedule will begin a month earlier than it does now. While many see that as a chance for the circuit to embrace a true offseason, it’s becoming increasingly clear that won’t be the case.

The more likely scenario is an earlier finish followed by a possible team competition, either the Ryder or Presidents cup, before the Tour kicks off a new season in mid-September, which means events currently played before the Tour Championship will slide to the fall schedule.

“So if you slide it back, somebody has to jump ahead. The mechanics of it,” said Davis Love III, host of the RSM Classic and a member of the Tour’s policy board. “I’m still going to go complain and beg for my day, but I also understand when they say, this is your date, make it work, then we'll make it work.”

While 2019 promises to bring plenty of change to the Tour, know that the wraparound season and fall golf are here to stay.

Product protection. Speaking of the fall schedule and the likely plan to expand the post-Tour Championship landscape, officials should also use the platform to embrace some protections for these events.

Consider that the RSM Classic featured the third-strongest field last week according to the Official World Golf Ranking, behind the season-ending tournament in Dubai on the European Tour and the Dunlop Phoenix on the Japan Golf Tour.

The winner in Dubai received 50 World Ranking points, a marquee event that has historically been deeper than that week’s Tour stop, while the Dunlop Phoenix winner, Brooks Koepka, won 32 points. Austin Cook collected 30 points for his victory at Sea Island Resort.

All told, the Japan event had four players in the field from the top 50 in the world, including world No. 4 Hideki Matsuyama; while the highest-ranked player at the RSM Classic was Matt Kuchar at 15th and there were seven players from the top 50 at Sea Island Resort.

Under Tour rules, Koepka, as well as any other Tour members who competed either in Japan or Dubai, had to be granted conflicting-event releases by the circuit.

Although keeping players from participating in tournaments overseas is not an option, it may be time for the circuit to reconsider the conflicting-event policy if the result is a scenario like last week that relegates a Tour event to third on the international dance card.