Ka'anapali Kai shines on it's own amongst deep Maui golf scene

By Travel ArticlesFebruary 9, 2012, 5:00 am

LAHAINA, MAUI, Hawaii -- Bigger isn't always better, especially in the golf world. Take Ka'anapali Golf Resort, for example. With two 18-hole layouts, it's a wonderful place to tee it up. Of the two golf courses, Royal Ka'anapali gets the majority of the rave reviews. At 6,700 yards, this par-71 layout is quite a test.

But players need to remember that the sister course, Ka'anapali Golf Resort's Kai Course, is also a tremendous golf challenge. How tremendous? Well, it was featured in the Golf Channel's 'Big Break Ka'anapali' show where some of the world's top women golfers took on the 6,400-yard Arthur Jack Snyder layout. And it will certainly provide a stern test to even the best players.

'It was always considered the 'other' course,' Head Professional Sutee Nitakorn said. 'But after the recent renovations (by Robin Nelson), it's considered just as good a course as the Royal.'

How good? 'The greens are very, very consistent, and the views are great,' Nitakorn said. 'It's a course that is getting more and more play. And it's getting great reviews from players.'

It's time to grab your clubs and tee it up.

Ka'anapali Kai: On the course

Ka'anapali Kai is a golf course for the thinking man (or woman). The elevation changes and wind conditions and direction make club selection a challenge. Here, 150 yards doesn't always mean that 7 iron. If you're hitting to an elevated green or into the wind, you've got to take that into consideration.

During the round, players' senses will be bombarded. Lava rock outcroppings, canals and gulches add to the challenge of the course, while native wildflowers border the course as pines, and coconut trees stand tall along the fairways.

Kai's first hole is one of the most level holes on the layout. At 376 yards from the tips, it's a solid starting hole. A good drive will set up a short iron into a green fronted by a bunker. Two good shots will give players an early birdie putt. Then hang on, because the wild ride is about to begin.

'The course is shorter, by design,' said Nitakorn. 'But just because it's shorter doesn't mean it's a pushover. You have to think your way around on this course. End up on the wrong side of the fairway, and you leave yourself a difficult shot to a protected green.'

The second hole is a par 4 at 370 yards that climbs dramatically up to a green perched high above the fairway. Contrast that with the par-3 third (225 yards) that drops some 30 feet to the green, and you get a great idea of the rolling course ahead of you. With canyon carries, dense foliage, water features and smooth bunkering, the Kai Course will test your ability from start to finish.

The 18th on the Kai Course is a simple-looking, 348-yard par 4. But what it lacks in length it more than makes up for in difficulty. Water runs down the left side of the fairway, and a lagoon guards the front of the green with three bunkers surrounding it. It may look easy, but pin-point accuracy with the approach shot is the key to finishing the round strong.

Ka'anapali Kai: The views

The views are second to none. On the 11th tee, players will see one of the most stunning views around.

This par 3 heads back toward the ocean. At 182 yards, it's not a tough hole until you factor in the menacing bunkers around the green and the pond to the right. While you're waiting to hit, check out the ocean in the background.

'You just may see the whales putting on a show,' Nitakorn said. This was one of the holes redesigned during the 2005 renovation to better take advantage of the view.

The Sugar Cane Train

On several holes, players on the Kai Course will see and hear the Sugar Cane Train, a vintage-looking locomotive used on tours of the area. Far from being a distraction, the train adds to the unique charm. The tracks border right next to the fourth green, and players just might get a rolling gallery while they are putting out. The railroad was once used to transport sugar cane from north of Ka'anapali down to the Pioneer Sugar Mill in Lahaina.

Ka'anapali Kai: The verdict

Hidden gem isn't the right term for the Kai Course at Ka'anapali, because it's not hidden at all. But gem definitely describes the course to a tee.

'It certainly complements the Royal Course,' said Nitakorn. 'But it also can stand on its own. It's a great test of golf with fantastic views.'

It's a course that has it all, from breathtaking views and scenery to enough rolling fairways and undulating greens to test even the best players.

'With the wind, the elevation changes and the undulating greens, you're going to find a beautiful, yet challenging, course,' Nitakorn said with a smile. 'And that's a good thing.'

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Defending champ Gana co-leads Latin America Amateur

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 11:20 pm

Toto Gana moved into early position to try to win a return trip to the Masters Saturday by grabbing a share of the first-round lead at the Latin America Amateur Championship.

The defending champ posted a 3-under-par 68 at Prince of Wales Country Club in his native Chile, equaling the rounds of Argentina’s Mark Montenegro and Colombia’s Pablo Torres.

They are one shot ahead of Mexico’s Alvaro Ortiz and Mario Carmona, Argentina’s Horacio Carbonetti and Jaime Lopez Rivarola and the Dominican Republic’s Rhadames Pena.

It’s a bunched leaderboard, with 19 players within three shots of each at the top of the board in the 72-hole event.

“I think I have my game under control,” said Gana, 20, a freshman at Lynn University. “I hit the ball very well, and I also putted very well. So, I am confident about tomorrow.”

The LAAC’s champion will get more than a Masters invitation. He also will be exempt into the The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event he is eligible to play this year. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.

The LAAC was founded by the Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.

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LAAC returning to Casa de Campo in 2019

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 8:23 pm

The Latin America Amateur Championship will return to Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic in 2019 (Jan. 17-20), event organizers announced Saturday in Chile, where this year’s championship is underway.

The LAAC champion receives an invitation to play the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club every spring.

The champion is also exempt into The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event for which he is eligible to compete. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.

The LAAC was founded by the Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.

The championship got its start in 2015 with Chile’s Matias Dominguez winning at Pilar Golf in Argentina. In 2016, Casa de Campo hosted, with Costa Rica’s Paul Chaplet winning. At 16, he became the first player from Central America to compete in the Masters. In 2017, Chile’s Toto Gana won the title at  Club de Golf de Panama.

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Beef's beer goggles: Less drinks = more wins

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 6:07 pm

An offseason spent soul searching is apparently paying quick dividends for Andrew “Beef” Johnston, who is in contention to win Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Johnston acknowledged he was “burning the candle at both ends” last year, playing both the PGA Tour and the European Tour, but he told reporters Saturday that it wasn’t too much golf that hindered his efforts.

It was too much “socializing.”

“I'm a social person,” Johnston said. “If you go out with friends, or you get invited to something, I'll have a beer, please. But I probably had a few too many beers, I would say, to be honest. And it reflected in my golf, and I was disappointed looking back at it. I want to turn that around and have a good season.”

Johnston posted a 6-under-par 66 Saturday, moving into a tie for sixth, three shots off the lead. He said he arrived in Abu Dhabi a week early to prepare for his first start of the new year. It’s paying off with a Sunday chance to win his second European Tour title.

“Last year was crazy, and like getting distracted, and things like that,” Johnston said. “You don't know it's happened until you've finished the season. You’re off doing things and you're burning the candle at both ends. When I got back from last season, sort of had time to reflect on it, I sort of said to myself, 'You've got to keep quiet and keep disciplined and get on with your work.’”

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Johnston finished 189th last year in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings. He was 116th in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai.

Johnston’s fun-loving personality, his scruffy beard and his big-bodied shape quickly made him one of the most popular and entertaining players in the game when he earned his PGA Tour card before the 2016-17 season. Golf Digest called him a “quirky outlier,” and while he has had fun with that persona, Johnston is also intent on continuing to prove he belongs among the game’s best players.

His plan for doing that?

“Just put the work in,” he said. “I didn’t put enough work in last year. It’s simple. It showed. So, just get down, knuckle down and practice hard.”

Rory McIlroy at the 2018 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Getty Images

McIlroy making big statement in first start of 2018

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 3:40 pm

Rory McIlroy marched the fairways of Abu Dhabi Golf Club Saturday with that fighter pilot stride of his, with that confident little bob in his step that you see when he is in command of his full arsenal of shots.

So much for easing into the new year.

So much for working off rust and treating these first few months of 2018 as a warmup for the Masters and his bid to complete the career Grand Slam.

McIlroy, 28, is poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

With back-to-back birdies to close his round, McIlroy put up a 7-under-par 65, leaving him just one shot off the lead going into the final round.

“It’s good,” McIlroy said. “I probably scored a bit better today, short game was needed as well, but I hit the ball very well, so all in all it was another great round and confidence builder, not just for this week but obviously for the rest of the season as well.”

McIlroy can make a strong statement with a win Sunday.

If he claims the title in his first start of the year, he sends a message about leaving all the woes of 2017 behind him. He sends a message about his fitness after a nagging rib injury plagued him all of last year. He sends a message about his readiness to reassert himself as the game’s best player in a world suddenly teeming with towering young talent.

After his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro, McIlroy is eager to show himself, as well as everyone else, that he is ready to challenge for major championships and the world No. 1 title again.

“It feels like awhile since I’ve won,” McIlroy said. “I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

A victory would be all the more meaningful because the week started with McIlroy paired with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and reigning European Tour Player of the Year Tommy Fleetwood.

McIlroy acknowledged the meaning of that going into Saturday’s round.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent healthy,” he said. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and one of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

It’s worth repeating what 2008 Masters champ Trevor Immelman said last month about pairings and the alpha-dog nature of the world’s best players. He was talking about Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge, when Immelman said pairings matter, even in off season events.

“When you are the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Immelman said. “They want to show this guy, `This is what I got.’”

A victory with Johnson in the field just two weeks after Johnson won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in an eight-shot rout will get the attention of all the elite players.

A victory also sets this up as a January for the ages, making it the kind of big-bang start the game has struggled to create in the shadow of the NFL playoffs.

Johnson put on a tour-de-force performance winning in Hawaii and the confident young Spaniard Jon Rahm is just a shot off the lead this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour. Sergio Garcia is just two off the lead going into the final round of the Singapore Open. Tiger Woods makes his return to the PGA Tour at Torrey Pines next week.

To be sure, McIlroy has a lot of work to do Sunday.

Yet another rising young talent, Thomas Pieters, shares the lead with Ross Fisher. Fleetwood is just two shots back and Johnson five back.

McIlroy has such a good history at Abu Dhabi. Over the last seven years, he has finished second four times and third twice. Still, even a strong finish that falls short of winning bodes well for McIlroy in his first start of the year.

“I have never won my first start back out,” McIlroy said.

A strong start, whether he wins or not, sets McIlroy up well for the ambitious schedule he plans for 2018. He’s also scheduled to play the Dubai Desert Classic next with the possibility he’ll play 30 times this year, two more events than he’s ever played in a year.

“I’m just really getting my golf head back on,” McIlroy said. “I’ve been really pleased with that.”

A victory Sunday will make all our heads spin a little b it with the exciting possibilities the game offers this year.