New sponsor same story Mauis Kapalua Resort remains Hawaii golf royalty


kapalua plantation course 18

The par-5 18th hole at Kapalua's Plantation Course

This is the first year that SBS assumes sponsorship of Kapalua Resort's annual PGA Tour event, formerly the Mercedes-Benz Championship, which kicks off the PGA Tour season this week on the Plantation Course at Kapalua Resort.

But for Kapalua, hosting a top event featuring a field of the world's best golfers is nothing new. Its history of hosting the pros for a week at the resort's 23,000 acres on Maui dates back even before the Plantation Course. Kapalua's tournament history starts in 1982, when the tour gathered here for the Lincoln-Mercury Kapalua Invitational, held on the resort's original Bay Course at Kapalua Resort.

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Since then, such marquee names such as Greg Norman, Davis Love III and Tiger Woods have won here. The consistent exposure to the international golf world has helped give the Plantation a firm place among Hawaii's most coveted rounds and has become the toast of Maui's rich golf scene, home to other nationally-acclaimed golf resorts like Ka’anapali Resort and Wailea Resort.

Perched atop 245 acres high above the resort, surrounded by natural geographic formations, pineapple fields and amidst 23 species of birds, the Plantation Course is one of Hawaii's grandest stages.

It was the first golf course built by the design team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw (though the two had done some work separately, especially Coore under the tutelage of Pete Dye). Since their work on the Plantation, they've gone on to build some of America's most highly-rated golf designs, from Sand Hills Golf Club in Nebraska, to one of their newest successes, Colorado Golf Club, host of the 2010 Senior PGA Championship.

Kapalua’s setting high above the ocean makes the course susceptible to plenty of days with stiff trade winds if the 7,411-yard layout isn't enough already. To give golfers a fighting chance, the Plantation was outfitted with some of the Tour's widest fairways and large greens to boot, which were restored to their original size during a 1999 renovation project.

The 18th hole, a 663-yard par 5 that tumbles downhill the entire way toward the ocean is one of the Tour's most visually spectacular finishing holes – and is also the longest.

You're in view of the ocean from many points on the Plantation Course, but it's the original Bay Course that brings you right up to it.

Playing down around the resort, the Arnold Palmer/Francis Duane-design from 1975 is a more classical course that winds through Kapalua.

'The Bay Course is at the center of the resort and winds through the villas,' said Mike Jones, director of golf at Kapalua. He points out that golfers on the Bay never fail to stop off at perhaps golf's earliest halfway house, the Honolua Store, adjacent the second green.

'It's like a fancy 7-11 in the middle of the resort. You can stock up for the round with all your sundries, Cokes, suntan lotion...'

They even have golf balls in stock at the Honolua Store, and you might need them by the time you arrive at the fifth hole, a gorgeous-but-devilish hole that holds a unique designation as Maui's only hole that requires a tee shot of 130-220 yards played from one cliff, over the ocean, to another. It's the best of a two-hole stretch that plays down along the shore on the Bay Course.

At just 6,600 yards, the Bay Course is long obsolete for the boys on the PGA Tour, but it did host and LPGA event as late as 2008 for the LPGA Kapalua Classic, won by Morgan Pressel. The women played the course at 6,300-6,400 yards, which provided a challenge in the Hawaii winds.

Though the 2009 event was canceled, the resort hopes to partner with a title sponsor and bring the LPGA back soon, in part to continue to show off the recently-completed $3 million renovation project. The three-year facelift included the installation of a new irrigation system, TifEagle greens (the same surface as the Plantation), reshaped bunkers and flattened, enlarged tee boxes. Off the golf course, a new short game facility was also added here that allows golfers to warm up by hitting virtually any short game shot in the book.

Part of the Bay Course's 'playable for everyone' appeal comes with their 9-hole, junior set of tees, offered daily after 2:30, which can put the kids on the right track to taking on the Plantation's brawny 18th someday.