The recently transformed Kapalua Resort is located on Maui's northwest shore and the Hawaiian resort can boast two world-class golf courses. The Arnold Palmer and Francis Duane designed Bay course was the first layout at Kapalua, and it’s a decent resort course in its own right, but the Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw designed par 73, 7,411-yard Plantation course is in a totally different league.
In Golf Magazine’s Top 100 Courses You Can Play book by Brian McCallen, the author has this to say about the course: “Tall native grasses frame the fairways, with a few stands of Norfolk Pines scattered around the perimeter. No water comes into play, but there’s an abundance of luxuriant growth sprouting from the gorges. The antithesis of a target-style course, the Plantation offers oodles of options, along with its grand ocean vistas. Greens are open at the front; barely airborne bump-an-run approach shots are not only encouraged, they’re necessary to control the ball in the wind.”
Host to the annual Tournament of Champions, the Plantation course was fashioned around the closing hole, a 663-yard downhill and invariably downwind par five. The panoramic backcloth of the glistening Pacific Ocean and the distant mountain peaks take your breath away as you stand on the elevated final tee. The wide fairway tumbles downhill inviting a booming drive. Despite its downhill and downwind design, only the biggest hitters will be brave enough to take this incredible hole on in two shots because the approach shot must carry across a chasm which cuts into the fairway from the right. The green is huge and inviting, but unless you can hit the ball more than 300 yards, you’ll be left with a similar distance for your second shot. Are you up for it?
In March 2018, it was announced that Kapalua’s Plantation course will undergo a multi-million dollar renovation project under the stewardship of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, the original design team. Work will include new tournament and forward tees, greens resurfacing with Tif Eagle Bermuda, fairways with Celebration Bermuda and renovation of every bunker.
“We look forward to the opportunity to restore many elements of the Plantation Course and implement a few ‘refinements’,” said Bill Coore. “It’s like when you have a special piece of art, or something really special to you, and you get a chance to dust if off and make it new again. This will be a very thoughtful restoration and refining process, but it’s not a redesign. We are very happy with the way the course looks and the way it has gone through the past nearly three decades.”
Course restoration work began in February 2019 and completed in November 2019 ahead of January's Sentry Tournament of Champions, which Justin Thomas won after beating compatriots Patrick Reed and Xander Schauffele in a play-off.
It's been quite a while since I played Kapalua and I was anxious to get back to see it after the renovations. Unfortunately I chose a brutally windy day and the course that I recall as being one of the most fun in the world turned into a brute. Starting from the first hole (downwind) where the approach shot hit the front of the green and settled for a 30 yard putt into the grain and wind set the course for the day. Having to hit well before the green and hoping that it would stop within 50 feet became the standard for the downhill holes. Also I had forgotten about the number of blind tee shots, which are more than expected, as the joy of hitting driver/9 iron into 17 and driver/less than expected into 18 wipes these distractions out of mind after you finish. Still, it was frustrating hitting good shots into the front of greens only to see them roll well away or even off the green into the native area. You realize how well the pros play but also how this can be a beast when the winds are up. Still you get to look at the ocean, neighboring islands, and foliage for a pleasant distraction. Pace of play can be a challenge due to the difficulty of this course for the average golfer and the desire to take it all in so plan on 5+ hours, perhaps longer on blustery days, but this course is worth playing at least once.
In keeping with the scale of the surroundings The Plantation course has been built big and brassy! Significant carries, long holes, steep slopes, and exposure to the ever present wind- these are the trademarks of The Plantation Course.
The fairways are links like- firm and fast encouraging the running ball. It is definitely a course that will challenge players of all standards. With slope/course rating for most tees in excess of 140 Plantation is a very difficult course.
Notable holes include:
The long sweeping downhill par 4 first hole with approach over a gully sets the scene.
Hole 5 is a tease of a par 5 horseshoeing around a jungle ravine with the green tucked behind.
Hole 8 is a long par 3- all carry over a jungle ravine.
Hole 11 is a mid length downhill par 3 with a skyline green. It's a thrilling shot, and a Kodak moment- with Moloka'i island as a backdrop.
Hole 14 is a potentially driveable uphill par 4. But with bunkers protecting the green and either side of the lay up area it will usually require a well thought out strategy and a deft touch to beat par. It is a nice contrast to the power holes that abound at The Plantation Course.
Hole 17 is the start of the big finish which is so well know by television audiences.
It is a brutally long downhill par 4 which requires another significant carry to hit the green in regulation. As with so many of the holes here, the wind is a major factor, and can make these holes unplayable, or just a walk in the park,
Hole 18 continues the drama. A par 5 measuring 663 yards from the tips it sweeps downhill right to left like a boomerang. Take a short cut if you dare!
There is no doubt at all that The Plantation Course is a championship course. It's dramatic and exposed to the elements, and challenges even the best players in the world. It makes for great theatre, and comes up very well on T.V.
Every golfer worth his salt who visits Maui should make the pilgrimage to play here. But dont expect it to be easy!
Stronger golfers will love the challenge and want to play it more than once, but lesser mortals will find it hard going, and may prefer to play The Bay Course the second time around. Nevertheless The Plantation Course is a golf experience not to be missed
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
One of the best golf proprieties in North America. It's a must play if you are in the area.
Here I am in cold, dark mid-winter, post Christmas blues, but luckily there is a burst of sunshine and joy on my TV screen. The annual Tournament of Champions provides a welcome slice of escapism, transporting me back to the tropical paradise of Maui every January.
First, the obvious stuff. Kapalua is the most spectacular course I've ever played. Sea views are always good, but here the Pacific with the view of Molokai is pretty special. The 11th captures this perfectly, with its infinity green and ocean back drop, it's also a good hole if the flag is tucked behind the left bunker, tempting you to go pin seeking.
Secondly, the scale of the property is vast. It's the longest course I've ever played (apparently the longest on tour) with the largest changes in elevation. The fairways are incredibly wide and some of the greens are huge. I've played plenty of courses with ravines or gorges to carry, but at Kapalua they're 3 times deeper than anywhere else. You also find yourself travelling significant distances between some of the holes - a buggy really is necessary.
Despite all this "bigger is better" golf, you don't have to be a bomber to enjoy it. Sure, standing on an elevated tee like 17 or 18, looking at a wide downhill and downwind fairway you just want to unleash the driver. But then there are short par 4s like 10 and 14 where you need to think very carefully.
Your normal yardages go out of the window on this course, with the huge amounts of roll and changes in elevation, not to mention the trade winds which were blowing pretty strong when I played. I managed to handle this pretty well, but the greens killed me, I’m just not used to dealing with so much grain (although I understand the latest renovation has included relaying the greens with less grainy grass).
It might not be for the traditionalists, but this course is just pure fun for me.
Hawaii is an amazing place that everyone should experience. Having only ever been to the island of Maui I can’t speak for every place in the state, but for someone who grew up in the Midwest being on the island felt like absolute paradise.
Kapalua’s location is truly spectacular, overlooking the channel between the Maui and the neighboring islands of Molokai and Lanai. The course sits on the slope of the dormant West Maui volcano and features an incredible amount of elevation change between its highest and lowest points, and is exposed quite dramatically to the trade winds that buffet the island. As a result, you get to play a number of shots you likely would never play anywhere else. A pitching wedge up a cliff? Sure! A 300-yard downhill/downwind iron shot? Why not?! Seeing professionals do things like Dustin Johnson’s near-ace on a 430-yard par four in the Sentry Tournament of Champions can be considered a Kapalua trademark.
As luck would have it, I played the course on nearly as calm a day as they get. As a result, I don’t think I truly got to experience Kapalua at its realest. I would have loved to have played the course in varying wind conditions, as many of the shots will differ rather drastically – for one, taking a shot in two at the 660-yard par five #18 downwind would have been nice. (I played a ball from the back tee for fun as I was playing the next tee box up for my round; I’m a pretty long hitter and still came up about 40 yards short with driver and fairway wood thanks to the calm conditions.) That said, it was a lot easier to play some of the holes under these conditions; for example, #5, a par five that normally plays upwind in addition to being uphill was an easy driver and mid-iron to reach in two shots, resulting in a memorable eagle.
I wasn’t as much of a fan of the front nine as I was the back nine – the only holes I felt stood out on the front were the aforementioned #5 (for sentimental reasons) as well as #7, a downhill par four with speed slots galore. Additionally, I did not care for #9 at all – there are a few bland holes on the front side, but #9 was the only one that was outright bad. My issues with it come from the fact that it’s a complete forced layup – a downhill tee shot of 300 yards or less is required to hold the fairway, and from there it’s only another 220 yards to the green. A good par five should always give the player at least a chance to hit the fairway with a driver, and I don’t feel as though this one does. In my opinion, either creating a tee position farther back (the preferred option) or relocating the green 100 yards back to make the hole a medium length par four would make the hole better. I wonder if Coore & Crenshaw will be making any changes to that hole in their upcoming renovation project.
The back nine, however, was as good as it gets. Wide hole corridors, tons of strategic options, great short par fours, and and absolutely stunning finishing stretch highlight one of the best nines of golf anywhere. It’s hard to pick out favorites among these nine great holes, but if I had to I’d say my two favorites were #10, a sweeping dogleg short par four with an elevated green, #14, an uphill but driveable par four with an absolutely miniscule putting surface, and #18, the famous long downhill par five against one of the most spectacular vistas on a golf course anywhere. The back nine makes for some great television every January, and it alone makes Kapalua worth the trip.
Played February 20, 2016
An incredibly fun and scenic course with a unique blend of short uphill in to the wind holes and long downhill downwind holes with good variety. A very playable course with only two forced carries on the Par 3 8th and the second shot on the Par 4 17th. Any course with the versatility to be loved by both me and my casually golfing wife gets very high marks. The straight downhill 17th and all world 18th holes are a tremendous way to end the round.
Best course on Maui.
Playing Kapalua two days after the PGA tournament was slightly unsettling. However, I did man up. It was a day of stark contrasts; I was either in there or out of there. I shot an 84 with 5 birdies. On the first hole I lost my tee shot even though my drive landed in the right side of the fairway and rolled less than three yards into the rough. As soon as I hit it, the caddy, Steve, said, “That could be trouble.” Steve explained that typically the rough is not too difficult but in an effort to toughen up the course they had let it grow out. The first hole is a 450 yard downhill double dogleg and is tough enough without losing a ball on your first swing.
One of my first perceptions of Kapalua, which means embracing the sea, was one of scale. It is vast. Situated on the elevated downhill side of the island; one has a magnificent view of the Pacific Ocean and Molakai. The views are indeed breathtaking and as they seem a constant, I will try to restrain myself from referring to them. Kapalua entices like a Siren; it has very broad fairways and large greens, but beware, many of the greens that look so inviting are sloped front to back and are just daring you to try to stick it tight. On the other hand the uphill holes tease you into thinking you have hit a good shot only to kneecap you as your ball trickles to a rest 30 yards short. In many ways the way to play Kapalua is reminiscient of some of the old Scotland courses, where the ability to bump and run the ball for yards is a real skill. This is especially the case when one factors in the wind. As with most Hawaiian courses, it seems that a one to two club wind is the rule rather than the exception due to the trade winds.
I earned my first birdie on the 500 yard downhill par 5 fifth hole. Big hitters can get there in two by playing down the right side, but beware, a little too far right and there is a ravenous gorge. I opted for the conservative left side and other than my playing partner calling me a few names, it proved to be wise. I did roll my second shot which allegedly jinxed my partner who promptly did the same thing only his went into the canyon. My third shot was just short to set up a chip that I nestled into the cup.
The eleventh is a relatively short par three where it is easy to lose focus due to the beauty of the surrounding environment. In our group we were very fortunate in that everyone hit excellent tees shots. It was magical watching the ball flight against the blue sky and an amazingly bluer ocean. Pretty cool.
For the grand finale, seventeen and eighteen are two of the finest finishing holes I had ever played. Leading up to the seventeenth tee box had been a gradual ascent. The elevated tee box provides an expansive view. The 467 yard seventeenth is a slight dogleg left with a forced carry. The fairway is quite expansive. I was told it was 100 yards wide in one section. Even with that large a target, only two of us ended up in it! This is another hole that favors a high draw to a huge green.
Ahead was the big finish; rumor has it that the architects, Coore and Crenshaw, found the 585 yard 18th hole first, before laying out the rest of the course. What a hole! Even if you could forget the panoramic setting, it is a risk reward’s risk reward hole. I was the short knocker in our foursome off of the tee and had 290 yards to a front pin. I grabbed my five iron when my caddy corrected me and said I needed to go for it. I said there was no way I could get there. He then pointed out that I had just hit a 295 yard drive and besides, was I planning on coming back? I said okay and with my trusty five wood, which was really a bent original Big Bertha driver (I know, probably an illegal club) gave it a go. I nailed it, there was a beautiful high arching right to left ball flight that landed on the right side of the fairway and trampolined forward and downhill. It rolled and rolled and rolled and rolled and rolled. Just when I thought it was going to stop, it rolled some more. The story would be better if it did reach the green, but alas, it stopped 4 yards and 9 inches short of the green. Yep; I have no pride, I measured it. I was feeling pretty smug and I said to Steve, “That ball must have rolled fifty yards. “ He just smiled and shook his head and said, “No, just under 100.” To put that in context, evidently the shot carried 190 yards in the air and rolled another 90 plus yards. One of my player partners did reach the green in two. The other two had pitch shots of between 30-40 yards. Steve said those are amongst the toughest shots on the course. This puzzled me as there was no trouble between where the balls were and the pin. Steve said, “The first one will be 10-15 yards long and the second will be ten yards short.” Sure enough, he was right. Steve said what tends to happen is the slope downhill is much steeper than people can believe. Hence, the first one will be long. The second player will be so petrified by what they have just witnessed that they will leave it way short. He said this was one of the reasons he encouraged me to go for it. Lastly, he said, “Besides, it is not often that I caddy for someone who has five birdies on the Plantation Course.” Once again, he proved to be prophetic as I made the up and down.
The Plantation Course can only be described as a wonderful experience that will touch all of your senses. I believe the developers wanted a hillside course so that they could then develop the more profitable waterfront with real estate instead of a golf course. What a great decision. The only drawback is it is another one of those snoogy, but in a nice way, nonwalker friendly golf courses.
Right off the bat the essence of the Plantation Course rests squarely on its location. The views, both on and most certainly off property, are spectacular. To their immense credit, co-architects Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore wisely fashioned a layout where much needed fairway widths would be the rule to deal with the ever changing and high velocity at times trade winds.
Unlike the bulk of the vapid courses that dot the Hawaiian islands this is a resort course laced with plenty of classic architecture elements. The 1st is a strong downhill par-4 opener -- and then you reach the par-3 2nd with its reverse Redan green. There's the punchbowl green at the 6th, the fall-away green at the 7th and the standout par-3 8th. The inward side is hillier and the range of holes is quite impressive. You have plenty of scoring opportunities but only when positioning your ball accordingly. Crenshaw and Coore allows players to go full tilt with the driver -- just match your execution with your ambition.
The ending stretch has been chronicled so no need to rehash except to say the stroll down the 18th with Molokai in the background is one that's seared in your memory long after the round concludes.
When the Sentry Tournament of Champions is played the professionals walk the layout but frankly the course is not an easy stroll and therefore power carts are the norm. My only issue with Plantation is the degree of firmness. The key to the architecture rests on this dynamic.
With the Hawaii location and the build-up of underlying thatch under the existing fairways the limited roll can undermine the conceptual heart of the design. Fortunately, in early February, the course will be upgraded in a variety of ways through the involvement of Crenshaw and Coore. The work will include resurfacing the greens with Tif-Eagle Bermuda turf, renovating the bunkers and re-grassing tees, fairways and roughs with Celebration Bermuda turf. The renovation will also add new tee complexes -- most notably new tournament tees on key holes such as a shared rear tee for the 3rd and 9th holes -- as well as the 18th, among others.
For die-hard Crenshaw and Coore groupies -- the Plantation may not be the at the level they are expecting but that's because the bar this talented duo later achieved with other notable efforts -- such as Sand Hills, Friar's Head, Bandon Trails, Lost Farm, among select others -- is so high. Nonetheless, no visit to the islands should miss the opportunity to play Plantation. The Crenshaw / Coore handiwork proves meaningful modern resort golf with playability and architectural interest are not mutually exclusive and can be successfully attained. I look forward to seeing how their effort in shining this jewel turns out.
M. James Ward
Set on the hills of Maui overlooking the Pacific, this course is one of a kind. Most golfers know it well from TV golf. The main aspect that surprised me were the links-style characteristics around the greens and the steep elevation changes. It is easy to get a tee time online on most days.
The course features four par 5s but only three par 3s, the last one being the 11th hole. Towards the end of the round the golfer wonders if the chain of 400+ yard par 4s ever comes to an end. Coore and Crenshaw designs can get a bit repetitive.
Notable holes: Many signature holes on this course. The back to back uphill par 4s 3 and 4 with right hand target bunkers off the tee demand precise tee shots. The 6th hole is extreme golf with a blind tee shot and a large vertical drop. 9 is really fun depending on the wind direction. The 14th green is surprisingly small, which is appropriate for a short wedge shot in. But it seems out of place compared to the other large green complexes. The tee box on the 16th slopes upwards like a launch pad. 17 and 18 are spectacular downhill but would have been more fun with firmer fairways.
I played the course in November and expected it to be firmer. It would be better with more roll so that the links-style features of the course come into play. The course remains natural and does not feature any man-made lakes or kitsch waterfalls a la Trump. Many holes are unique to Kapalua. The sheer amount of imagination of the designers makes it well worth a visit. Crazy golf at its best!