It's not a new season but it sure feels like it for some. Many fantasy golf leagues still hold out until January to begin their new season.
The PGA TOUR returns to action this week as a winners-only field assembles on Maui to take on a freshly renovated Plantation Course at Kapalua Resort.
As the name implies, to qualify for this event, you must have won a PGA TOUR event during the 2019 calendar year.
This year, there will be 34 golfers making the trip with eight golfers taking a pass for various reasons (Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, Justin Rose, Francesco Molinari, Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka, Shane Lowry, and C.T. Pan.
Everyone in the field will be guaranteed 72 holes of action this week, barring any withdraws. This is a no-cut event.
The Plantation Course at Kapalua Resort will play host to this event and that has been the case since 1999. That year it played as a par 73 at just 7,263 yards.
This year the scorecard reads 7,596 yards while the par remains set at 73 strokes. Despite the lofty yardage numbers, it's actually pretty average in length due to the par of 73 (four par 5s and just three par 3s) in addition to plenty of elevation changes that make some of the "long" holes play much shorter. The most obvious being the 550-yard, par-4 17th which will be home of some 400-yard drives this week.
A major talking point this year will be the course renovation that has taken place since last year's edition.
Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw are the original architects and they returned to oversee this renovation project that was executed alongside Troon Design. They also got some aide from Golf Channel's Mark Rolfing.
This was a major project as the entire course received new turf and all the bunkers were reworked, as well.
From tee-to-green they laid Celebration Bermuda grass while the greens received some fresh TifEagle Bermuda. The idea was that the new turf would provide more firm-and-fast playing conditions to make things a bit tougher for the pros while doing the opposite for the resort guests.
This was one of the easiest courses on TOUR, in terms of score in relation to par. Should we expect that to change much with the renovation? Perhaps just a little but this is still a resort course with four par 5s and allows golfers to put a wedge in their hands on a lot of other holes.
Being right on the coastline, this is also a good week to pay attention to the weather forecast. We should expect plenty of wind but that is nothing new for this event. Scoring should still be good.
Sifting through some past quotes, let's try to break down the course to see how it will play.
Brooks Koepka: "You’re not going to find a slopier golf course than this. There’s so many awkward little lies, ball above your feet, below your feet and then downhill and then you’re hitting up the hill. Things like that you just don’t find anywhere besides maybe here and Augusta or at least that I’ve played. "
Dustin Johnson: "The wind is always blowing here and you really got to use the wind to help your ball get close to the hole or stop the ball or however you want to do it... I mean it’s all about controlling the ball and hitting it solid. When the wind’s blowing this hard, you hit solid shots you can control it."
Brandt Snedeker: "It just takes time to get used to them. Get used to the slopes and how slow some putts are and how fast some putts are. A lot of times we play kind of tight breaks and over here you can’t. You got to play big looping putts and kind of use your imagination and not so much rigid and where a ball should start."
Fabian Gomez: "It’s a kind of course that the greens are a good size and usually you don’t have to use a really long iron. It’s the kind of course that with the second shot, some holes, many holes you have short irons."
Geoff Ogilvy: "I do well with a wedge and it’s a real wedge-based course. The greens putt like Melbourne greens with big sweeping putts, 30-foot putts that break 12 feet."
Overview: Looping putts, heavily undulating, performance in the wind.
Looking at grass types, geography, course attributes, and past performance, here are a few courses/events that I think could prove to be a good pointer this week:
Augusta National (The Masters)
Muirfield Village (The Memorial)
TPC Scottsdale (Phoenix)
Quail Hollow (Wells Fargo)
East Lake (TOUR Championship)
Some of these courses share the generous-fairway trait while others share the Bermuda turf. Overall, it's a pretty unique course but these are five courses that showed a lot of overlap in terms of success and failure of past participants.
Thursday: Light rain with a high of 82 degrees. Winds at 8 to 12 MPH.
Friday: Sunny with a high of 78 degrees. Winds at 15 to 20 MPH.
The forecast doesn't look perfect (patches of light rain and heavy winds) but it's tough to complain when you're pegging it in Hawaii. With heavy winds forecasted for Friday through Sunday, we may see the best scoring right out of the gate on Thursday.