The Plantation Course at Kapalua in Hawaii is hosting the Hyundai Tournament of Champions for the 14th successive year. It’s a long hilly course which provides a test of physical stamina. It has really wide fairways leading to very large greens.
Six years ago the greens were re-laid with a new style of Bermuda turf and as a result they are now faster than in the past. Despite the size and speed of the surfaces in recent years the tournament has developed into a putting contest. The winning scores from 2009 to 2012 were 24,22,24 and 23 under.
However, with only three par threes the course has an unusual par of 73. There are four par fives which each provide birdie and eagle opportunities. In recent renewals there has been little wind to affect scores but in the past the local trade wind has sent scores scoring.
The exposed course has often been subject to the Kona trade winners for at least one day. When the wind blows every day scores go higher and if there is no wind at all very low scoring is common. Clearly this is a tournament for which the weather forecast is crucial both in advance and on a daily basis during the tournament.
The new greens were laid on every hole after past complaints that balls bounced erratically and unpredictably. However, the players now believe the ball roles perfectly but the greens are quicker. That means the key to success still lies on the difficult greens.
Long hitting is also an advantage at Kapalua. This is due to the generous fairways and rough that is not too penal. Players are encouraged to go with power from the tee, aware that any waywardness will not be penalised.
Another key factor in identifying potential winners is how many times each player has played in the close season or on the Australasian Tour. Players who have taken an extended break may be at a disadvantage through rustiness and lack of competiitve edge.
Dustin Johnson and Scott Piercy (pictured) are the only players in the field who finished inside the top 50 for driving distance and average putts per round last season. Piercy was in fact a top 20 player for both skills so in theory he will be ideally suited to the course.