KAPALUA - Ben Crenshaw has helped design 20 golf courses, and the one he considers the "prettiest" is the Kapalua Plantation Course.
He and design partner Bill Coore can take credit for the layout, but the course's location on the slopes of the West Maui Mountains - with views of Molokai, Lanai and Kahoolawe - certainly helps.
"The elevation and elevation changes are a big part of this golf course, but when you stand up on some of these tee boxes, it's beautiful and your eye a lot of times goes away from the golf course because there is so much to look at," Crenshaw said Sunday.
Zach Johnson follows the flight of his tee shot Sunday at the Kapalua Plantation Course’s 11th hole, a par-3 that overlooks Honolua Bay
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
‘You can’t do anything small on this property. It has to be big, wide and accommodating for the breeze and the slope.’
– Ben Crenshaw, co-designer of the Kapalua Plantation Course
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
The course, which opened in 1991, is hosting the Hyundai Tournament of Champions for the 17th time.
"To build a golf course on sloping terrain and a lot of wind we had to work very, very hard for playability not just for the tournament but for everyone who comes here," Crenshaw said. "The first criteria of architecture on a big piece of property like this is to match the scale. You can't do anything small on this property. It has to be big, wide and accommodating for the breeze and the slope. We fit the holes to the land."
Crenshaw said two years are normally needed for a course to go from conception to finished product.
"In the making it takes relatively 18 months, give or take where you're working," said Crenshaw, who has two Masters titles among his 29 PGA Tour victories. "Obviously, here you can work any day of the year. It still took that long to build and it took five or
six months to plan it and route the course - where the holes are going to go, which direction are they going to go.
"You can't go east to west here much, you have to go southeast to northwest. That's the way the land works."
The Plantation's location was once covered by pineapple fields, which was beneficial when constructing the course, according to Crenshaw.
"I'll tell you what the great blessing was when we started, wherever there was pineapple there was six feet of topsoil," he said. "The sixth fairway was the fairway we carved on more than any other one. It was really roly-poly with a lot of lava. A lot of times we left the land and slope how it was and massaged it. I would never say this was a mass excavation job. We let the terrain dictate the nature of the holes and how they play."
Trade winds and high-tech equipment have allowed a few players in the Hyundai field to drive par-4s. It's something Crenshaw doesn't mind seeing.
"We have a particular fascination with short par-4s," he said. "In other words, I love to see people drive it on the green in certain conditions. There's a price to pay if you don't. I noticed that Jordan Spieth drove it right over the green on 14 yesterday. I love seeing that. On No. 6 there are certain conditions were you can get it on the green there.
"There are golf courses I've played on that have been a series of hard par-4s. That's not too much fun for everyone. You want to mix those shots up. You want to hit every club in the bag, you want to offer people chances."
Crenshaw said the key to course design is to make sure "that each hole has its own character. You try to build 18 holes that don't play or look the same. That's hard to do."
He added the course must be "playable," but not "overburdening."
Crenshaw's favorite hole on the Plantation is the 508-yard, par-4 17th.
"It fits that particular terrain, it's downhill, it's gorgeous," he said.
Matt Kuchar, Webb Simpson, Adam Scott, Jimmy Walker and Spieth are among those who have praised the course this week.
"It's a great compliment to us and it was a wonderful opportunity," Crenshaw said.
* Kyle Sakamoto is at email@example.com