We know PGA Tour pros hit golf balls way farther than many of us mere mortals.
But when the world’s best make their annual stop at Kapalua’s Plantation Course for the Sentry Tournament of Champions, it’s a whole new level.
Since 2003 (the beginning of the Shotlink era) Kapalua has seen 340 drives over 400 yards entering this week. That total is nearly double the next four courses on the list combined and it’s even more impressive considering the Tournament of Champions is a limited-field event, with only about 30 to 40 players.
With conditions firming up throughout the week, pros are adding to those totals. Justin Thomas roasted his tee shot at No. 7 427 yards on Friday, leading to a flip wedge approach shot at the 535-yard par-4.
Five years ago, Dustin Johnson made us all rethink everything we know about the game when his tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole stopped just inches in front of the hole.
But why does the Plantation Course give up so many colossal tee shots? The answer starts with the elevation change on the nearly 7,600-yard Coore and Crenshaw design. From the 17th tee to the 1st green, the property drops more than 400 feet, the largest elevation change at any PGA Tour venue.
On the majority of the 15 par-4s and -5s, that elevation change is downhill and when conditions are firm, those downhill tee shots lead to balls that just roll… and roll… and roll. The Plantation Course may have some of the widest fairways on Tour, but some of the slopes make it rather difficult for pros to stay in them. Just five players stayed in the fairway on the first hole Friday, but the average tee shot was more than 350 yards.
The elevation is played with rather cleverly in the design of the course which features a par-4, the 550-yard 17th, that is as long or longer than three of the course’s par-5s. It’s the longest par-4 on tour, but also the site of some of the longest drives of the season. It’s a similar story with the 678-yard par-5 18th, one of the longest holes on Tour, but routinely reachable in two for the pros, sometimes even with irons.
But while Kapalua may be in paradise on Maui, rain will make a big difference. Last year, a softer course yielded just 8 400-yard drives all week, down from an average of nearly 17.5.