Preparing the Practice Range for the First PGA Tour Event of 2015: The Hyundai Tournament of Champions
BY: TONY L. STARKS
This is the 16th year the Plantation Course at Kapalua Resort has hosted the Hyundai Tournament of Champions – where winners from the prior season collide in hopes of continuing the previous year’s momentum.
The field of champions expects nothing less than championship conditions, and it’s the responsibility of PGA Director of Golf Michael Jones and lead superintendent Dave Smallwood to deliver just that.
On December 1, about one month prior to the event, the range is closed off to resort guests and public play. They then top dress the entire hitting area to ensure perfect conditions for the world’s best.
“The key thing is trying to match the range tee and the short-game areas to how the golf course is playing,” says Jones. “We want the players to have an understanding and feel for what to expect out there.”
At Kapalua the most important areas to sync are the putting greens. In one word Smallwood described the greens on the Plantation Course as “mindboggling.” “The undulations and the way that they break are really challenging. So every day of tournament week we go out with the tour staff to look at the practice green, measure the speed and length of the grass,” says Smallwood. “Then we look at three-to-four greens on the front and three-to-four greens on the back, and get our comparative averages that way.”
The PGA Tour mandates that greens on the Plantation Course roll no faster than a 10 on the stimpmeter. Comparatively, many tour stops roll at 12.
“Because of the undulation, the wind and the strong grain we cap it at 10 each year,” says Jones. “A 10 on the Plantation Course if you’re putting downhill, downwind, down grain can putt like 13. We have to be careful that they don’t get away from us, and we use our practice green as a measuring tool.” One challenge that every range operations team faces at PGA Tour stops is picking range balls. Since each player practices with same type of ball they use during competition, the balls on the range have to be picked, sorted, cleaned and distributed appropriately. “That’s less of a concern for us a Kapalua,” says Jones. “In that regard, we’re lucky that we have a small field of 30-40 players. This year it was 34.”