I explained last time that it will take a few days to get the Top 50 operation up and running again. The ping-pong table in my basement is covered with cartons of office supplies: highlighter pens, fan-fold paper, post-it notes, flashlights and candles, staple guns and legal pads. My granddaughter Megan has installed graphite bearings in the file cabinets, and the furnace man is expected any minute to service the water panels. Unfortunately, a major winter storm has crippled our efforts. With a foot-and-a-half of snow in our driveway and 30-mph winds causing drifts, Team Top 50 can barely summon enough energy to shuffle to the kitchen for a hot chocolate.
It takes little effort, however, to press the buttons on my remote. Two clicks and I’m watching Golf Channel’s first-round coverage of the SBS Championship at the Kapalua Resort on the Hawaiian island of Maui. I have covered this tournament a number of times, and fans of my old Mats Only column may remember the many laudatory paragraphs I’ve bestowed upon the resort’s splendid practice facility and golf academy. The Plantation Course itself, if you’ll check the sidebar, is currently ranked 33rd.*
*Full disclosure: I served as an unpaid consultant to the design team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw during the construction of the Plantation Course, but my contribution was limited to the so-called “Garrity Bunker.” I have played the Plantation Course several times as a guest of management, but only on designated “media days” and only after offering to pay with Sports Illustrated expense-account money.
The sprawling Plantation Course, which tumbles down from the West Maui Mountains to the sea, is more fun than a roller-coaster, but the serious student of golf architecture will focus her attention on the thirteenth hole, a devilish par-4 that runs uphill along the edge of an old lava flow. The thirteenth fairway is where you’ll encounter the infamous “Garrity Bunker,” a sand hazard at cliff’s edge on the left. You haven’t played the Plantation Course until you’ve tried to reach the green from this hell-hole with a 40-mph trade wind in your face and lava grit stinging your ankles.
It is a myth, however, that the bunker got it’s name because my drives always landed in it.*
*You might be thinking of “Ike’s tree” on the 17th hole at Augusta National, so named because some golf-mad president wanted it cut down to afford him a clearer path off the tee.
Here’s the real story. I was playing the nearly completed Plantation Course in February, 1991, with Kapalua’s golf director, Gary Planos. “When we got to the thirteenth, an uphill par-4 of 407 yards” — I’m quoting now from an old Mats Only column — “Gary didn’t tell me that it was the most difficult hole on the course ….”
… And I hasten to add that the trade winds were not blowing with their customary hurricane force. I drilled my drive up the left side of the fairway, long and straight, and watched the ball disappear over the crest, well to the right of some sinister treetops. “That should be perfect,” Gary said, “unless …”
I found out what he meant by “unless” when we drove up the hill and down to where my ball should have been. There was no ball. I had driven it off a cliff into either the treetops or that thigh-deep grass that Jesper Parnevik was stomping around in all last week. “That’s not right,” Gary said, staring over the edge. “I’ll have to tell Ben about this.” Ben, of course, was Plantation’s co-designer, Ben Crenshaw.
No problem. I dropped a ball, hit it somewhere, and got on with my life.
Almost a decade later, I returned to Kapalua for the 2000 Mercedes Championship to see if Tiger Woods could extend one of his PGA Tour winning streaks to five. (He could.) That’s when tournament media coordinator Linn Nishikawa said, “Oh, you’re the gentleman they built the bunker for!” Intrigued, I found Gary Planos, who cheerfully confirmed that my long drive had literally changed the landscape at Kapalua. “The day we played was a Tuesday,” Gary told me.
“I remember that because I flew the next day to Oahu to talk to Ben, who was playing in the pro-am of the Hawaiian Open at Waialae. I caught up with him on the eighth fairway, and since he was just waiting for the green to clear, I called him over and told him about your drive. He said, ‘You’re kidding me!'”*
*Crenshaw was astonished that the prevailing wind would allow a long hitter to reach the cliff. I’m sure he wasn’t questioning the quality of my game.
“Anyway,” Gary continued, “Ben agreed that we needed to put in a catch bunker, because from the tee you can’t see that your ball disappears. That’s why we now grow three-inch rough there. We’ve even expanded the bunker to ensure that balls that go left don’t all disappear.”
So that’s the story. The rest of the week, Gary kept introducing me as the idiot-savant behind the 13th-hole catch bunker. And ever since, when some reckless pro yanks his drive into my namesake pit, I hit the “mute” button, turn to my wife, and launch a 5-minute soliloquy explaining my role in the pro’s predicament.
There are worse ways to spend a snow day.