I have always admired her aggressive approach, her ability to clobber a drive, the way that she seems to remain so calm and cool as she consistently pulls off clutch shots in pressure-packed situations. And now, as I lounge in a cabana at Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina, staring out at one of the most special settings anywhere in Hawaii, I’m also marvelling at her focus.
I have a tee-time booked at Ko Olina Golf Club, where Henderson earned back-to-back titles at the LPGA Tour’s Lotte Championship in 2018-19. And while I’m a self-described golf nut and can now confirm that the 18-hole layout at Ko Olina should absolutely be on your vacation hit-list, I must admit that I could instead spend all day splashing around in the pool or Pacific Ocean.
“You know, the beach is so amazing,” Henderson told reporters during one of her visits to Ko Olina, which features a string of four lagoons connected by a seaside pathway. “Just such beautiful views and for a few years after the tournament is over, we go over and swim. It’s always a lot of fun. Kind of relaxing, kind of takes some of the stress out from the week. You just feel rejuvenated and ready to go again, which I think is pretty cool.”
Henderson and I have that much in common — we’d both leave feeling relaxed and rejuvenated.
As she summed up during one of her press conferences at the Lotte Championship, a mid-April showdown that was contested for eight straight years at Ko Olina and is now played at a private club not far away: “Just looking around at the beauty that’s all around us, you can’t really be in a bad mood.”
Especially when you check the forecast back home.
“I think you feel, really, like you’re blanketed from the rest of this world,” said Jason de Vries, the resort manager at this Four Seasons property, a laid-back and luxurious stay-and-play option along the scenic Waianae Coast, about a 30-minute drive from the airport in Honolulu. “You’re coming from this harsh winter in Canada where you’re fighting to scrape off your truck and fighting the snow. And here, you have the beautiful weather and then on top of that, you have this team that really cares about you and you can see it’s genuine.
“People come here for fun, for relaxation, for wellness. It’s a pretty cool setting.”
And for golf, too.
Commencing with the Sentry Tournament of Champions at Kapalua’s Plantation Course on Maui, the pros on both the PGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions start their season on the Hawaiian islands. Perhaps the rest of us should be doing the same.
“At that time of year, when everything at home is grey or white and trees are dead, you come over to Hawaii and there’s this warm air and everything is green, great colours,” said Greg Nichols, the general manager at Ko Olina Golf Club. “Just the contrast, it’s amazing. I mean, what’s not to like? It’s the middle of January, and you have this tropical paradise. And then, I think the aloha spirit is alive and well.”
Agreed Mark Nelson, the head professional at the Bay Course at Kapalua: “The aloha vibe, that’s the thing that we really stress. We know everybody who comes here, this is their big trip. They look forward to it all year and they expect high level of service, great conditions, and so every day we look to deliver on that.”
At Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina, they’ll deliver a Peloton to your room for a workout. They deliver a wide range of art and cultural activities through their Wayfinders program. They probably helped arrange to have Henderson’s two trophies delivered to her home address, and, as daylight fades, the sunset always delivers.
If you’re wondering, Brooke, I did manage to pull myself away from the pool for my afternoon tee-time. And I’m sure glad I did.
Ko Olina Golf Club serves up some heart-pounding moments, including a superb collection of Par-3s and a frightening finishing hole. While you won’t be playing alongside the beach, Nichols points out that “we’re just a five-wood away” from the ocean.
This tour-tested track also provides plenty of Instagram material, from cascading waterfalls to a Mickey Mouse-shaped sand-trap just left of the fairway on No. 10. (As a staff member warned: “It’s cool to look at, but you don’t want to be in there. That bunker is no joke.”)
If you want to be like Brooke, you’ll need to make a bunch of birdies, an especially big ask when the prevailing breeze picks up.
So what was the key to Henderson’s success at Ko Olina?
“Brooke is a really aggressive player,” Nichols reasoned. “She has a long swing, but it’s an aggressive swing, and I think that suits itself to playing in the wind. Sometimes that long and slow type of action, I think it can cause more trouble in the wind than maybe for a player who likes to get after the shot.
“She could win anywhere. She has that game that can travel. She’s a major talent. But if I had to put my finger on it, I think it would be that.”
My game also travels — too bad since there are some bad habits and less-than-helpful swing thoughts that I’d be better off leaving back home — and Hawaii has become a favourite winter escape, not just for the golf but for everything that it has to offer.
A few days later and an island-hop away, as I continue my vacation on Maui, I’m reminded how intimidating it feels to dig divots with a gallery watching.
While Kapalua’s Plantation Course is in the spotlight every January as home to the Sentry Tournament of Champions, the Bay Course is a little easier on the wallet and ego and just as easy on the eyes. Its bucket-list big brother is carved into the hillside, offering dramatic long-range vistas, but the closing stretch on the Bay brings you right to edge of the surf. You might be wondering if you should have worn sandals instead of soft-spikes.
As you size up your approach on No. 16, doing your best not to be distracted by the crashing waves, you’ll have an opportunity to entertain the tourists as they follow a trail that leads to a unique lava formation called Dragon’s Teeth. No pressure. You could be feeling a little nervy again on No. 17, the only hole in Maui that requires a shot across the ocean.
“I think the Bay Course is a great complement — a little more player-friendly, offers amazing views, you’re not going to beat yourself up and the surroundings are just as good as anywhere,” said Nelson, the head pro at Kapalua’s lesser-known layout. “I don’t want to paint a picture of it being some kind of walk in the park, because it has some teeth. But you’re not going to lose a dozen balls. You’re not forced to carry the ball too many times. And the main thing is, it’s got the beauty with all those holes that you can see Molokai and see Lanai and then of course, on those finishing holes, you’re right on the ocean.
“On No. 17, the Par-3, that really gets your blood pumping. It gets your adrenaline going. You have one shot to kind of make your day, if you will. Even if you had a bad round, this is one last opportunity to have a great memory.”
Golf fans with a strong memory may recall that the Bay Course has a fascinating history of its own. It hosted the first live-in-primetime golf telecast — the 1983 Kapalua International, an eight-shot romp for Greg Norman. Fred Couples won a pair of titles on this turf. The LPGA Tour made a stop here in 2008.
During tournament week at the Plantation Course, it’s not uncommon for some of the stars to swing by.
“We have a lot of tour pros that will come over to the Bay Course just to hit balls and be on property,” Nelson said. “Tony Finau will spend almost every day here, before and after rounds, with his family. Last year, we had Bryson DeChambeau here every day and Justin Thomas popping in to say hi in the golf shop. I think Viktor Hovland played a couple rounds here, just to see it. Matt Fitzpatrick brought his wife out to play golf. That’s what is cool — they can be right in the tee-times with everybody else.
“And the unique thing about it is the tour pros just walk around and they shake hands and they don’t feel overwhelmed with people bugging them and trying to get their autograph. They just blend right in. They’re competing for millions of dollars, but you can hardly tell. They seem like they’re on vacation, just enjoying some rounds of golf.”
Which brings me back to my stay at Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina, where many of the LPGA Tour standouts would get their shuteye during the Lotte Championship. I can see why they loved returning year after year, even if it must be tough to focus on any sort of job in this spectacular setting.
De Vries is bang-on when he describes the adults-only infinity pool as the “crown jewel” of this property. The best part is the swim-up bar — a converted van that is now the, uh, office for ‘Dr. Mai Tai.’
“Often, I hear people say, ‘Wow, beautiful view, amazing, and then cool funky Mai Tais, as well,’ ” de Vries beamed.
The doctor, take it from me, can mix a heck of a prescription.
Just not necessarily a cure for what ails my golf game.
Source: Calgary Sun