A Whole Lotte Love

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Each year of the LPGA Lotte Championship has been unique, across a golf course that opened in 1990 and was designed by celebrated architect Ted Robinson.

Watching the LPGA Lotte Championship over its first seven years at Ko Olina Golf Club has offered Hawai‘i its own sneak- peek into the global phenomenon the LPGA has become.

Winners have come from five countries and, in a victory where fate and fame collided in front of an ecstatic home crowd, Hawai‘i’s Michelle Wie won at Ko Olina in 2014.

Each year has been unique, across a golf course that opened in 1990 and was designed by celebrated architect Ted Robinson. Expect the eighth LPGA Lotte, April 17-20, to bring more surprises.

This tournament traditionally comes after the year’s first major and its field is just as imposing. Lotte always lures nearly all the world’s Top 100.

And Ko Olina, which hosted the LPGA the year it opened, all but begs tour players to bring it on. Robinson, who designed nearly 200 golf courses, is known for building user-friendly courses more than capable of providing tougher challenges when asked.

Fairways are wide and inviting, but greens often have multiple levels that demand precise approach shots.

The architect is also known for dramatic water features and landscaping. You can get wet on half of Ko Olina’s holes. The most memorable water features will take your breath away, along with your golf ball.

The first gasp will come on the 12th hole, where you go through a cascading waterfall on the way to the tee.

The last gasp is, fittingly, on the final hole. It appears friendly, but the huge water feature that lies serenely below Roy’s Bridge Bar overlooking the green, and bubbles sweetly across the fairway and down the right side, can swallow your drive and/or approach shot and destroy your dreams.

Or not. In 2015, 19-year-old rookie Sei Young Kim won a playoff over third-ranked Inbee Park by holing out from 154 yards for eagle on that hole. Minutes earlier, Kim found the water on the 18th in regulation, but chipped in to salvage par and a playoff.

“Every time I win a tournament,” Kim shrugged to her translator, “I do something crazy.”

Ko Olina is open to all the craziness the world’s best golfers can come up with. And, it surrounds them with a resort that features four hotel, condominium and vacation properties, including tournament host Four Seasons Resort O‘ahu at Ko Olina.

There are popular restaurants and shops and, a few hundred yards away from the Mickey Mouse-inspired bunker on the left side of the 10th fairway, the Pacific Ocean beckons.

No wonder Golf Digest called it one of the Top 25 Resort Courses in the U.S.

The LPGA will take it on again this April, when Brooke Henderson defends her Lotte title against another vaunted field. She won by four over Azahara Munoz last year. Ariya Jutanugarn, Inbee Park and Shanshan Feng shared third.

“We’ve had some wonderful champi- ons over the past eight years,” says Greg Nichols, Ko Olina’s General Manager/ Director of Golf. “It’s a group that reflects the international diversity of the LPGA tour—inaugural champion Ai Miyazato from Japan, two champions from the United States—Cristie Kerr and our own Michelle Wie, Suzann Pettersen from Norway, Sei Young Kim from Korea, Minjee Lee from Australia and last year’s champion, Brooke Henderson from Canada.”

Nichols saw Henderson at the PGA Show in January. She told him she wanted to be Lotte’s first back-to-back champion—badly.

“I kidded her,” Nichols says, “and told her then she needed to practice her hula this year for the awards presentation on our 18th green.”

Wie had no problem with her hula. Her sweet victory at home in 2014 led to a U.S. Women’s Open champion- ship a few months later. She and former Punahou classmate Stephanie Kono are both expected back at Ko Olina in April.

“Having the best female golfers in the world play here is tremendously important in motivating our own youth to strive to become better players,” Nichols says. “The significance of Michelle Wie winning here in her home state cannot be overstated. Michelle is a tremendous role model for young people all over the world and has been such a wonderful ambassador for Hawaii throughout her career.”

This year’s LPGA Lotte Championship has a $2 million purse, with $300,000 going to the winner. Kerr set the tournament record with a winning score of 20-under-par 268 in 2017.

There is a local qualifying tournament Sunday, April 14, with the Lotte Pro-Am two days later. The 72-hole event starts on Wednesday and ends on Saturday, April 20. It will be broadcast live on Golf Channel.

Tickets are $10 daily Wednesday-Saturday, or $25 for weeklong admission. Children 16 and under are free with an adult ticket holder. Military and dependents are also free with official military ID. koolinagolf.com

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