Story by Heidi Pool | Photo by Bob Bangerter
Golfers on Maui are fortunate to play on some of the most beautiful courses in the world. With that privilege comes a challenge in the form of prevailing trade winds. Named by the early maritime traders who relied on them to power their sailing ships, these winds are largely responsible for our favorable weather. But they can wreak havoc with your golf game if you’re unprepared. We turned to two of Maui’s top golf pros, Rick Castillo and Jerry King, for tips on coping with “the trades.”
Rick Castillo, PGA, is director of golf for the King Kamehameha Golf Club and the Kahili Golf Course. Both are located in Maui’s Central Valley, which can experience strong wind.
“Key to playing golf in the wind is making the right club selection,” Castillo says. “First, determine the wind direction by pitching a tuft of grass into the air or observing the flagstick. If your shot is against the wind, use a less lofted club. Most golfers make the mistake of choosing a club that has too much loft in a strong wind, leaving the shot well short of the target. Choose a club that will keep the ball low, but still able to hold the green.” Castillo offers this guideline for playing into the wind: for every ten mph, take an extra club.
Your swing will need some modifying, too. Castillo suggests placing most of your weight on your front foot to steady your balance and to help hit the ball crisply. Keep your wrists firm; you should feel as if you’ve made contact with the ball with your hands ahead of it.
“Downwind shots are more fun to play than those against the wind,” he continues. “But they can still present difficulties, especially when the wind is very strong.” Castillo recommends reversing the wind-speed guide: for every ten mph, take one club less. “Making solid contact with backspin will help keep the ball on the green instead of running off to the back,” he adds.
For crosswind shots, Castillo says to “let the wind be your friend.” If the wind is blowing left to right, start your shot left of the target and let the wind push your ball towards the target. If the wind is blowing right to left, aim to the right to anticipate the ball’s drifting to the left. No need for wind-speed computations. Select the same club you would use if there were no wind.
And don’t forget the elevation of the tee. Castillo counsels adding or subtracting a club for every ten yards of elevation from your feet to the tee. “The most common club-selection error golfers make is when playing uphill against the wind,” he says. “Most people don’t take enough club, which almost always leaves shots well short of their target.”
At the Kapalua Resort on Maui’s sunny west side, where Jerry King, PGA, is director of instruction at the Kapalua Golf Academy, the trades are fairly constant and consistent. “Playing in the wind is a game of opposites,” says King. “Wind actually magnifies the spin of the ball. You’ll want to swing at a smoother pace to have less backspin and achieve a more penetrating trajectory.” King also says choosing the proper ball for windy conditions is imperative. “TaylorMade TP red balls, for example, generate less spin.”
Tee height is another important issue, according to King. “When driving a shot into the wind, tee slightly lower to help create a lower trajectory. Conversely, when the wind is behind you, you should tee a little higher to minimize sidespin.”
Both pros agree that golfing in gusty conditions can be tricky. Castillo suggests trying to notice a pattern and playing between gusts—if you don’t slow down play as a result. King’s advice is to “back away from the ball, regroup, and start over. And be sure to keep your confidence level in check. Too much confidence overrides rational thoughts.”
Other tips: wear sunglasses, lip balm, and sunscreen; make sure your headwear is secured to your head; and keep your muscles loose and supple. The stronger the wind, the tighter your muscles become, and you may not even realize it.