Lots of Exciting Changes at Maui's PGA Tour Event ~ Including Free Admission

Hyundai to sponsor Maui’s PGA tourney

Deal should keep event at Kapalua through 2011

By ROBERT COLLIAS Staff Writer – The Maui News

KAPALUA – The rebirth of the season-opening PGA Tour event at the Kapalua Plantation Course shifted into high gear with the announcements that Hyundai is the new title sponsor and will be in place for the next three years, and the event’s name will be the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.

The event battled financial trouble for the last couple of years, leading to speculation that it could be leaving Kapalua or even the state. Thursday’s announcement from Hyundai Motor America and Seoul Broadcasting System International relieves those concerns.

SBS – the title sponsor 10 months ago – will continue to provide television coverage to South Korea through 2019, as it has done for PGA Tour events for more than 15 years.

”Was I worried that the event might not be staying in Hawaii? Yes I was,” tournament director Nancy Cross said Thursday. ”I am happy that a new title sponsor has stepped up. We knew that SBS had the ability to sell it, so we were curious slash concerned when that might be happening, to whom, all those sort of things.”

Mercedes was in the tournament name from 1999, when the event moved to Kapalua, to 2009.

Calling the event the Tournament of Champions reintroduces its original name. The event, which began in 1953 and has also been played in Nevada and California, includes only PGA Tour tournament winners from the prior season.

Mark Rolfing, an analyst for The Golf Channel and a longtime Kapalua resident, has been pushing for changes to the event’s eligibility rules for years, but not anymore. Rolfing’s foundation, the Mark and Debi Rolfing Charitable Foundation, is the new host of the tournament, having taken over for Kapalua Maui Charities over the summer. The tour requires that a nonprofit organization host its events.

“The Tournament of Champions name is going to change a lot of things,” Rolfing said. “A question I would get all the time is, ‘What is the Mercedes Championships? What is the SBS?’ Sometimes I didn’t even know how to answer other than to say, ‘Well, it is the Tournament of Champions.’ I had a few people say, ‘So why don’t you call it that?’

“You have to start with the players. If the players view it as the Tournament of Champions as opposed to the Mercedes or SBS championships, that goes a long way. Rocco (Mediate) called me two days after he won his tournament recently and he was so excited to come back to Kapalua and not as an announcer. I told him about the name change and he said, ‘You mean I am in the Tournament of Champions now? That is even more cool.’ ”

Rolfing has plans to invigorate the start of the season in several ways – including a long-drive contest, a festival for the Hawaii State Junior Golf Association, a professional-celebrity shootout and interactive fan zones – but he announced that the tournament itself will remain grounded in its tradition.

“There has been enough improvement that I am no longer going to pursue an eligibility change,” he said. “We have got what we want – most importantly a new dynamic sponsor that is in tune with the Tournament of Champions.”

For the first time, admission will be free for every part of the tournament, an unprecedented move according to PGA Tour media officials.

“That was one of the really positive things for them,” Rolfing said of Hyundai. “They want to immediately become involved with the community. They went out and went to see people all over the island as they were becoming involved with all of this. They love the community aspect of this, that we are raising money for a myriad of charities on Maui that are really in need here. They love that we are really reaching out to the entire island, not just Kapalua.”

One element Rolfing unveiled on Thursday was a two-hour special on The Golf Channel on Jan. 5 that will preview the season and FedEx Cup.

“On Wednesday of tournament week we are going to have a launch to the season live in prime time, a two-hour show on The Golf Channel that will generate a huge audience,” he said. “The bowl games end Tuesday, the (NFL) playoffs start Saturday, so this will have the sporting world’s attention. This whole thing is going to happen up on the Plantation Course with PGA Tour players and celebrities and entertainment. A season launch with all the elements to launch the season with a bang, instead of just starting the season on Thursday morning.”

The tour appears to be happy with the contracts.

“We are delighted to welcome Hyundai to the PGA Tour family,” tour commissioner Tim Finchem said in a news release. “In our discussions, Hyundai expressed interest in continuing its brand momentum throughout the U.S., as well as further strengthening its position in Asia. This title sponsorship will help accomplish these goals.”

Hyundai is expanding its luxury-car presence with the introduction of the Equus.

“Hyundai’s title sponsorship of the PGA Tour’s traditional season-opening tournament aligns our brand with world-class athletes who mirror our own competitive drive,” said John Krafci, president and CEO of Hyundai Motor America.

When play begins in January, Geoff Ogilvy will try to win the event for a third consecutive time.

Tiger Woods played in the tournament the first seven times it was held at Kapalua, winning in 2000, but has not been back for five years, though eligible each time. He has not won an event in 2010.

Cross and former tournament chairman Gary Planos are no longer employed by Kapalua. Planos is a consultant for the event.

“When (Kapalua Maui Charities) decided not to manage the event anymore, there was no need to have an events department, so it was eliminated,” Cross said. “Luckily some of us have been hired back on by the new host organization.”

Rolfing stressed that Planos, chairman of the tournament all 12 times it has been played on Maui, will always be a key figure in the event.

“He is going to be one of the ambassadors,” Rolfing said. “I hope he comes back every year.”

Rolfing said he had never seen a switch between title and secondary sponsorship like the one SBS and Hyundai made.

“There are a number of different opportunities out there, but they chose this one because they could see the potential,” Rolfing said of Hyundai. “They loved the beginning of the season, they loved opening in Hawaii, they loved the Tournament of Champions aspect. They were looking at other options, that is why it took so long.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com

Article from: The Maui News