Turtle Bay Championship winner Fred Funk said he enjoyed playing the Palmer Course at Turtle Bay and will come back if the tournament is played at the North Shore course again.
Future of Turtle Bay Championship unclear
The Champions Tour event might not be back after 2008
Fred Funk made it clear before he hopped on a plane bound for Arizona on Sunday night that he will keep the Turtle Bay Championship on his schedule as long as it's held on the Arnold Palmer-designed course.
As of now, the contract ends next January and it seems the Champions Tour's first full-field event might not be returning to the North Shore resort destination beyond 2008. Funk and 2006 Turtle Bay champ Loren Roberts had dinner with a prospective sponsor on Saturday night to see if a deal can be reached that extends beyond the final year of the current contract.
One Champions Tour official, who requested anonymity, said Sunday that Turtle Bay got what it wanted from the senior circuit event, and that's a bottom line that's now in the black.
"They don't need us old guys any more," he said. "Hopefully, we can get something done that keeps the tournament right where it is."
It's part of a long-range problem in the Champions Tour
community as it tries to maintain its Hawaii presence. It was announced two weeks ago that the Wendy's Champions Skins two-day event will not be back at Wailea, Maui, in 2008. But that doesn't mean the Valley Isle is losing the made-for-TV tourney that features Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer.
Fred Funk said he wants "to keep coming back and make this a permanent stop on my schedule" after he won the Turtle Bay Championship on the Arnold Palmer-designed course.
A Champions Tour official said over the weekend that talks are under way to move it to Kaanapali and play it over two days on that course that once hosted the EMI Kaanapali Classic. That tournament became the Turtle Bay Championship in 2001. It was played in the fall that year, and in 2002 and 2003 as well. There was no event in the fall of 2004 as it was moved to January of 2005 as part of a two-week island package with the MasterCard Championship at Hualalai.
Those two tournaments are much like the PGA Tour marriage between the Mercedes-Benz Championship and the Sony Open in Hawaii, which is the regular tour's first full-field event. They depend on each other and have signed contracts with the PGA through 2010.
It is likely that MasterCard will reach a long-term deal to keep that tournament at Hualalai Golf Club.
But Turtle Bay is another matter. Part of the problem is attendance is lower than it might be if it weren't held so far from town. The population base in the Kahuku area is low which means attendance is likely to be low there compared to a place such as Ko Olina Resort near the heart of the second city of Kapolei. Even if a deal couldn't be reached at Turtle Bay, it's likely another site in the island chain could be found, including the Poipu Bay Golf Course on Kauai, which recently lost the PGA Grand Slam of Golf.
Funk would prefer if it stayed right where it is.
"This is a wonderful golf course," Funk said. "I had heard nothing but good things about it. Some of the guys convinced me I needed to play it because it suits my game. And they were right. Obviously, I want to keep coming back and make this a permanent stop on my schedule."
Local golf analyst Mark Rolfing, who works for NBC-TV as well as The Golf Channel, said that the state of Hawaii needs to take a more proactive approach to keeping the Aloha Season strong on all fronts, including the LPGA, which begins its tour here in two weeks.
The Champions Tour wants to stay in Hawaii, but maintaining major sponsorships is a challenge.
"You can't put an exact dollar amount on what these tournaments do for places like Turtle Bay," Rolfing said. "The exposure is fantastic. You can feature the resort and its role in the golf tournament. It's a wonderful advertising tool, but to keep this tournament at Turtle Bay, a presenting sponsor has to be found."