Try to keep Kapalua golf tourney and Pro Bowl in Hawaii
The Mercedes-Benz Open at Kapalua, Maui, and the Pro Bowl face the danger of being moved to the mainland.
THE prestigious golf tournament of last year's champions returned this week to Maui, and the Pro Bowl will kick off its 29th game at Aloha Stadium next month, but neither event's permanence in Hawaii can be taken for granted. Pro football playoffs have nudged the golf tournament from major network coverage to the Golf Channel and potentially back to California, and future Pro Bowls, at best, might have to be shared with mainland venues. The scenario should be a challenge to city and state officials to maintain the revenue-rich sporting events.
Originally called the Tournament of Champions, what is now the Mercedes-Benz Championship was held in Carlsbad, Calif., for 30 years before moving to the Kapalua Resort's Plantation Course in 1999. The tournament is confined to players who won at least one tournament on the PGA tour last year.
Tiger Woods won seven tournaments last year but has decided to skip the year's opening PGA event for the third straight year. Phil Mickelson has snubbed Kapalua since 2001. British Open champion Padraig Harrington will take his normal seasonal break in Ireland, and Adam Scott says he is too exhausted to play this week. Ernie Els and Sergio Garcia didn't win tournaments last year so did not qualify.
A move of the Mercedes classic back to California would be devastating to the Sony Open. Many of the players at Kapalua compete at Waialae the following week, although neither Woods nor Mickelson has done so. Without golf notables, the Sony Open would lose the extraordinary media exposure to tourists.
"Because of the prohibitive cost of sending someone to Hawaii to cover the two opening tour events, you have to convince editors it's worth the dough needed to stay two weeks in the island chain," explains Paul Arnett, the Star-Bulletin's sports editor. "No Woods, no Mickelson, no go. And that gets tour officials thinking that maybe Hawaii isn't the place to be after all."
National Football League owners talked several months ago about playing the Pro Bowl a week before instead of a week after the Super Bowl "perhaps around a Super Bowl location." The game will move to the mainland next year, but Mayor Mufi Hannemann said he was assured that it would return to Hawaii in 2010.
As director of the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, Hannemann successfully negotiated contracts keeping the Pro Bowl in Hawaii during the 1990s. He says it is unlikely it will be played in Hawaii every year, but hosting it every other year or even on an occasional basis would be an acceptable outcome for an event that brings millions of dollars in visitor spending and taxes to Hawaii's economy.
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