Star-Bulletin Sports

Tuesday, January 11, 2000

P G A _ G O L F

Associated Press
Jim Furyk belts the first drive of this year's PGA Tour season
at the Mercedes Championships at Kapalua, Maui, last week.
The tournament is one of eight major PGA, Senior and LPGA
events in Hawaii. And Mark Rolfing, of the Hawaii Tourism
Authority, hopes more are on the way.

Driving for
show and dough

Hawaii's eight major golf events
not only showcase the islands' beauty
on television, they also generate
substantial revenue for the state

What's happening at the Sony Open

By Paul Arnett


Most folks would be satisfied to have the first two major events of the PGA Tour begin in Hawaii, just don't count Mark Rolfing among them.

Granted, the chairman of the events committee for the Hawaii Tourism Authority is pleased with how well the Mercedes Championships and the Sony Open have captured the attention of the world's greatest players.

Sunday's dramatic finish between Tiger Woods and Ernie Els was shown across America in prime time on ESPN. Nobody could have planned a better beginning for the 2000 season.

But for Rolfing, having eight major PGA, Senior and LPGA events in the island chain is only the first step toward making Hawaii a true world-wide stop for the Tour's top players.

Over the weekend, he met with PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem and told him of his grand plan for Hawaii to possibly host a President's Cup or World Golf Championships match play event in the future.

"He listened to our proposal and I think he will keep it in mind," Rolfing said. "There are several things we need to do here first before we'll ever be considered for something like this.

"We need to have a complex in central Oahu that's able to handle a major event like a President's Cup. We've got some planning to do, but considering how well the Mercedes has worked out the last two years, I believe we can do something like this somewhere down the road."

To be sure, this is only a vision that will take years to realize. But when Rolfing took over the Kapalua International years ago, not too many people would have believed it would transform into the Mercedes Championships.

It did. And judging by the response of the players, title sponsor and those in the PGA Tour office, this elite event has found a permanent home on the windy shores of West Maui.

Smooth-running Mercedes

"I think it has worked out quite well," Finchem said prior to Sunday's final round, won by Woods in a two-hole sudden-death playoff with Els. "The ambience here has worked out extremely well for Mercedes and their guests. The television package has worked out particularly well.

"I think it's working out even better this year. Our fans are starting to get used to the new time frames. David (Duval) just played outstanding last year. But this year, how could you ask for a better finish going into Sunday? Competitively, it's worked out well. It's a lot of fun and exciting to watch. I think on balance, most of the players find it that way. We're very pleased."

Having the Mercedes on Maui also has breathed new life into the traditional PGA Tour stop at Waialae Country Club.

Granted, the world's top three players -- Woods, Duval and Davis Love III -- have opted to skip this year's first full PGA Tour event.

But the field is still much stronger than it was in the waning days of the United Airlines Hawaiian Open and should only grow stronger once the players realize the $5.8 million doubleheader can pay huge dividends.

"The concept was a couple of things," Finchem said of holding the first two events in Hawaii. "One, to get the traditional Hawaiian Open up into the early part of the season. So we start off with these first two weeks with prime time television on the mainland, which is extremely positive.

"If you can maintain sponsorship of Mercedes and Sony, those are our two premier companies in the world, we're just delighted to have them on board. So, I think the concept in the schedule has worked quite well. The guys have to play because there's just too much money on the West Coast. The overall West Coast schedule has gotten much stronger now and we're pleased with that."

Els is a prime example of what back-to-back big-money events can do to a golfer's schedule. Granted, the man with two U.S. Open titles to his credit lives in South Africa, a country 12 hours removed from Hawaii.

One has to travel from South Africa to Amsterdam to Los Angeles to Honolulu to Kapalua to get to the Mercedes. It takes nearly a day to do it. But when a possible million dollars is waiting at the end of the rainbow, the going up is worth the coming down.

In the money

"I mean, let's face it, the money is great," Els said. "That's a big plus. I mean, the way David Duval started last year, before April he had a million-something in the bank. I mean, that's a nice start.

"You know, traditionally, I have started in Florida. So coming here is good for me. A $500,000 first prize, 30 guys. I'm going to Honolulu, play there, and see how it goes."

Big-money events with national prime time exposure aren't limited to just the PGA Tour. The first full-field event for the Senior Tour begins next week on the Big Island. After that, the Senior Skins has its 18-hole event at Mauna Lani that is broadcast on ABC-TV on Super Bowl Sunday.

That kind of exposure generates between $30-40 million into the local economy, according to Rolfing. And it doesn't end there. He's in the final negotiating stages with a major network to broadcast the Cup Noodles LPGA event at Kapolei, something that should attract that Tour's major players as well.

"Golf is a slow sport that allows its fans to take in the surroundings," Rolfing said. "We can generate a lot of air time in the month of January to show people how beautiful our state is this time of year.

"Golf also appeals to an upscale audience. Many of these people make travel plans and we want Hawaii to be a part of their destination. You can't beat the kind of publicity we have this time of year."

Woods may tune in Sony

Rolfing also believes that Woods will make the Sony Open part of his day next year. The world's most popular golfer will return to Hawaii next year to defend his Mercedes crown.

This year, his own event in Arizona took a lot of his time the first weekend in January. He normally doesn't want to play three events in a row, so Sony was out.

"But I've spoken with Tiger and I feel like he'll consider playing here next year," Rolfing said. "You saw the kind of galleries he generated this weekend in Maui. Imagine what he could do for the Sony Open."

Woods and most of the other players taking part in last week's Mercedes were complimentary of starting the PGA Tour in Hawaii. They realize that going up against the NFL in January is suicidal.

"So you can watch the NFL during the day and then watch us during prime time on ESPN," Woods said. "It works out well for everybody to have the Mercedes here. It's cool."

Rolfing echoed those sentiments. "In the past when they had the Mercedes in California, everybody was more interested in the NFL playoffs," he said. "They're listening to it on the radio on the course or watching it on TV in the clubhouse.

"With the way it's set up now, fans can watch the football games, then tune in to us during prime time. It works out best for all concerned."

Associated Press
Tiger Woods celebrates an eagle on No. 18 that forced a playoff
in the Mercedes Championships in Kapalua, Maui. Woods
won on the second hole of a playoff.

These tournaments
fit Hawaii to a tee

Eight major golf events are scheduled to be played in Hawaii. List includes date, purse and location:


Bullet Jan. 6-9 Bullet $2.9 million Bullet Plantation Course at Kapalua, Maui

This is the first stop on the PGA Tour. The four-day event is restricted to the winners of the Tour events from the previous season. This year, 30 golfers took part in the tournament won by Tiger Woods in a sudden-death playoff with Ernie Els.


Bullet Jan. 13-16 Bullet $2.9 million Bullet Waialae Country Club in Honolulu

This is the first full-field event on the PGA Tour. It is part of a Hawaii doubleheader designed to get the best golfers to take part in an event that hasn't always attracted the world's best. Twenty of the 30 golfers taking part in last week's Mercedes will play here.


Bullet Jan. 21-23 Bullet $1.1 million Bullet Hualalai Resort on the Big Island

This is the first stop on the Senior PGA Tour. It is a full-field event that was originally played at the La Costa Country Club in Carlsbad, Calif., from 1984-94. For two years, it was held at Hyatt Dorado Beach, Fla., before moving to Hawaii in 1997.


Bullet Jan. 29-30 Bullet $540,000 Bullet Mauna Lani Bay Resort on the Kona Coast, Big Island

This year's Senior Skins will deviate from past events. The four golfers taking part are the same ones who played in the first Skins event 20 years ago. They are Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Tom Watson. It will be shown on Super Bowl Sunday.


Bullet Feb. 17-19 Bullet $650,000 Bullet Kapolei Golf Course at Kapolei, Hawaii

This event has usually appealed to not only the golfers on the LPGA Tour, but those top stars in Japan as well. If this tournament can land a major television contract in the next few weeks, it should enhance its appeal to the top players from the LPGA.


Bullet March 2-4 Bullet $800,000 Bullet Kona Country Club at Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

The previous stop on the LPGA Tour is the Australian Ladies Masters in Queensland, Australia. There will be many coming from that event who will stop over and play on the Big Island. It also may attract players who took part in the Cup Noodles who opted to skip Australia.


Bullet Oct. 20-22 Bullet $1 million Bullet Kaanapali North Course at Lahaina, Maui

The senior golfers go from California to Hawaii and back to California before preparing for the Senior Tour Championship in Myrtle Beach, S.C. It was the first Senior tournament in Hawaii and was the final Senior Tour event from 1987-90.


Currently, the PGA is negotiating with Poipu Bay Resort on Kauai to bring back the popular event to Hawaii probably next November. In the past, the four Grand Slam winners from the year before have played in the two-day $1 million event. Last year, Tiger Woods beat Davis Love III to pocket the $400,000 first prize.

Associated Press
Jeff Sluman blasts out of a bunker last year.

Associated Press
Jeff Sluman blasts out of a bunker last year.

Sony Open events

Schedule of events at the Sony Open:

Bullet Where: The 7,060-yard, par-70 (35-35) Waialae Country Club
Bullet When: Thursday-Sunday
Bullet Purse: $2.9 million with $522,000 for first place
Bullet Defending champion: Jeff Sluman
Bullet Tickets: $10 for Thursday and Friday; $15 for Saturday and Sunday. Children under 12 admitted free with adult ticket holder. $50 for season badge.
Bullet TV: ESPN at 2-4 p.m. Thursday; 3-5:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and 3-5 p.m. Sunday.

More to see

Bullet Johnny Bellinger Shoot-Out: 2:30 p.m. today. Twelve PGA Tour players, including three-time winner David Ishii, compete for $25,000 over six holes with at least two being eliminated on each hole. Ties are broken with chip-off. Also competing are Billy Andrade, Paul Azinger, Chip Beck, Fred Funk, Jim Furyk, Mike Hulbert, Peter Jacobsen, Steve Jones, Tom Lehman, Sluman and Craig Stadler.

Bullet Tour Players Challenge: 4:30 p.m. today. Five golfers, including Ishii, compete in four skills challenges (drive, trick shot, bunker shot and long putt) at a single hole. Ishii is the defending champion.

Bullet Chip-In Contest: 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. through Sunday along the 18th fairway. $10 for one ball and $20 for three with proceeds benefiting the Hawaii State Junior Golf Association. Participants who chip a ball through uprights are entered in the grand prize drawing -- the opportunity to play a round of golf with University of Hawaii football coach June Jones, a two-night stay at the Kahala Mandarin Oriental Hotel and a $250 gift certificate at Waialae's pro shop. Daily prizes are neighbor island golf trips.

Bullet Pro-Am: Starts at 7 a.m. tomorrow with awards ceremony at 6 p.m.

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