Advertisement - Click to support our sponsors.

Thursday, October 19, 2000

PGA Tour eyes
Royal Kunia site

The pro golfers tour wants to
develop a championship-level
course on Oahu

Tour wants 36-hole course

By Gordon Y.K. Pang

The PGA Tour is looking seriously at the never-opened Royal Kunia Golf Course as a tournament site, a local representative of the organization said.

If the PGA Tour is able to work out a seemingly complex deal, it could move the Sony Open there and hold other tournaments there as well.

Royal Kunia is the 163-acre private course in Central Oahu that City Council Chairman Jon Yoshimura and six of his colleagues want condemned for public use. It was completed in 1994 but never opened, primarily because its owners failed to pay $13 million of a community impact fee owed to the city.

Map Exactly how a PGA Tour presence and city involvement could dovetail is unclear, but both sides say they believe a relationship could be mutually beneficial.

Local golf pro Mark Rolfing, a commentator on The Golf Channel and a PGA Tour liaison, said the organization, for some time, has been searching for a suitable "Tournament Players Club" on Oahu to host tour events.

"They would like to have a facility like that in this market," said Rolfing, who has been in discussions regarding Royal Kunia on behalf of the PGA Tour and "other partners."

"It would be a good bridge to the Far East, certainly," he said.

The PGA Tour also is searching for a new site for the Sony Open to eventually replace the Waialae Country Club, which is considered too small, Rolfing said. The tournament's contract with Waialae ends in 2002.

"I'm not sure it would be accurate to say that the PGA Tour is interested in purchasing Royal Kunia, but certainly they are interested in any kind of plan that would work toward developing a new, world-class facility on Oahu," Rolfing said.

In addition to Royal Kunia, the PGA Tour has looked at Ko Olina and "a couple of large land parcels in Central Oahu," he said. Discussions with Royal Kunia's owners, however, "became pretty serious about six months ago and continue to proceed."

Officials with Liongain Hawaii Inc., current owner of the course, could not be reached for comment.

Rolfing said the city is a clear stakeholder. Just last week, Yoshimura and six colleagues introduced a resolution seeking condemnation of the course for city purposes.

Still, "There is approximately $13 million which somehow has to be resolved, regardless of condemnation or anything else," Rolfing said.

While it is too soon to say what kind of relationship might develop, "the PGA Tour brings a lot to the table," Yoshimura said. "I believe it would mean national and international exposure for Hawaii events and an infusion of money into our economy."

Yoshimura also believes the PGA Tour could help in "developing additional municipal golf courses and perhaps enhancing our junior golf program."

Rolfing said the PGA Tour typically contributes to the communities it is in, including a "First Tee Program" designed to make golf accessible, particularly to junior golfers.

The city, meanwhile, is looking for another municipal golf course on Oahu, particularly since Gov. Ben Cayetano says he wants to shut down the Ala Wai Golf Course and turn it into a central park.

The possible closure of the Ala Wai -- called the busiest course in the world -- is accelerating discussions involving Royal Kunia, Rolfing said. "It made everybody realize the time is now for thinking and planning about the future of golf on this island," he said.

Scott Kauffman, who covers golf course development for the Orlando-based Golf Week magazine, said, "It wouldn't surprise me if the PGA Tour enters into some kind of partnership.

The 20 existing (Tournament Players Clubs) are a combination of equity and/or management deals with developers."

At least two courses -- in Scottsdale, Ariz., and Richmond, Va. -- involve some kind of arrangement with a local municipality, Kauffman said.

A Hawaii native, Kauffman said he also believes a PGA Tour presence would be extremely beneficial for golf in Hawaii, noting that the organization has donated more than $500 million to nonprofit groups throughout the United States.

"The fact that a PGA Tour "representative' has indicated the tour's interest is a sign there is some serious negotiations going on, because the PGA Tour is very strategic about when, where and whom they do business with and they are very tight-lipped," Kauffman said.

Tour wants
36-hole course

The PGA Tour has 20 Tournament Players Clubs.

Seven of them are daily fee operations open to all golfers. The others are membership clubs.

Among them are clubs in Sawgrass, Fla. (home of The Players Championship); Scottsdale, Ariz. (Phoenix Open); Heron Bay, Fla. (Honda Classic); and Myrtle Beach, S.C. (Ingersoll-Rand Senior Tour Championship).

(The PGA Tour, made up of competing pro golfers, is separate from the Professional Golfers' Association of America, or PGA, which is made up of course pros.)

All 20 TPCs are owned and/or operated by the PGA Tour. However, there are four other "tournament player courses" that are licensed by the PGA Tour but not owned or operated by it, among them, the Las Colinas club in Irving, Texas, home to the GTE Byron Nelson Classic.

There also are four "TPCs" outside the United States -- three in Japan, one in China.

Three of the Tournament Players Clubs opened this year. Four more are scheduled to open in 2001 and one in 2002.

The clubs, typically, are "stadium courses ... specifically designed to stage events," PGA Tour liaison Mark Rolfing said.

On Oahu, the PGA Tour specifically is looking for a 36-hole course and there is room for that kind of expansion at Royal Kunia, he said.

Such a modified Kunia site, under the PGA Tour plan, would play host to the Sony Open and likely one other event. Meanwhile, Waialae Country Club, current site of the Sony Open, probably would have a "replacement event," most likely a major senior golf event, he said.

Currently, Rolfing said, there are four official PGA Tour events in Hawaii: the Mercedes Championships on Maui, senior events on the Big Island (MasterCard Championship) and on Maui (EMC2 Kaanapali Classic), and the Sony Open. There also are "unofficial" events, such as the Senior Skins Game on the Big Island and the Grand Slam of Golf on Kauai.

Gordon Pang, Star-Bulletin

E-mail to City Desk

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]

© 2000 Honolulu Star-Bulletin