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Bill Kwon

Sports Watch

By Bill Kwon

Saturday, January 27, 2001

Maui’s golden for top-
notch sporting events

WAILEA, Maui -- What is it about Maui? People here boast it's the best island in the world, and there's hardly any argument there. Visitors also swear on their stack of Conde Nast magazines that it's so.

Now local sports fans will have to concur as well, swearing on their stack of Sports Illustrateds.

With the Hula Bowl, the Mercedes Championships, the Maui Invitational basketball tournament, the Kaanapali Senior Classic and now the Senior Skins Game being held here for the first time, no other island in the Hawaiian chain can claim to host as many major sporting events.

The only major sighting of Tiger Woods can be observed on the Valley Island. He has been glimpsed on Kauai for the PGA Grand Slam, but his main golfing ground is Kapalua ever since it became the site of the Mercedes Championships -- the PGA Tour's version of the Pro Bowl.

Heisman Trophy winners and football All-Americans cruise the world-class hotels along the island's gold coast stretching from here to Kapalua. Future NBA stars and NCAA Final Four teams can trace their roots to Lahaina town.

Now three of golf's legends -- the guys before the Year of the Tiger -- are playing tourist here for the Senior Skins Game today and tomorrow, and they're enjoying every minute of it. The three are Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player, who have combined for 190 PGA Tour victories, including 37 majors.

Throw in "The Kid," Hale Irwin, who'll be 56 on June 3, and you can add 49 more victories, including three U.S. Open championships. An awesome foursome indeed.

Irwin deferred to the legendary trio in an informal press conference before yesterday's pro-am.

"It's a treat for me to be around these guys. I feel like I'm blessed. It's been a real inspiration and we all try to measure our careers against theirs," Irwin said. "That having been said, I hope I kick their butts."

They're playing for skins totaling $600,000, the biggest worth $100,000 on the 18th hole.

Would they be playing if they had to ante up their entry fee?

"How much is the entry fee?" Irwin asked.

The pot divided by four, or $150,000 each, he was told.

"We might be playing for substantially less than that," Irwin replied.

The only motivation needed to play is winning, Nicklaus added.

All four are now heavily involved with golf course designs and concerned by how today's technology is making golf courses obsolete.

"It's getting more difficult to design a course that won't be obsolete two years from now," Nicklaus admitted. His solution? Move the back tees farther back for tournament play. "That's the only place we can change it. You don't want to make it more difficult for the average golfers."

Player said, "Do something about the golf ball."

Palmer had no comment. He has said all he has to say about the subject, especially Callaway ERC II drivers.

Irwin put everything in the right perspective.

The play of a low-handicap-golfer will improve dramatically because of their having the skills to use the better technology, Irwin said.

"The high handicapper doesn't have the ability to take advantage of the better technology," he said. "Technology for him is marginal."



Jack Nicklaus' new Hokul'ia Golf Course overlooking Kealakekua Bay on the Big Island's Kona Coast is expected to open in August, Nicklaus said. As part of the opening ceremony, he and Isao Aoki are expected to play in a made-for-TV Shell Wonderful World of Golf match. ... Former basketball star Junior Bridgeman (Louisville and the Milwaukee Bucks) played in yesterday's pro-am with Hale Irwin. Bridgeman, who lives in Louisville, owns 135 Wendy's franchises, including 23 alone in Louisville. Where else?

Bill Kwon has been writing about
sports for the Star-Bulletin since 1959.

E-mail to Sports Editor

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