[ HAWAII GOLF ]
Kona Open returns
to Kona Country Club
At a time when long-established Hawaii golf tournaments are dropping off the calendar, the Kona Country Club and Sheraton Keauhou Resort & Spa are bringing back the Big Island's Kona Open.
The 36-hole event is scheduled for May 29-30 at the Kona Country Club, site of the 2000-01 LPGA Takefuji Classic. The purse will be $15,000 for professionals, with amateurs competing for more than $3,000 in gift certificates and prizes.
"We lost the Maui Open and the Rainbow Open on Oahu, creating a big gap in the summer tournament schedule," said Jim Shaw, Kona Country Club's head professional. "A lot of pros and amateurs on the Big Island were asking me about reviving our event in Kona. So I decided to get the ball rolling."
The Kona Open began in the 1980s but did not survive the decade. It returned for a three-year run from 1997 to 1999 and then was discontinued again, Shaw said. Hilo Country Club's Kevin Hayashi, the winner in 1999, is the event's defending champion.
Designed by William Bell and built in the early 1960s, the Kona Country Club was the second course built on the famed Kona-Kohala Coast. (The Mauna Kea Beach Resort, opened in 1962, was the first). Today the club has 36 holes -- the original Ocean Course, site of the LPGA Takefuji Classic, and a companion Mountain Course, which opened as a full 18 in 1992.
Shaw said the plan is to hold the Kona Open on the Ocean Course, but that if the field is big enough they may also use the Mountain Course. Professionals and amateurs with a 6.6 handicap or less will compete in the Open Flight. Top finishers will accumulate points for the Governor's Cup.
Amateurs with handicaps between 6.6 and 24 will complete in the A-Flight for gross and net prizes. There will also be a Women's Flight with net prizes. In addition, all golfers will be eligible to win a round-trip ticket between Japan and Hawaii on Japan Air Lines if they score the first hole-in-one in the tournament.
The Kona Country Club is situated just south of Kailua-Kona, between Keauhou Bay and the lower slopes of Mount Hualalai. Sheltered from the trade winds by the ancient volcano, the club is home to some of the best weather conditions in the state -- warm and dry year round with very little wind.
"The wind gets up to about 10 miles per hour, enough to keep it cool," Shaw said. "It's a shore breeze, not a trade wind."
Ideal weather conditions have contributed to a lush and well-maintained course with slick greens. "The greens will be in top shape for the tournament," Shaw said. "We'll have them at about 10 or 11 on the Stimpmeter. With the slope we have here, they'll be fast. The greens are our best defense against par."
According to Shaw, the 6,600-yard Ocean Course has seen several recent upgrades. "We've redesigned all the bunkers and replaced the crushed coral with real sand," he said. "We've moved the bunkers closer to the greens and made them deeper, so they're now more of a hazard."
The club has also redesigned several tees and restored the 465-yard par-4 eighth hole to its original design. "It's one of the toughest par-4s on the island," Shaw said.
Meanwhile, the tournament sponsor, Sheraton Keauhou Resort & Spa, is renovating the old Kona Surf hotel. Shaw said that with the hotel as a sponsor, the tournament has a promising future.
"We're just trying to get the event off the ground this year, but my goal is to make this tournament ongoing," Shaw said. "I'd like to see it expanded to a 54-hole event with a pro-am."
For more information, contact the Kona Country Club at (808) 322-2595.