Hyundai sponsors Kapalaua golf event
By Fred Guzman
The PGA Tour’s season-opening event at Kapalua’s Plantation Course has a new title sponsor and, as a result, a new name with an old twist – the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. The event – which begin’s a four-day run on Jan. 6 — was known as known as the Tournament of Champions from its inception in 1953 to 1993.
The limited-field event, open only to the previous year’s winnerss, moved to Maui in 1999 and was called the Mercedes Championships. When Mercedes pulled out the Seoul Broadcast System stepped in last year by signing a 10-year agreement to take over the sponsorship of the Maui tournament in a deal that included PGA Tour broadcast rights in Korea.
But even last year, it was obvious that SBS was only a fill-in title sponsor and was actively pursuing a relationship with the Korean car-maker. Hyundai vehicles were prominently displayed around Kapalua and company executives were being actively recruited.
On Thursday, it was formally announced that Hyundai has agreed to take on title sponsorship for at least the next three years.
The Mark and Debi Rolfing Charitable Foundation became the non-profit host organization, required by the tour, in August. Rolfing, a TV golf analyst from Kapalua, described his involvement as a “last-gasp” effort to keep the tournament in Hawaii.
Rolfing vowed to energize the event and he’s delivering on that promise. For example, there will be no admission charge – unique for the PGA Tour – in an effort to boost attendance.
He also intends to make the week-long event more of an all-star affair, starting with a Hawaii Junior Golf Festival on the Sunday before the tournament and staging three-days of special events allowing pros to interact with amateurs, juniors and celebrities. The night before the tournament begins, Golf Channel will have a 2-hour prime-time special from the first tee.
Hyundai has become increasingly visible as a sponsor of major events – including the Super Bowl, the Academy Awards and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
Australia’s Geoff Ogilvy has won the past two years at Kapalua. Other 2010 winners expected to join him are Sony Open in Hawaii champ Ryan Palmer, Steve Stricker, Camilo Villegas, Ernie Els, Jim Furyk, Rory McIlroy, Adam Scott, Zach Johnson, Hunter Mahan, Lee Westwood and three-time champion Stuart Appleby.
Westwood just moved to No. 1 in the World Rankings past Tiger Woods, who is not yet eligible because he hasn’t won this year.
The Golf Channel will have coverage at Kapalua all four days, then move to Oahu for the Sony Open in Hawaii, Jan. 13-16 at Waialae Country Club.